Thursday, December 10, 2009

Members Only Content

In the last 5 years, I am finding myself changing my philosophy on hiding content behind a member's only login on an association website. At first, I thought hide as much as you can to truly show value to a member. If you aren't a member, look at all this stuff you are missing!

But now, at a different association at a different time, I find that my thoughts have shifted. I am not to the point where I think everything should be open and free to everyone. However, I really think you have to take a serious look at what you are putting behind the curtain.

Is it really the members only web content that is leading folks to join and stay members? Because if it is, you have much bigger problems. (But you also have many big opportunities if folks are that tied to your content)

I am guessing like most associations, you want to engage your members, get them to participate more and take advantage of the benefits you offer...and by doing that, they find the value they need in being a member. Therefore, I am of the ilk that we should open up more of the web content to help drive that learning and engagement and capitalize on the value creation there.


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Just make sure you don't hide valuable marketing information.

Non-members (and the general public) should have access to association history, board members, staff, committee structure, bylaws, and contact info. Let them view anything that could generate membership, registration, or public support.

Limit member-only access to internal stuff, like message boards, discussion groups, and member-to-member contact.

Peggy Hoffman said...

Great question and one that doesn't have one answer. I was just working with a chapter and coaching them to open up more in a large part because when you hide too much the prospect isn't enticed. I'm thinking that part of the formula is allowing people access in information but not to commenting and contributing per se.

Maggie McGary said...

I agree with David--I think stuff like member-to-member contact things like forums and member directory should be the main things behind the members-only wall. And make sure non-members know that stuff is there, awaiting them, should they become members. You can't covet what you don't know is available!

Joe said...

This is such a sticky dilemma.

Before the internet, the decision was so easy: "If you're not a member, heck no we're not going to print and mail you a copy of the magazine for free. You have to pay for it or join as a member to receive it." I think this seemed fairly reasonable then.

Today, people expect everything on the internet to be free, and if your stuff isn't free, then people won't bother to investigate it. They'll just go find something comparable for free (b/c chances are, it's out there). So, as many opportunities as there are in putting content out in front of the member "wall," I see this decision as one driven just as much by the immovable force of online competition.

The reason this gets sticky is that, while deciding what requires a login and what doesn't seems easy at first glance, you quickly realize that the question cuts directly to the core of what the value of being a member is. There's a really fine line to tread between people thinking "If I can't see your stuff for free, I'll go somewhere else," and them thinking "If I can get your stuff for free, why on Earth would I pay to become a member to get it?"

The mix of what goes inside and outside the member wall is probably different for every association, but I personally agree with you that the trend is now leaning toward more being freely available.

Tony Rossell said...

Matt -- Great question. I think these comments reflect the challenge of where to draw the line. I do not think associations should go the way of newspapers and share it all for free, but you also want search engines to drive people to your site. Here is what I think is the key. I think association sites should at a minimum require registration and opt-in from non-members who want "Free" stuff. This allows the association to know who is coming to the site and provides the opportunity to monetize the relationship with follow up email. I did a post several months ago titled trading content for contact that highlighted on group that I thought did this very well. Tony

Matt Baehr said...

Great comments everyone. Tony, thanks for the push to go back and read your post from before. Good stuff as usual. I would be curious to hear from any SEO guru's about hidden content.