Welcome to SRCCON
Session facilitator(s): Anika Gupta, Andrew McGill
Day & Time: Thursday, 11:45am-1pm
ANIKA: Hello? Oh, it’s working. Hi everybody, welcome to our session. This is amazing. There are so many amazing individuals in the room. I’m not Andrew McGill, I’m Anika Gupta.
ANDREW: I’m Andrew, trying to figure out my mic.
ANIKA: You can turn it on.
ANDREW: There’s two but then
ANIKA: There is a power button, isn’t there?
ANDREW: There you go.
ANIKA: Welcome to the session. What I wanted to do here is the title here starts how do you build a membership program for media? And I guess the this is a topic that has been very much in the journalism news lately. How many are coming here from organizations that have a membership program already. So, this will be great. We’ll talk a little bit. The way we structured the session is we go through like a series of exercises and small groups. But Andrew and I both have some experience looking at membership from different perspectives. And we’re hoping that other people who have also helped build membership programs and researched them will be great if you guys hear as well as we go through this.
ANDREW: And briefly introduce ourselves, I’m Andrew McGill, a product manager at the Atlantic.
ANIKA: I am as well.
ANDREW: We are both product managers and our experience is based on that.
ANIKA: And our membership project at the Atlantic, and I did some research with the Membership Puzzle Project. How many have heard of it? This is so great. How many looked at research when you were putting together the membership program at your organization? Okay. Fewer. But that is still great. We’ll have all of that mixed into this. We also have some fun gaming outlets.
ANDREW: The background is we are part of the Atlantic’s Dungeons and Dragons club. We do it during our lunch hour. And we thought, as we break up into smaller groups to talk about membership, we will present you with random situations that you as a group, as a company would encounter and want to build around. So, we’re excited I’m not sure we brought enough D 20s to share around. But we’ll figure that out. That will be part of our fun together.
ANIKA: Not enough D 20s. A professional problem.
ANDREW: Should we start?
ANDREW: And we want to break it into three parts.
ANIKA: Do we want to break people into groups first?
ANDREW: That’s a good idea.
ANIKA: This is going to be in smaller groups. Most of it is good, but re distribute yourselves into groups of four to five people. If you are, you know, already in a group, great, but if you want to shift around a little bit.
ANDREW: This table, give it some love 37 we’re going to be here. More than five is okay, but you have to work among yourselves. All right, guys, thank you for that. We’ll pass out the dice in a few minutes. Like I said, the first step we had with the Atlantic was figuring out our members. Who they might be. The Atlantic’s description, going back 150 years. We certainly have hopes that a deep connection to us and pay money every month and visit our website all the time. But that’s different than folks that would pay $100 or more to be part of an amorphous membership.
We wanted to figure out who they were and what they wanted. We commissioned a study inside our organization. You know, we have a research group attached to our parent company. And they went out and surveyed 500 or 5500 people across various areas and produced a report that’s pretty helpful. These are actual slides from the document they gave us. And the big figure that our team took away that was helpful and that we weren’t crazy was that a fair number of folks were fairly likely or very likely want to be a part of a premium paid subscription product from the Atlantic.
And when we asked what they wanted out of it, a large number wanted research and insights on major issues, trends and ideas. Which sounds a lot like what the Atlantic does. And the second one was for long term editorial projects. And then there was a plurality of stuff below that. We essentially kind of took these things and brought that into our brainstorms as we thought about the form and the goals of our eventual membership class.
ANIKA: Andrew, quick question. Why a membership program? Why was that floated?
ANDREW: We were thinking about our future product lineup, if you will. We were thinking about ways that question get content and make money. One of those is our website. You know, we have tons of articles that we produce just for the dot com. And advertising. And we have subscription. And we knew we had a loyal audience from our metrics online and subscribers and people who paid for the Atlantic for 40 or more years. And I think there was, A, a desire to offer another product that would allow those folks to have new ways to enjoy us.
And also it was a desire on the editorial part as well to build a deeper connection with our readers. I think we’ve tried it before in the past. Specifically with a product we call notes at one point to offer more space for reader voices and back and forth. And that has grown as much as it’s going to. And there was interest in figuring out a new way to bring people into the fold.
ANIKA: Okay. Awesome. The survey was one example of how when you’re thinking about a membership program, you identify who your audience might be. Who is going to pay for it and what they might want. There are a couple other ways to do that. This is an example from the Membership Puzzle Project. City Bureau, a nonprofit, focus on community driven reporting. How many of you are familiar with City Bureau? I’m preaching to the choir here.
When they were thinking how to launch their membership program, they came to the Membership Puzzle Project and said we want to find a way to bring people into this process and understand what they want. So, they decided that they were going to have sessions where they sat down with potential members and brainstormed together.
So, they called it a public newsroom event. This is actually a picture of one of the events that I have been at. And so, they began with a couple of guided exercises. They reached out to members of their community who were potential members who represented a wide variety of different types of interests, demographics, and they said, come in and do some surveys with us. And they have members of their editorial and business teams there. And they have a lot of in person discussion where they really hammered out like what people wanted out of the membership program.
So, for example, they came in with some potential pricing and turns out that a lot of their potential members had had totally different ideas about how program should be priced. They argued about it and they said, okay, we understand. They wanted we understand you are a community driven organization. You need to have a membership tier that’s really low, like $1 a month sort of situation. They had some back and forth about whether that would be valuable for the organization. This was a transparent way of doing things and super interesting and yielded slightly different results for them.
Okay. So, those are a couple examples of of ways to identify your audience and research what they might want out of the membership program. The next part before I go any further, does anybody have any questions about anything that we just chatted about?
AUDIENCE: Do you know how City Bureau actually went about finding the members? Or the people they invited?
ANIKA: That is a great question. They are super anyone here from City Bureau? No. Okay. From what I understand, they are already pretty invested in the community because a lot of their reporting involves in person events and they reached out through those connections to recruit some of the people they wanted. Other thoughts and questions?
AUDIENCE: I was thinking, you know, given the small size of that group, it would be really easy to come up with a bad sample size and go down a tragically wrong path. How do you avoid that?
ANIKA: Yes, that is true. I would say in the case of City Bureau, they are also a smaller organization. So, if we were doing something like this at the Atlantic which we’ve thought about as we’ve continued to refine our membership program, we usually think of this kind of qualitative as something we do in addition to a larger survey. For example, which gives us a broader base of responses. But this is also really helpful. Andrew, do you want to go more?
ANDREW: I think you’re right. We pull people in to have conversations about products, do we get five people that believe a certain way? We back it up with a survey.
ANIKA: I don’t know if you have tried ways to do this.
AUDIENCE: Just curious, not to parse terms, but the idea that the Atlantic, there’s another session going on that’s the idea of, you know, that group I don’t know they might be a very diverse group and have to talk about. People would reach out, people who don’t necessarily know what the Atlantic is or whatever. Are you trying to reach those people? What the people where you’re talking about the dollar a month, you know? That doesn’t seem like something that would be profitable, but at the same time how does it work? How do you deal with the big issue of reaching more people than your requested readers?
ANDREW: Yeah. I think we’re not great at it right now. So, I think most of our surveys are from our email list. People who have a relationship with us in one way or another. Folks that sign up for promotions with us. And we’re to the finding other folks that we don’t know to ask this question quite easily. And I think part of the challenge going forward is that. And as we pull people in for in person conversations it’s folks from the greater Washington, D.C. area. And the readership is not only national, but international. I don’t have a good answer how to solve that.
ANIKA: But those are good questions, the two key, what is the audience you’re trying to serve? The Atlantic is a good example, and City Bureau, they’re different sizes and different types of audiences in different ways. And also, what are what is the type of audience you have and how you’re going to reach them? And so, I think what we’ll do, actually, is go into our first kind of exercise in small groups and see how that goes. So, the idea here is that in your small group you guys are going to work together to put together a membership program. And in order to make it kind of interesting and this is going to go through the session. We’re going to talk about other considerations but we thought that we would start with kind of rolling rolling some dice to give you some constraints as you start thinking about this.
So, the prompt for Andrew, if you want to start handing out the dice to groups. The prompt here is that you are an organization. You are looking to either create a new membership program or to refine an existing one, add new features to it. And this initial stage is where you’re going to brainstorm what are some of the user discovery techniques you’re going to use? So, what is the plan you are going to employ? These are going to be some of the constraints that you get. But you can come up with additional information as you go through this and start thinking about start thinking about, like, what you want to do.
So, the first role that you’re going to do is a D 6. Which is a six sided dice. And that will tell your group where you land on kind of the scale and how big is the organization. And where are they at in terms of membership? The second is going to tell you kind of your resource situation. So, this will tell you, like, how enthusiastic is the management? And how many resources do you have available? So, for example, you could have great ideas for a very ambitious user research program, but if you have one part time staffer devoted to your project and this may not be their specialty, how are you going make that work? What are you going to do? These are realistic constraints a lot of the times.
So, those are the first two.
ANDREW: And obviously I didn’t pass out dice to everybody because even my Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasm doesn’t support all the tables here. I will pass out the 20 sided ones. If you don’t have a pair of dice, you can open your Google search. Type 1D6. This is parlance for one six sided die. The first is a great website called rollthedice.online. And you can use the power of the Internet and do that twice.
ANIKA: Or borrow dice. Are we doing audience rolls on this one? The next one? I think we might be. Okay. Ah. Okay. Oh. I think we are also rolling this
ANIKA: So, this is going to be this will help you a little bit as you we are also going to give you an audience. And basically the idea is whatever you roll, these are going to be core features that your audience must have that you can add to it. As you start looking at user research, how are you going to use these people? Bring in things you have done in your existing jobs, et cetera. And these are partly for entertainment purposes but also because we wanted to give you something to work with.
ANDREW: Poor planning on my part. We don’t have D 10s. Use the 1 in 10 Google.
AUDIENCE: I have 15 here.
ANDREW: Wow. Hero of the day.
ANIKA: David saved the session and he’s one of our colleagues. By the way.
ANDREW: I’ll pass out the D 10s.
[Rolling the dice]
ANDREW: Hopefully you guys have your rolls done. Let’s talk about for about ten minutes how to reach out to these people and create your own information gathering efforts.
ANDREW: Hey, guys, just to clarify about what you’re doing right now. This is the point where you roll for the number of parts of your characters at your organization. Some of that affects the discussion later on, resources and so on. And then correct me if I’m wrong, but right now we are just talking about how we are going to reach out to the audience that you have identified and find out what they want and bring that information back to your organization. User discovery.
ANDREW: One more minute, guys. One more minute.
ANIKA: All right, guys. Just wind down for a minute. So, we were going around. And it seems like some teams got some really interesting combinations of constraints. Which is fun. So, do we have anyone who wants to maybe share? Are there some really original ideas you came up with how to go about this initial phase? What were some of the questions you wanted to ask your audience? How were you going to determine where you were going to find them?
AUDIENCE: We had a large organization with an existing program and a deeply unenthusiastic manager. And our target audience were vacation homeowners. We’re a lifestyle management that caters to the idle rich. We decided since we had an unenthusiastic manager that wasn’t going to put resources into this, we just to program, you start the rich person of the year award. And start profiling them. The only requirements to be a nominee, you had to be a member of the program.
So, at that point the hyper competitiveness of these billionaires kick in and they do the advertising for us.
ANIKA: Are you attaching some questions or user research to the
AUDIENCE: The best part is we’re interesting all the people through the profiles and we can do the research then with our half time reporter.
ANIKA: Busy reporter. Okay.
AUDIENCE: So, we also have a vacation home and yacht owners. Which is sad. But we had a meeting in the room, starting program, the manager and a part time staffer. We want to localize where to do this and get more effective and we have some folks from New Jersey here. We decided that the Jersey shore is going to be our stomping grounds. We actually developed like an ambassador concept. You would go and see yacht clubs for our brand. And then have an events based sort of membership program where people would have events on their yacht, right? The assumption is they want to fucking show off. The more they get together, the more they want to show off. I feel bad, but I hope if
ANIKA: All the yacht owners were offended. Yeah. Okay. And in terms of the research, were there any questions that you wanted to answer as you were building this program? Anything you wanted to learn about these programs?
AUDIENCE: The question for what matters to them. We made some assumptions. Like, getting the for the vacation homes and the yachts. The restaurants they go to in port or whatever.
ANIKA: This is also something maybe at one of the events you could talk to them about. Looking at the local and smaller. Understanding what their locations might be. Cool. Another yeah. Julia.
AUDIENCE: So, we also had small newsroom with existing program and management that is not keen and part time person to help. We got college students with very little disposable income. And how to reach them and what’s important to them. We detailed career fairs and things on campus. Talking to people and get a sense where they get their information, how do you want to connect to other students. What do they want to know? A focus group with pizza. Another thing that a part time person might be able to do in the evening. Those are the things we were interested in.
But one of the questions for you is, does a membership program need to have money exchange hands? Like if the students say to us, I don’t want to have to pay for this, but I want to feel a part of this, is there a way to develop a membership program that’s not based in money?
ANIKA: Yeah. I think definitely would share thoughts. But I would like to hear other people’s perspective on this. Does a membership program have to involve money?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, so, I recently designed a membership program for a kids podcast and it was it was a long-time debate about whether it was a hit or a premium or premium and we decided to have the barrier to entry to just email mostly out of the accessibility aspect. And we were trying to get parents to sign up. There’s interesting ways you can get them to upgrade from a free level. So, like, once they sign up, as long as you get the email. You can up sell them on smaller things later on. Obviously it’s a kid’s podcast. We were trying to talk to the parents via email to talk to the kids via website. Separate those things so they could navigate.
But it was interesting. It’s mostly working. I’m still not sure of the success of it, you can start free and build packages that, you know, escalate.
AUDIENCE: Anyone else have thoughts on this question of like does membership have to be paid?
AUDIENCE: We have been trying to do yeah, we’ve had a membership program of different extents for a while. One thing we have been trying to do is let people either pay or participate and give back to the community and experimenting with that. One of the things we found that’s really challenging to find ways to let people get back that doesn’t create more work than we thought. But to make it accessible. And we give people a way to kind of get back, and eventual they will become paying members once they have invested their time. I think the non profit and NGO world has done a really good job.
ANIKA: What are some of the forms of participation that people can kind of pay with in your program?
AUDIENCE: Usually it’s kind of like helping people go through information or spot things or like sharing expertise and finding ways to highlight that. That’s why sharing expertise is really hard to kind of highlight. If it was easy to automate, we would not have jobs. But we’ll keep working on it.
ANIKA: And also a quick note, one of the things when he was doing research that’s interesting, a lot of people at public media stations said something similar. When they were looking at constructing volunteer programs, they found that people who became active as volunteers, that could be a pathway to membership. Whether or not you were already enthusiastic and maybe give anyway. But maybe engage people who would do the work and hadn’t given money yet. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: People that work on political campaigns, the ladder of engagement. What you’re getting at. Getting people that do a small step. Agree to sign up for the email. Will you pay a dollar? And so also getting them to pay any money at all turns them from like I’m I’m now I’m the type of person who does this. I’m labeling. And then getting them to switch from $1 to $5 to $10 is way easier than zero to one.
AUDIENCE: How much are you going to get, an argument of ours.
ANIKA: Yeah. True. Yeah, that’s a really interesting political campaigns are a really good example of that. Okay. Well, I think that was any other thoughts out of curiosity, of the people here with membership programs attached to your organization, how many allow people to pay in participation? Have a mechanism for that? Okay. Just you guys. What’s yours?
AUDIENCE: I work at the Texas Tribune. I have been there six months, I don’t have a lot to say. We allow people to volunteer at our events. We hold about 60 events a year. And we also allow people to volunteer during the festival in the fall. I think this year they’re trying to up it to over a thousand volunteers. And in exchange you get a day pass to the event. We do some of that.
ANIKA: Do they become members of the Texas Tribune when they do is that?
AUDIENCE: Becca may be able to answer this better. I think they’re in the process of figuring that pipeline out.
AUDIENCE: I don’t think officially. Yeah, I think that we’re re evaluating benefits right now.
ANIKA: Maybe you can talk about this. I have the Texas Tribune as an example in our pricing section, actually. We just the founders where are you? Yes. Right there. If you have other questions about City Bureau and newsrooms, they have done a lot of work with that.
One of the questions we got earlier is when we were doing some of the public newsrooms to evaluate a membership program, how did you find not to put you on the spot, but how do you recruit and find potential members to bring into the conversations?
AUDIENCE: Our program has about 330 people enrolled and we pay to go out and hold events. We have former reporting fellows who have been in previous cycles come in. We hold people in membership programs. The number is kind of sprawling in some ways. But we track it very closely so we find that we represent every part of that whole so we basically sort it out each network and got people to come whoever presented that space.
ANIKA: Rigorous the way you looked at it.
AUDIENCE: It was a breakdown, but worth it. Because we use that same breakdown for other things.
ANIKA: Cool. Any other group that want to share some of their initial user discovery? Like ways you were thinking about getting to your audience before we go on? All right.
AUDIENCE: So, we have we had a big, money, and we have resources. We have we are targeting new parents. And a couple things that came up, how to address the unusual needs not the parent those are usual. We talked about observational testing. Surveying the existing member base. But the problem with surveys, these are busy people. Make it short. We talked about actually trying to get in people’s homes, follow them around for a day or two, understand sort of what really rocked their needs in a way they may not support as opposed to focus groups. We’re just nodding over here. Yeah. We’re cool. That’s good.
ANIKA: Cool. You guys are dealing with an existing program also which is kind of interesting.
AUDIENCE: Large newsroom, existing program, not keen management, but a team of five which gave us a little more flexibility to put more time into observation.
AUDIENCE: But the management by its nature is going to have some people edging out and new people coming in. It’s hard to keep it going in the long term plan. People are going to move on.
ANIKA: Plan for that. Yeah. Okay. Cool. Great. You feel like we have a lot of groups. I would love to hear every group, but we should probably move on to the next section. So, some of the people started getting at this a little bit. But the idea here was, we have the presentation. Kind of break it into the three kind of key things we want to think about with membership. The first is, how are you finding your users? And how are you kind of trying to understand their needs? And what we’re going to do after the session, we are going to post the notes in the user research and things you will continue to use.
But also so, you thought about your users, you thought about kind of researching. Now, the second stage is, what is going to be the key value and features of your membership program? What are kind of the first things that you’re going to offer to people? And so, we’re going to talk a little bit about how you guys did that.
ANDREW: Sure. We got surveys back and we realized very quickly, again, we did some mass surveying after this as well around some kind of topics that we thought people might respond to. And we realized very quickly that folks wanted inside the news room stories along the vein of Times Insider. But they also wanted more and different forms of the kind of original commentary and analysis that the Atlantic is known for. And we didn’t know what to do about that. Those are different things. We ended up testing both formats with the beta testers in the newsletter format. On your left is a picture with Trump. We did what we called the snippets test, which was much more of a kind of somewhat commodified news and analysis email.
We would list up front. Here’s the folks we’re going to talk to in the newsroom about the various things happening in the news today. As you scroll down, we would have a variety of formats bringing forward our Atlantic writers and their voices to bear witness and commentary on the events. So, one of them would have been a Q&A. One of them would have been three paragraphs of commentary. I think we had a caption to a photo, our animal writer, essentially, about spider monkeys. That was on the left. That was a much more diverse offering. On the right was simple. It was a story about by Van Newkirk, a story about New Orleans. And in reporting the story, had a lot of intimate and personal encounters with folks and brought his own personal history to this. And he wrote an essay about this that summed all that together and we essentially published that in full as the body of this newsletter.
ANIKA: Okay. So, that that was one example. Another example we mentioned is the De Correspondent. You are familiar with De correspondent? Yes. They were initially launched by a crowd funding campaign. They realized that their members had a lot of expertise and wanted to participate and contribute to news. Finding ways for people to participate was really important. They actually developed an engagement work flow for the reporters. And this is sort of what so, this is kind what have it looks like. But the idea is that as journalists work, they share their findings with members. And their opportunity is built into the technology for the members to contribute. And they noticed that this keeps people engaged. But it also means that the coverage they’re doing tends to be better informed because it draws on more expert sources.
And it’s fairly transparent. They are going to share reporters are going to share a story before they get started. They’re going to invite readers to share kind of knowledge and experience. And they also tell journalists to be very open as they’re going through the process. They continue to stress this kind of participation in their membership model so they have this idea about CRM for journalists, creating a Rolodex. But instead of traditional sources, they want to create the Rolodex of the members of the audience. And I want to contribute to the stories and be part of the community.
That’s one of the ways they try to keep people engaged, which is super interesting. So, yeah. Does anyone these are some examples. Does anyone want to share like an example of a program at their organization and kind of a unique offering that you have? Core feature? I know a lot of people here with membership programs at their organization.
ANDREW: I guess my thought is that the default thought is like a newsletter. That would be the beginning of our core offering. I’m curious if that’s the same thought for other folks or if you had more different ideas.
AUDIENCE: I don’t have a membership program, but I would be interested in hearing about City Group’s program and what works for them and what doesn’t work. If I can put you on the spot. Curious hearing more about what works for you in terms of the membership program or how you
AUDIENCE: Sorry, City Bureau.
AUDIENCE: City Group I called it.
AUDIENCE: It’s okay. The question was, what works for the membership program?
AUDIENCE: What doesn’t work?
ANIKA: The core offering, yeah.
AUDIENCE: So, there’s a lot to go into. What doesn’t work is I am putting out a newsletter actually because we notice that whenever we start a new cycle for the fellowship, that is the most popular newsletter of any time of year. People like to see what they’re invested in and what they’re invested in with City Bureau is our embarrass on investing in people. They want to see the face. They want to know what are you going to work on before we start working on it? So, we encourage that newsletter to talk about what is coming up with them. How you can contact them so that as they’re reporting they’re getting updates. Those things don’t seem like they are having membership more and more we find that they really are.
The people who become members. We have maybe like 110 members right now. I think are really driven by that connection to our actual newsroom, our physical space. People that come through it. Less the content. So, if we’re really pushing more, it’s kind of like the same thing that we’re talking about here. Figuring out how folks want to get involved. Whether it’s the membership, the fellowship, program. Recording that. Figuring out the news to plug in. But also the ones that don’t want to be involved. Just want to give.
There are many people who don’t want to do anything but support the organization for people. Making and providing more timely updates that are beyond just like a byline and more these are the people that were these are why we decided to take them on. This is what they’re going to be working on. Here’s how you can keep connected with them throughout this ten weeks and beyond when they go to work at the Tribune or the Sun Times or whatever it may be. So, that is am I explaining the question?
AUDIENCE: No, that’s awesome, thank you.
AUDIENCE: Our core offering, right? So, I’m Brian in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Denver and Denver, we have newsrooms. We don’t have a core offering, maybe? Or maybe the opposite would be the core offering is what we do. I mean, we have deliberately said benefits are secondary. So, when people can get a discount for an event. We send out a special email saying thank you for your money, here is what we’re up to. But being a member doesn’t necessarily get you more stuff than being not a member. We’re using our newsletter we have we’ve invested a lot of time in having great newsletters at all three sites.
But we think of those as a tool to convert web readers into members. As opposed to thinking of, say, the newsletter as a benefit for members. So, we sort of, you know, the short version of philosophy would be that we use the website to make newsletter subscribers. We use the newsletter to make members. And that the actual benefits you get from the relationship are that you love our work and we continue to exist.
ANIKA: Okay. Yes.
AUDIENCE: I’m David from Nashville. We started a program in January called Civility Tennessee. Civil city a controversial term now. But in any case, it’s the perfect time to do it. Essentially a campaign that includes physical and virtual, Facebook live. Broadcasts on things talking about sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. And bringing them together. We weren’t sure it was going to survive in the first month because of the echo chamber. But amazingly, it’s grown and we are using a closed Facebook group. We have only had to kick out one person.
We did tickets to events that we have. We have up to a portion for this particular group. If you’re involved, you get first dibs at we’re super nervous how do we talk to each other in respectful ways? And this is gold mine for us. It’s been an opportunity to grow that.
ANIKA: How many people are in the Facebook group?
AUDIENCE: At this time, it’s 210. It’s deliberately small and closed. And people have to answer three questions in order to get in. Are you going to be civil? And if you see uncivil, are you going to call it out? And three yeses, they can get in.
ANIKA: Cool. Well, so, our next so, now we’re going to kind of return to our fledgling membership programs that we are working on. And the next sort of segment is going to be where you are going to figure out what your membership experience is going to be. And I’m sticking with the term “Core offering” based on the feedback there. And you’re reaching out to people, hey, you’re supporting great work. It could be that you’re giving them something exclusive. It could be that you’re connecting them with other people. It could be that you’re offering them avenues to participate. It could be something different.
But what are you giving these members that is really integral to your experience? What is going to be a feature? It could be newsletters?
ANDREW: Should I introduce that dynamic?
ANIKA: Please do.
ANDREW: Okay. This is the results from your survey or how you reached out and got feedback. I dropped this into the Etherpad as well. It’s there online. Should we have a two D 20 or a one D 20.
ANIKA: You can roll it twice.
ANDREW: I think we should. And I’ll pass out more 20 sided dice as we talk. You’re going to pull down two of the resulting feedback from your potential members as to something they want in your program. So, for instance, if I roll a 14 and a 12, they want to see more partnerships are like minded organizations and behind the scenes peeks. This is the discussion with your group as to the core value offering you want to put in front of your new members. Am I missing anything, Anika?
ANIKA: I hope not. I’m busy giving people dice right now.
ANDREW: If you don’t have dice, we might have exhausted the dungeon masters here. We have about 20 minutes left. Take about 10 to discuss and we’ll hear back.
ANDREW: Let’s take one more minute and we’ll pull back together.
All right. Everyone. Let’s put it back together. We have all got our ideas now. And let’s begin to share them. So, I’m curious to hear from folks that came up with an idea they’re really excited about for a core value. Anyone want to start? Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So, our our factors, we didn’t share the first time around. We have a large program with existing program. Management that is enthusiastic with two full time staffers with diverse skills. And the audience is women who support their public media station. The way we were looking at it was like maybe this is like a local radio station. So, our idea is for our core value is a book club. But there are kind of some different tiers. And it’s sort of an audio book club. We have different components. We have a newsletter that can go out to anyone regardless of like paid membership that sort of rounds up stories and what we’re covering. We’re also going to do a podcast that takes listeners behind the scenes and how stories were done with a reporter giving insider look that’s also free to everybody.
And then the paid component, the part you have to be a member for is we are going to do live event series in the radio station. And that will range from like reporters talking about how they did stories to members coming in to listen to podcasts together potentially and breaking down how it relates to the community. To reporters getting feedback on upcoming stories. The other two criteria were a sense of exclusivity and organizational authenticity. The live event structure and that model, coming into the newsroom is pretty exclusive. And keeping it to yourself, keeping it like an audio book club.
AUDIENCE: I work for a public radio station that just launched a live event book club podcast.
[ Laughter ]
ANDREW: I think authenticity question is really interesting. And I know the group had also come up in the center. I’m curious what you settled on for your tackling of that.
AUDIENCE: So, we were a medium newsroom, trying to create something for freelancers. And we were fine, we settled on creative professionals. And when we roll the thing out, the authenticity thing, we decided to just pick a random brand. It felt like it fits. And so, we had done this work at past companies. We said, all right, we’re public in the space a little bit. And so, I think where we sort of planned it is with a kind of a paid Slack offering. Where it’s freelancers. They don’t have that community and what you get when you work at a company. And that for some some second or freelancers, having a community where you can have rooms for job postings or for health care, how to do taxes. How to report from home. All these things to have this place.
And we would have sort of a content offering, whether it’s a newsletter or a podcast. A Wiki site where we produce free guides to being a freelancer. And then that’s sort of the funnel. You come in and learn about, oh, yeah, that’s how I do my taxes this year. And there’s this community. And we sort of hang our shingle at the working spaces and LinkedIn working with that.
ANDREW: A bifurcated model with pulling some people into the program.
AUDIENCE: Yes. And getting businesses to post, that’s a piece of it as well.
ANIKA: You said paid Slack.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. It’s I know it’s a product issue.
ANDREW: Who else wants to share?
AUDIENCE: I want to share because I think it’s so interesting that we had we had very similar parts with the different management systems. We have the women age who had that? Okay. 50 65. But we’re a large newsroom with management that doesn’t want to do anything. And our group is concerned about authenticity and the thing’s gone off, but and advocacy for what their issues are. Yeah. And we were more like philosophical about it. Or, like, on that I don’t think we necessarily got into a ton of the little nitty gritty, but I thought it was interesting that way at beginning of this whole exercise in part one we were talking about how that demographic, especially at the beginning, that they already paid something to their programming, you know, that demographic tends to like to share their opinions and answer surveys.
So, initially we were talking about that getting survey information to figure out how to add them as members. But then we’re like, hey, maybe we could let the membership data that they get to answer surveys. In that idea with the management group, it’s clearly gone off track somehow. Whether it’s following the ad, following the money, whatever it is. They don’t feel that they’re really sticking to whatever is at the core concern. Being able to say, well, what is your core concern? Like, you know, we’re still dealing with the idea of like you don’t to want to make it only the people that are core concerned and people who can pay. We’re talking about different tiers with that.
Again, we were more philosophical than sales and media team. But I think the other thing, and I brought this up and people nodded, which was kind. I think that age group, as women and, of course, there are also other age groups and genders that would do this too. But when it’s the idea that advocacy on their behalf. They’re actually it’s advocacy on like a much larger scale. Like, you know, some, you know, teenager is shot. If it’s not their child, or not their race or whatever, I think that group is more likely to see, especially with the demographic of is to see that as their issue too.
And so, potentially connecting things that they already support like Everytown and MADD if it still exists. I don’t know if it does. Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They can feel this involvement that creates organizational authenticity that has interaction. The idea that the interaction was to figure out how to get members and that would be their benefit.
ANIKA: And they fill out surveys as part of the ongoing commitment.
AUDIENCE: Right? I think we were talking about sort of your model with the one this. What would you be more interested in hearing about?
ANDREW: Right. Well, I know we were wrapping up at 1:00 and we have one last thing we want to talk about, which was pricing.
ANIKA: Right. It’s too bad. I heard interesting ideas. VR updating. I don’t know where that went. Interesting things. Yes. We’ll just want to quickly roll through the last section. We did already start talking about this a little bit. Which is how should you charge and how do people do this?
ANDREW: I’ll roll briefly through the Masthead. We combined a number of things we found responsive in tests. And the thing in terms of pricing that’s not helpful for the discussion is we had a figure set kind of in mind of I think 100 bucks to start with, 125 for the next round of recruiting of new members. And that was in line with kind of a longer term vision for how we would price our products eventual in the future if we moved to a pay wall. Charged $24.99 right now for a year long subscription. We wanted this to be distinctive from that. So, actually went into it kind of with our price point in mind which I don’t necessarily think is how everyone will do it.
ANIKA: So, one of the interesting things about that is that it was a single price point for the program. But you can also go because the idea was like, this is a premium edition. You can get a subscription. But there’s more yeah, go for that.
AUDIENCE: Was that 100 a year?
ANDREW: A year. Not a hundred a month. That would be amazing. We’re not that good.
ANIKA: Any other questions about pricing?
AUDIENCE: I had a question which test won?
ANDREW: The snippets test won. Which surprised me because I thought the reporter narrative would have won. We essentially used a modified version of the, of course, I’m blanking out. The net promoter score to have folks say if they recommend this issue to a friend to read. Both performed decently. I recall the snippets won better. Which informed our style for the eventual newsletter.
ANIKA: One of the key things to evaluate success in the Masthead, it’s membership y. And would you recommend this to others?
ANDREW: On every newsletter, give us feedback. Includes the net promoter score function. And we do a survey once every quarter or so, we include that as kind of our baseline metric for the health of the membership.
ANIKA: Are you using net promoter score as evaluation? How are you doing it?
AUDIENCE: Annual surveys and started doing some quarterly surveys on specific aspects.
ANIKA: Anybody else? All right. Well, so the example that I’ll give is, so, I sent for the public Texas Tribune, a lot of them have tiered programs. This is off their website. You have done interesting work around thinking about how to get a really broad base of participation. And also thinking about like, for example, the question about students. Like, how do you get that population engaged if you have a lot of students? But they don’t necessarily have a lot of money.
And so, this kind of speaks to, like, okay, we’re trying to get a variety of different experiences. Do you want to add anything about that? Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Okay. So, we’re actually in the process of re evaluating these benefit tiers. I’m not actually laying it out. The audience officer is. But one of the things about a membership program is we basically have two almost distinct programs. We have a circle membership for high level donors. That’s going to give us her than a thousand dollars a year. A lot of that is through our CEO and development finance people. They just recruit for that program. Occasionally we get one out of the blue and you’re like, whoa.
But for the most part we just have, like, anyone can do this and we don’t really have any specific benefits other than you get to be connected to our brand and our community. We don’t really give you a lot to think about that. But our average is like $60 annually. And a lot of people prefer monthly and annual donations if that helps anyone.
AUDIENCE: I have a question for folks who offer a reoccurring for folk who is offer reoccurring membership like it’s monthly or so on. Have you investigated altering the frequency? Say they commit to $5 a month, but charge $15 a quarter, and save on credit card fees and has that been meaningful in any way?
ANDREW: We bill monthly. We don’t have an interim period. Anyone else?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, we allow reoccurring memberships. It’s better to pay out in advance with the predictive income you might get. And we run tests. If you can give us money one time in our campaigns for membership, we’ll target you and suggest that you become a reoccurring member and things like that.
AUDIENCE: Do you know if one performs better than the other?
ANDREW: Reoccurring versus
AUDIENCE: Sorry, monthly versus yearly?
ANDREW: Yeah, I would say the majority of our customers, our members at Masthead are annual. Which is I think a slight discount off of the monthly fee. That might be a feature of the earlier adopters, though. A large part of our initial rush came in from folks who, as we talked about elsewhere, really wanted to support the Atlantic. And in some ways, this is a way of putting an extra $100 into our journalism pocket. But for the most part we have annual, automatically renewing membership cycle.
ANIKA: I will say some organizations I remember talking to a bunch of organizations about this in the social media world. Talking about Netflix. Is this more valuable you than that? And so, I feel like a lot of people talk about that. So, I remember talking to like New York Public Radio. One of the things they talked about, looking at pricing. Yeah, if you price something at $7.99 a month, it performs differently from $8 a month or whatever. People respond to that language around like other content services. But also like increments in monthly prices. The success of that. Okay. Other thoughts on that? Pricing?
ANDREW: I know we’re five minutes past. We’ll wrap this up.
ANIKA: But these are the last two comments.
AUDIENCE: We recently talked about pricing with a consultant. And they were actually trying to offer us to do like sort of like big studies where we look at things and we ended up not doing it because it’s pricey and our audience is relatively small. But we’ve actually gone to like standardized pricing now.
ANIKA: This you have thoughts on that, find Michael after the session.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, two small comments. I talked to a lot of publishers, both memberships and subscriptions. Two things is the monthly and the yearly. With the yearly, you might have to deal with credit card expirations. Of course with monthly, you can deal with people that update that. That’s a small logistical thing I haven’t thought about. But also, talking about the Netflix pricing, that people are more likely to notice a hundred-dollar charge on their credit card as opposed to a 7 or $8 charge. so, it might be easier to keep people reoccurring if it’s a smaller reoccurring charge.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I’ll be as fast as I can. It’s not about pricing. So, what really works is motivation. And I think this is a larger issue in the industry of having to dig into this. Okay. But how do we get people involved in the day to day process of creating journalism where they are explicit I participating in not just the creation but in setting the editorial agenda on a day to day basis and I wonder if anybody had any thoughts about that?
ANIKA: And interestingly, I think both the De Correspondent and the City Bureau have done a lot of interesting work around sourcing agenda from their audience. What we’ll do is we’ll have a few more examples of interesting ways. I don’t think any organization has cracked that. Any other we should probably close.
ANDREW: Yes. I think so. Thank you so much, everyone.
ANIKA: Thank you, guys.
[ Applause ]
ANDREW: Leave your dice in the middle of the table, if you don’t mind. We’ll take that back.