Premium memberships can be a great way to monetize an online community. They allow loyal members to pay for extras on a community they already enjoy and appreciate.
These programs are not charity or donations. The best ones offer value that members want to pay for that goes beyond the good feeling of supporting a community that you have benefited from. A well executed premium membership program provides incentives, ensuring that participating members receive a good bang for their buck.
Scott Fox wrote a nice primer on how to get started with a premium membership program, but one of the best things that you can do, to determine what you can offer and how much you should charge, is to learn from what other communities offer. In this article, I am going to highlight some solid examples.
Web Hosting Talk Premium Membership
- Premium member badge.
- Distinct username color.
- Reduced limits in advertisement forums. Premium members can post once every 6 days, instead of the normal 7.
- Increased private message space – up to 1,000 messages can be stored.
- Free posting in the Industry Announcements forum, once every 6 days. Non-premium members are limited to $10 per post, once every 7 days.
- Access to exclusive forums and chat areas only available to Premium and Corporate members (more on that in a second).
- Lower flood limit – a lowered wait time between posts and searches.
- Discount on advertising through HostingCatalog.com
- Digital subscription to trade publication Search Marketing Standard ($29.95 value).
In addition, they also offer a Corporate membership. This is substantially more expensive: $1,200 for 12 months, $690 for 6 months of $375 for 3 months. But, corporate members receive all of the benefits of Premium membership, plus:
- Corporate badge and presence.
- Reduced limits in the advertisement forums. Corporate members can post once every 3 days, compared to 6 for Premium and 7 for non-premium.
- Occasional discounts for ad forum upgrades, such as sticky topics, highlighted topics, etc.
- Access to a special keyword alert tool, which can be used to monitor Web Hosting Talk for brand mentions.
- Free posting in the Industry Announcements forum, once every 3 days, compared to 6 for Premium members and $10 per post every 7 days for non-premium.
- Discount on advertising through HostingCatalog.com (greater discount than with Premium membership).
- Quick start guide to maximizing your Corporate membership benefits.
Depending on your perspective, this may or may not seem like a good value. It comes down to your use. For example, if you advertise a lot on Web Hosting Talk, the discounts on general advertising and on posts in the Industry Announcements forum might more than make up your membership fee and then some – not even counting the other benefits. Web Hosting Talk is a community that features a lot of professionals in the industry, so it makes a lot of sense to offer this membership tier.
ScubaBoard Supporting Member Program
ScubaBoard, a massive community for scuba enthusiasts, has created a program for supporters, aptly titled the Supporting Member Program. Their page for this program lists the benefits, but also is a good read for those curious about the logistics of such a program.
They offers 3 tiers of membership. The lowest cost option is Supporter, which is $39.95 a year or $3.95 a month. Here are the benefits:
- Distinct username color.
- Increased private message space – up to 1,000 messages.
- Ability to private message up to 20 members at once.
- Private message receipts and tracking.
- Access to an exclusive forum only for Supporting Members.
- Custom user title.
- Increased photo gallery space – from 256 MB to 512 MB.
- Bigger and more detailed custom avatars.
- Ability to be “invisible” and not be listed as online, even when viewing the site.
- Option to disable advertising on the community.
Those who opt for the yearly plan also receive:
- Two ScubaBoard stickers.
- Optional email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, providing for 25 MB of space, webmail and POP3 access.
The next level is Sponsor for $99.95 a year. Sponsors receive all benefits of the $39.95 yearly Supporter option, plus:
- Eight ScubaBoard stickers (ten in total).
- Even more private message space.
- ScubaBoard Mug.
- ScubaBoard Pin.
The highest tier is Business Sponsors. For $300 per year, these members receive all of the benefits from the Supporter and Sponsor levels, plus:
- Forty ScubaBoard stickers (fifty in total).
- More private message space than the Sponsor level.
- Ability to post threads in a special Hot Deals advertising forum.
- Access to private Business to Business forums.
- 20,000 impressions of a 468×60 advertising in any sub-forum.
SeaDooForum Premium Membership
The SeaDooForum Premium Membership offering is simpler and more straightforward. For $59.95 a year or $10.95 a month (the page says that prices will soon rise to $14.95), you receive the following benefits:
- Premium support for your Sea-Doo questions.
- Access to online resources, such as owners manuals, repair manuals, storage guides, how-to guides and more.
- Access to exclusive forums only for other Premium members.
- Fewer advertisements.
- Monthly discount codes for PWCMuscle.com.
- Increased photo gallery capacity – from 25 images to 200.
- SeaDooForum t-shirt (only with 2 year membership).
ZAM Premium Membership
ZAM is a large gaming network with multiple websites dedicated to specific games in the massively multi-player online gaming genre. This allows them to offer benefits across multiple sites, under one plan. They charge $29.99 a year, $17.99 for 6 months or $9.99 for 3 months. Paying members receive these amenities:
- No advertisements.
- Personal forum avatar.
- Custom title.
- Your own private forum/journal.
- Ability to follow an unlimited number of threads.
- Special template for improved mobile access to the forum.
- Image hosting for forum posts.
On top of these benefits, there are the game-specific enhancements tied into specific ZAM Network sites or sections of sites dedicated to specific games. These break down in different ways (see the page), but include advanced searching options, printable character sheets, increased post character limits and more.
BillOReilly.com Premium Membership
Controversial political commentator Bill O’Reilly has long had an official website with a premium member program. You can pay $49.95 for a yearly membership and receive a free gift (a copy of a book authored by O’Reilly), $14.85 for a 90 day membership or $4.95 monthly. A free gift is also given to yearly renewing members. Fans of Mr. O’Reilly who opt for this program will receive:
- Weekly video webcasts where O’Reilly will answer questions from Premium Members. Also released as a podcast.
- Daily analysis of news stories that don’t make his television program, with O’Reilly’s commentary.
- Exclusive video clips.
- Daily morning briefing of stories that O’Reilly uses to plan his television show.
- Access to Premium Members-only forums.
- Discounts in The O’Reilly Store (yearly members receive double the discount).
- Vote on nightly segments featured on O’Reilly’s television program, providing him with data that he’ll use to plan future episodes.
- Full access to archives of O’Reilly’s previous radio program, The Radio Factor.
- Exclusive photos.
- Customizable Premium Member homepage.
- Ability to email O’Reilly. Messages will be sent into a different pool from the rest of his messages, ensuring priority treatment and guaranteed review.
As you can see, these programs can go in a lot of different directions. But, in taking a look at other programs, you can get inspiration for features and pricing that you can use to build your own. If you have already launched your own program, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.