Memberships Matter More

In a follower-crazed world the smartest creators are realizing memberships are the magic metric

3 min read

If you had asked me when I was younger to describe the idea of “memberships” to you, I would have mumbled something about YMCAs and golf clubs. It’s a concept we’re all familiar with, but the idea of a membership in the creator economy has never been well defined.

Just a few years ago, I was trying to make sense of the growing popularity of “membership” language in the tech world. As someone who cut his teeth in SaaS, I was programmed to think in terms of “subscriptions.”

Yet here I am today building a company that sells “membership software.” 

What changed?

In retrospect, my initial understanding of memberships in the digital world was overly influenced by the most popular use case our customers brought to us—they wanted to charge membership fees for access to their content. It was about a paywall granting access to content. But as the last few years have unfolded, I’ve realized that view was far too narrow.

I believe memberships will come to power the creator economy—and that the popularity of memberships in the digital world is only just starting to explode. 

Members are what we as creators should be shooting for!

Memberships are not a monetization model—they're a relationship model

As we begin to explore why memberships wield such great power, it’s important to note that their power is not derived from the recurring nature of most memberships. I’m the first to sing the praises of recurring revenue; if you can build a recurring revenue stream you probably should.

But memberships can be free or paid. They can be monthly or yearly. You can pay a one-time fee for a lifetime membership, too! The importance of the term is not tied to a payment term—it’s tied to the inherent nature of your relationship with your members.

Memberships are a proverbial handshake between us and our customers—they're a two-way agreement that we’d like to be a part of each other’s lives on an ongoing basis.

Memberships have staying power—they're the ultimate measure of our resonance and the value we’re delivering. Comparatively, they make more transactional relationships look short-sighted and followers look fleeting.

The flaws of transactional relationships

Most of your relationships with the people, organizations, or businesses that you buy products from are likely transactional—and that’s OK.

The seller is incentivized to charge you the highest rate possible, because the value of the product is delivered in one go. “Sales” is then the process of convincing you that the product is worthy of the price; whether that’s true is mostly a gamble when you’re buying something new.

In this model, you’re often of little importance to the creator or business once you transact. They’re on to the next sale—their business model depends on it.

There’s nothing wrong with this model—it would be silly to purchase many types of products via a membership. But there’s a reason we often feel apprehension towards sales people and large transactional purchases, while memberships often become a part of our identity.

Memberships hold the seller accountable; and buyers invest in memberships when the value of the relationship has already been proven to them.

The fleeting nature of followers  

Further removed from our wallets are our social media followers. Everyone is obsessed with growing on platforms like Instagram, and Twitter, and TikTok.

Distribution above all else! The name of the game is eyeballs and influencers. 

But let’s admit it—you follow those big creators. Your feeds are filled with their posts. But are they invested in you?

Worst of all, these platforms and their ever changing algorithms sit between you and your followers. You don’t even own your relationship with the people who have chosen to follow you! It’s why our social media feeds are filled with creators asking us to subscribe to their newsletters. 

How long can this “Did you like this post? Subscribe to my newsletter!” madness continue to go on?

A follower certainly represents some degree of signal or interest—but it’s a shallow and fleeting relationship at best.

Memberships are relationships of greater depth and value

Memberships are simply a better model—members are people with whom you have a relationship of far greater depth than a follower or a single transaction.

They’ve raised their hand—and pulled out their wallet—to show that they want access to YOU. And they’re not just looking for a one night stand—they’re looking to go steady. 

In a transactional relationship, by the time you open your eyes in the morning the seller has already snuck out the front door. With a membership, they’re downstairs brewing your coffee and frying the bacon.

It’s the ultimate upvote. And how cool is that? 

We enter into membership relationships with people, and organizations, and businesses that we already know. Where they’ve already demonstrated their value to us in some way, and we’re still there saying “I’ll have another helping, please!” 

As creators, memberships are a two-way commitment to our most engaged fans. We spend dozens of our waking hours on our work each week. Shouldn’t we be optimizing for more of these relationships in our businesses? In our lives?

As a creator, shouldn’t these be the people we spend our days working to serve?

None of this is to say that growing a membership is easy; but I believe memberships are what we should be after.

Members are the KPI we should be shooting for if we want to understand the true value of our work to others.

Memberships allow you to offer many product types

As I look across Outseta’s customer base today, I see creators selling:

  • Software
  • Content
  • Community
  • Courses
  • Consulting

It’s become apparent to me that in the creator economy these things have become spokes in the wheel of memberships. All these things live under the umbrella of memberships—they’re simply different ways that you can deliver value to your members. 

Maybe you only offer your products to your members, or perhaps members can access your products at discounted rates. You can still sell your products to people who aren’t quite ready to be members, too! But the magic almost always lies in serving our most engaged fans; those that have an insatiable appetite for an ongoing relationship with us and our work.

You can stop chasing followers. 

You can stop chasing sales. 

And you can start showing up consistently with the knowledge that people who admire your work most will notice and become your members.

As for our work at Outseta, let’s face it—there’s no shortage of tools serving the creator economy. You can create a digital storefront. You can launch an online community. You can deliver a course using a learning management system.

But I see the best-in-class creators as hungry for something more. Rather than transacting across a smattering of disconnected, cookie cutter platforms they want to build premium membership experiences worthy of their brand. Where they retain control of the experience, with fewer logins, and more flexibility to use the tools they like best.

Where their relationship with their members is at the center of all that they do.

If that’s you, we’re listening—and we’re building Outseta for you. 

It’s why we’re the only membership software today that includes features like a full CRM, a help desk, or customizable cancellation surveys so you know what you can do to better serve future members. We’re building tools to facilitate relationships of far greater depth than a transaction or a follow.

Memberships simply matter more. 

Are you ready to start building yours?

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Bruno Monte

April 12, 2024

Well said, Geoff. Highlighting the link between "Membership" and "Relationship" really broadened my perspective. It not only makes perfect sense but also sparks new opportunities for creators.



Geoff Roberts

April 12, 2024

Thank you! I think that's an important mindset shift that really shifts how we think about our relationship with our customers and who we work to serve.