by Will Rogers
When it comes to online membership management software, there are a lot of things to consider. Let’s look at five key things to think through.
First, we’ll examine the key tools you might need. Second, we’ll look at how you will evaluate the software—what will be your most important features. Then, we’ll look at integrations you will use most of the time. After that, I’ll point you to thoughts on whether you can manage an all-in-one vs. cobbled together and some pros and cons. Finally, I’ll ask you to consider the sun in your ecosystem. What is “the thing” you are known for or the thing for which most of your brand should point to. Let get after it.
To start this whole process. I find it most helpful to review the key tools I love and the tools I actually use the most in my arsenal. Once you know that, you’ll be less likely to get interested in the bells and whistles of features that you won’t ever use.
For example, these are a few of the key tools I’ve found useful in dealing with many clients:
Member Directory - directory of members to connect with each other
Member Management - dive into member details and history
Direct Messaging - means for members to engage with each other
Member Stories - ways for members to share personal stories with a community
Payment Processing - managing membership payments and discounts
Access Restrictions - limiting access to membership levels
Privacy Management - ability to set personal profile privacy and access
Comment Management - tools to allow members to comment on content
Discussion Boards - ongoing conversations around key topics
When it comes to picking a member management software. Consider what features you need most? Are there features you simply can’t live without? Make sure you note these things so you don’t lose sight of them in your research.
For example, if how a membership software integrates with your other systems is a priority, write that down—and ask those questions early and often. Trust me, it will save you a ton of time in the process. You won’t waste time on things that look great—but actually aren’t a good fit for you.
Many membership management software will say they integrate with everything. But, it's easy to jump to the next step and miss this. Integrations are helpful but there must be a balance. Your membership management software should carry a lot of the heavy lifting and already bundle a number of key features together. There likely isn’t a one-stop-shop solution for your needs but you can mitigate the number of integrated tools.
For instance, I've written before on plugin alternatives to WordPress. So, as you review this list, understand it's vital to come at this with a list of your own, much-needed integration questions.
Here are a few of the most common integrations to consider:
Salesforce - moving member data into a CRM system like Salesforce
WooCommerce - housing sales from product to orders is vital
WordPress - migration and connecting blog and website is crucial
ActiveCampaign - connecting member data to automated marketing systems
MailChimp - sync with an email management system
Twilio - leverage text messaging to reach out to members
What’s your budget and what do you really want to spend your time doing? There may not be one perfect solution for your needs but you can get at this better by thinking through a few things at the start. My opinion is, try to minimize cobbling together as much as possible.
In an ideal world, you have as few logins and connections as possible. Maybe you have a member management software, CRM and/or automated marketing, and a text notification system. Now, if that’s all you need, your budget may thank you.
But, the more you grow your followers, the more your budget starts to grow. Each strategy has its benefits and challenges. Here’s how I find it helpful to think about it:
Highly cobbled allows you to have more features per individual technology but you may need an engineer to build the integration for you and there’s the chance of integrations breaking as each technology changes.
All-in-one allows you one or fewer key platforms to manage but you may have fewer features. Here you also have fewer systems to learn, log into, update, and manage. Most people don’t use all the robust features of each platform and would prefer to reduce the stress of having a lot of things working together and those complications.
Maybe it’s been a while since your last science class. That’s okay. I’m here to help! Everything revolves around the sun. At least most people agree with that last sentence! : ) It’s no different when it comes to your community.
Every community technology plan has some central “sun” or the thing everything else spins around. Do you know what that thing is? It might be your CRM, folks attending your events, email, blog, or memberships. If memberships are a core part of your strategy then I recommend that your membership software be the key epicenter to your strategy.
Integrating a membership site into another website or platform can cause user confusion and frustration—both for the user and for you. If this is part of your strategy, you want to create and offer a seamless, great experience for your members.
As you can no doubt see, when it comes to online membership management software, there are a ton of things to think through. These are just five things—whew! We looked at key tools you might need, how you might evaluate the software, what your most important features are, vital integrations, whether you should manage things in an all-in-one package versus cobbled together, and finally, we looked at what the sun in your ecosystem is.
Now that you have a good grasp on what you should consider in thinking through your membership software, you’re well on your way to getting more done—and faster.
You want to have a dynamic and multi-dimensional community that thrives. In order to do that, you need a strategy of both online and offline engagement. This guide will help you think through your approach to engaging a virtual community. Download the free eBook: How to Take Your Community Digital.
About the author: Will Rogers is the Founder and CEO of CauseMachine. Will’s career has been spent leading organizations and helping to mobilize communities to a shared vision. He has served in various leadership roles to build community engagement and movements teaching him valuable hands-on skills and experience. Will has developed business and community engagement strategies for dozens of organizations in nearly 50 countries. He and his wife have two sons and now live in Kentucky after two decades in Colorado.