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Membership Fees In An Era of “Free”

The Community Roundtable as a concept was launched at this year’s SXSW.  Jim & I went to SXSW both to meet people and get feedback on our idea to build a private, fee-based peer network for social media and community managers.  Suffice it to say we got enough encouragement to continue and in fact, several people we spoke with considered it an essential component in making the job of community management more recognized and respected.

There have been casual groups and occasional gatherings of community managers for a some time. Great conferences like the Online Community UnConference, Community 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, and the Online Community Summit bring together community managers and we see them as valuable options to continue their education. There are communities built by social software vendors for their customers, which provide good information, but can be tilted toward convincing people communities are worthwhile and/or the software itself and what it can do. There are also LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages and Twitter conversations that focus on open dialogue around social media and community, many of which we participate in, but they lack the consistent, ongoing programs we feel are important to strong community.

However, none of these focus specifically on the the day-to-day or career needs of social media and community managers themselves. Topics like coaching executives, educating employees, determining appropriate community guidelines, engaging customers, evaluating tools, defining metrics, etc. Most sponsorship dollars go toward programming covering the why but not the how. This is the niche The Community Roundtable fills.

We are not free because….

  1. First and foremost, we are committed to serving the needs of our members. It’s that simple. That means, as a business, the majority of our revenue needs to come from members. In business terms, there is no other way to stay focused on what our membership needs.
  2. Good programming and community management is important and critical to the success of any community and The Community Roundtable is no different. Jim & I could fill our time with consulting projects at the expense of the ongoing needs of the community, but instead choose to provide a high level of service to our members. One thing is clear… community managers are some of the busiest people we know and they need all the help they can get sort through the noise and make the right decisions for their company and career.
  3. Fees provide an indication of how serious members and/or their companies are about the community management discipline. We want members who are invested in community and social media management. They are more likely to participate and they push us to do better as well.

We’ve very consciously made the membership fee low enough that the value proposition is clear, but high enough that it provides enough revenue to sustain a values-based business. We also want membership to be accessible to non-profit and government members as they bring in complementary skills and experiences to many of our corporate members (and vise versa).

We’ve also consciously worked to provide free content and an aggregation service through our blog and Twitter feed to community managers who may not be able to afford membership or may only be tangentially interested since it is not their core responsibility. Why do we spend our time on that?  It obviously helps us with finding people who are interested in joining The Community Roundtable, but it also helps further the conversation and thinking in the market. We do want to give something back to the community and are appreciative to those that have recognized that.

And what about sponsors?  Well, we’d rather partner with the vendors and consulting firms in the social software space in a way that complements their technology and services with management training and cross-discipline knowledge sharing. We also want to ensure that we provide a safe, trusted environment for our partners’ customers so our partners never feel like we are offering up their customers as prospects to other vendors.  Interestingly, while we do have some conversations about software in the community, it’s by no means a large percentage of what community managers seem to need to talk about (although they do have an intense need during periods when they are actively evaluating new tools).

Interested in what kind of best practices we document on our weekly roundtable calls? We’ve made the summary of our call on member engagement available here. Our upcoming roundtable schedule and past topics can be found here along with the experts who have joined us to facilitate those conversations.

So that’s our story. In the spirit of open dialogue, we’d love to hear from you.

Is education, training and connecting with peers important to you? How important – worth your time? Worth your money? Do you have ideas on how we can add more value to make membership worth the fee for you?

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TheCR Network is an annual membership-based peer network of community, social media, and social business practitioners. We run strategic, tactical, and professional development programming and events as well as an online community for discussions and making connections.  Join TheCR Network

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