The Membership Guys

Our 2017 Predictions for Developments in the Membership Site Space

As we welcome in the New Year, we’re taking a look ahead to the sort of developments we anticipate within the coming 12 months.

Here are our predictions for the changes we think we’ll see within the membership site space during 2017.

More people moving from Facebook groups to forum software

In the past year or so we’ve observed more and more people trying to switch to forums as they start to realise the limitations of Facebook groups for paid memberships. In 2017 we predict that this movement will accelerate.

We already know that Facebook are testing out ads in groups – and on top of that, they’ve also started implementing their newsfeed algorithm to group contents too, affecting which posts people see.

Both of these “developments” have disastrous implications for membership owners and are a further demonstration of why building your community on someone else’s turf is a bad move

At the same time the market for on-site forum software is improving.

Solutions such as IPS Community Suite (“IPBoard”) and Xenforo now boast a number of features inspired by social media, such as the ability to “like” posts, tag users and post status updates.

Furthermore newer options like Discourse and Muut organise content in a format more familiar to what people will be accustomed to on Facebook and the like.

Fewer new membership plugins will be released

We’re hoping this is true – not just the sake of our membership plugin comparison chart, but also for the sanity of anyone building a membership site for the first time.

There are more than enough options on the market when it comes to WordPress membership plugins, and we’ve long since hit saturation point.

For the most part, 95% of what every membership plugin does is pretty much identical; and there’s only so many ways to skin a cat when it comes to methods of granting access to content, managing subscriptions and other core functionality.

We really don’t need yet another membership plugin!

Instead I’m hoping to see continued innovation from the mainstays of the plugin market, with wider support for features that help membership owners on a strategic level – such as membership pausing, failed payment handling, abandoned checkout follow-ups and access to in-depth KPI reporting.

Wider support for marketing automation and third party checkouts

Integrations can be the main difference maker when it comes to choosing your membership plugin; and when a shiny new system you want to use comes to market it can be extremely frustrating waiting for your plugin developer to add official support.

2016 has seen an increase in demand for the use of third-party marketing automation services as well as checkout systems; with the latter in particular being an area where there’s been a lot of noise made last year – first with the multi-million dollar relaunch of Samcart, followed by popular new offerings coming to the market with Thrive Cart and Active Relay.

The added options these services give for not only improving the presentation and user-friendliness of your checkout process; but also for incorporating more strategic elements such as upsells, more flexible payment terms and the like make them very attractive additions to your website.

However the big problem is that most membership plugins don’t support these platforms out of the box.

The same goes for marketing automation services that have seen their popularity grow in the last year or so, including ActiveCampaign (our favourite), Drip and ConvertKit alongside mainstays Infusionsoft and Ontraport.

While this is an area that has been better served by membership plugin integrations than third-party cart systems have, there’s still a long way to go and we predict that 2017 will see much bigger strides in plugin developers adding official integrations for these platforms.

Increased use of Facebook Live

Live video was huge in 2016, and it’s looking like it will be even bigger in 2017 thanks in no small part to the explosion with Facebook Live.

So far people seem to still be figuring out how best to use this when it comes to promoting and growing your business; and we predict that this year we’ll start to see some real innovative uses of live video as a way of both promoting paid memberships as well as delivering content to members.

For membership owners who are using Facebook groups for their community, there is already the ability to live stream directly into a group, making it possible to run private, member-only live broadcasts which could be used for “office hours” or Q&A style calls. The added ability to schedule Facebook live sessions in advance formalises this further, and the fact that Facebook send notifications out when you’re live streaming makes this worth exploring if you’re trying to increase attendance for member calls.

We already know Facebook are testing options for streaming directly from your desktop (something currently only possible using third-party software) and there’s no doubt we’ll see further innovations on their part in 2017 that will make using live video as part of your membership strategy a no-brainer.

More widespread use of mobile apps for membership sites

More and more people are consuming content on their mobile or a tablet rather than at a desktop; so it stands to reason that providing a great mobile experience is a major win for a membership site owner.

Ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly is pretty much a given these days; and increasingly membership owners are looking for ways to provide a more “app”-like interface and experience to their members.

Services such as Mightybell enable you to do this with ease if your membership is focused more on community than content; enabling you to offer access to your membership via a native mobile app or even pay to have a completely custom branded app created. You can even use tools such as GoNative.io to add an app “wrapper” for iOS and Android around the mobile version of your site.

If your membership uses WordPress, then the introduction of API features for the platform will make it far easier for mobile apps to be created for memberships, and we would not be surprised to see at least one WordPress membership plugin developer jump on this in 2017 and offer the ability to create an app for anyone using their system.

Greater access to reporting and data

Knowing your numbers is crucial for any membership site owner, however unfortunately reporting on important stats and KPI’s is something severely lacking in the WordPress membership plugin space.

Only a handful of membership plugins offer any reports at all, and even those that do fail to give you the real depth of information needed to really get to grips with your figures.

Thanks to the growth of the SAAS market, there are a number of services out there for extensive analytics on subscriptions; however none of them directly integrate with the established membership plugins most people are using, and the best services only support Stripe for payment data; with a surprising lack of support for PayPal.

Chartmogul does support both – though the ability to use the latter depends on how your membership plugin handles Paypal (i.e. it won’t work if you’re using MemberPress.)

Baremetrics have been talking about adding Paypal support for close to a year now, hopefully 2017 will see it happen, and we’re hoping more SAAS analytics services follow suit.

The first membership site of note to utilise FB Workplace

In 2016, Facebook announced “Workplace” – a product which enables companies to use their own version of the Facebook platform and technology to create their own internal social network.

One of the main negatives of using Facebook groups for paid memberships is the complete lack of control you have; and it would seem that Workplace could remove this obstacle, enabling you to capitalize on the familiarity and convenience of the Facebook ecosystem while maintaining control over data and so on.

Although not what it’s necessarily been designed for, Workplace could certainly be used to great effect for a paid membership community, and we think 2017 will see the first real membership of note – i.e. one with a recognised brand and hundreds to thousands of users – make the switch to, or at least trial, using WorkPlace.

Right now the per-user cost is probably a little too prohibitive for the average membership owner, and it’s not yet available to everyone; but it’s something we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the new year.

So there you have it, our predictions for how the membership site space could change or evolve in 2017.

Admittedly some of them do veer into wishlist territory, but hey, hopefully they’ll be read by a membership plugin developer and will inspire them into action so come next year we can act like geniuses for having predicted things correctly!

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