Improve Membership Retention With The Reason to Return Approach

The massive feat of launching a membership site is behind you (so congrats!).

Now the real work begins: keeping your members around for as long as possible.

The challenge–improving your membership retention–is an ongoing struggle for new AND experienced membership site owners. After all, how many of your new members log in on a regular basis? How many lose interest after the initial sign up (resulting in cancellations, lost revenue, and reduced word of mouth referrals)?

The good news is that the implementation strategies are extremely straightforward, and truly give your clients a reason to return.

The Reason to Return Approach:

1. “I belong!”

GOAL: Create an environment where users are seen, heard, and can engage with one another.

People come for the content, but stay for the community. Creating a community means giving people a safe place to express their struggles, their wins, and their progress with the goals of your membership or courses.

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To have people feel welcome and like they belong, have a strong onboarding process and facilitate community through:

  • A forum or FB group, encouraging introductions, and pairing people up
  • A member directory to have people finding each other and connecting directly
  • Go first and share vulnerably and invite others to do the same
  • Ask people to invite their friends, so that the community can be enriched by others like them
“Organizations that build their businesses around people’s needs to belong, to be connected, and to be admired, that are focused on relationships over products, are winning in today’s economy.”

― Robbie Kellman Baxter, The Membership Economy: Find Your Super Users, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue

2. “I can do it!”

GOAL: Celebrate achievements + motivate with points.

improve membership retention with gamification

LMS Gamification is quickly becoming a necessary ingredient for keeping members engaged in an online experience.

The methods of gamification used are varied, and might include any (or all) of the following elements:

  • Give members points each month as a thank you for keeping their subscription
  • Give bonus points when people complete quizzes, courses, and share on social media
  • Have people compare and cheer each other on based on their point balances
  • Reward and give prizes based on points earned (physical gifts, unlocked bonus content, etc.)

3. “Perfect for me!”

GOAL: Prevent overwhelm with quizzes and personalized assessments.

One big complaint with membership sites is the sheer volume of content that members could consume is overwhelming.

It’s like walking into a giant library … and walking out empty-handed, because you just weren’t sure what you should get “this time.”

How can they decide what to dive into?

By offering a simple assessment that guides members to the right next steps, you not only give new users a compass that makes them feel confident, but you also ensure that there IS a good fit for them inside your membership, if they commit to looking hard enough.

improve membership retention

An assessment (which can be as simple as a personality test) reduces overwhelm, and in turn, can reduce cancellations that tend to flood in because of the excuse that “I’m just not taking advantage of all the content”.

4. “There’s always something new!”

GOAL: Add new elements to keep members coming back for more.

Static, unchanging content works for a while … but if you want members to stick around for the long term, it’s important to add new elements that keep them excited about coming back for more.

It could be something as simple as celebrating the amount of time that your members have been with you, like Twitter does with this popup:

Milestone Celebrations

Or, it might mean adding new course content, increasing engagement and encouraging interaction with new members, or even just sprinkling in some unannounced bonuses and perks.

Give people an idea of what courses and content are coming soon, so they can plan ahead… and keep them looking forward to logging in next.

5. “This is fun!”

GOAL: Pick a theme for your members area.

Unless you’re truly running a course in an academic setting, such as creating a certification program, you can brand your membership site with a theme that can set you apart and make it way more fun for students.

Your membership area can be anything from a “Studio” where artists come to get inspired, to a “Dojo” where sales executives can come to get trained on sales.

The LMS theme you pick influences everything from how you name your lessons, what kind of points people can earn (from paintbrushes to karate chops).

improve membership retention with gamification strategies
One online learning center that has done this incredibly well is Khan Academy – a free online hub of learning for students of all ages.

6. I’m making progress!

GOAL: Use progress tracking, individual follow up, and bonus unlocking to motivate participants.

Gamification theory shows us that people need to accumulate “wins” early and often to keep them motivated on their learning journeys. That’s where progress tracking, and showing how far a student has come can keep them going longer.

Plus with individual follow-up, you can kick-start an automation to send emails to members who aren’t progressing or seem to be stuck.

You can also reward members as they move through your membership area with bonus content and other perks based on their specific actions.

strategies to improve membership retention

7. “What an experience!”

GOAL: Facilitate a personalized experience with live group events and individual feedback.

Even though membership sites are built to scale, there is a way to do it while caring. With pre-scheduled group events you can answer questions, have members get to know each other and keep the motivation and excitement high.

Similarly, you can offer individual feedback through “homework submission” and this gives members another reason to login to your membership site to submit and receive your advice directly.

Reason to Return: Infographic

This infographic gives a summary of the Reason to Return approach, which is one membership retention idea for your program.

strategies to improve membership retention

Nathalie Lussier

I’m a writer, technologist, and regenerative farmer. I founded AccessAlly with my husband in one frantic weekend to solve my immediate course platform issues. Over a decade later the company has grown, and our product has evolved to serve millions of learners across the globe.

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