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How can membership business models, based to some extent on the concept of exclusivity, flourish in an environment increasingly driven by collaboration, openness, and participation?

The prevalence of collaboration tools, social networks, and search capabilities combined with the proliferation of accessible content, has made maintaining membership rolls challenging.

To make matters worse, potential new members often have expectations that conflict with those of existing membership.

How can a membership organization meet the competing needs of different groups and still sustain itself and serve its larger mission?

Could we pull non-members into the planning and execution of events or activities in which they may be interested, giving them a connection to the organization, the mission, and the existing membership before they’re faced with a decision to “join”?

In some cases, could providing interaction with non-members increase learning opportunities for our current members?

Could we offer non-members features, like credential verification and access to credentialed online communities, for free and then offer them opportunities to pay for additional products or services they want to consume?

Could ideas like this be the basis of “custom membership,” where different levels of interest or affiliation are offered at different price points?

Perhaps we could use a model based on flow.  The flow of people through an organization over time where their relationship with the organization changes as their needs change.  Payment models could also vary based on their consumption and contribution.

Is membership a sustainable concept at all in the era of open participation?

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Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Digital Officer at PLOS charged with driving the development and execution of the organization’s overall digital and supporting data strategy. Working collaboratively across PLOS, and through industry collaboration, her team will facilitate the strategic evaluation and evolution of PLOS platforms and processes. Prior to joining PLOS, Ann was CEO of Delta Think. There she gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. She focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Ann is an ardent believer in data informed decision-making and was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, a comprehensive, interactive, regularly updated data set with diverse visualizations and extensive analysis, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Ann is a Past President of SSP, a Board Director at Joule (a Canadian Medical Association company), Board Chair of Delta Think, and a member of the Learned Publishing Editorial Board. She has a MS from SUNY Stony Brook in Policy Analysis and Public Management and an MS in Business Analytics from the NYU Stern School.

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2 Thoughts on "Custom “Membership”"

Fantastic questions. As people are able to organize themselves into collaborative social groups, it is critical that membership organizations find ways to differentiate and provide distinctive value for participating.

In the same way publication is changing, the model of membership needs to change as well. It is something that our organization has explored over the past four years and we’re still working to get the mix correct.

Todd –

It seems as though models based on limited distribution, exclusivity, physical location, etc need to consider some fundamental shifts. I don’t think all of these things will go away – but they’re on the verge of an evolution – or a redefinition of their value to their target audience.

Another one on my mind lately has been conferences. When we’re always connected and continuously learning, it seems as though the value of conferences, as a source of information, is pretty limited. The value must be derived from something else (networking, problem solving, etc.).

Thanks for commenting!


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