“We wont necessarily be publishers in future,” Diane Young, MD of The Drum, told Page Lizard’s  2025: Visions for the Future of Publishing debate in February. “But we will be serving the needs of communities we have built.”

The idea of the media brand existing as the focal point around which communities of readers coalesce is not new. The idea of the media brand reducing its print revenues to a mere 9% of income and growing the rest from the service it provides to the community, is a signpost of the future.

That is the journey The Drum has taken and Young’s message to publishers was diversify to survive.

Diane Young speaking at

Diane Young speaking at ‘2025: Visions for the Future of Publishing’

It is my impression that many publishers are in the foothills of building the communities upon which their future revenues could depend. Some are the very start of the journey with talk about ‘getting to know our readers better.’  Others have built, or acquired, communities and succeeded in generating small revenue streams around them, either by selling products like bikes to readers of MSN and cars to readers of Evo, or running events.

Membership organisations have been doing this for decades and, in some cases, more than a hundred years. Their entire raison d’etre is to be the masters of their communities and spend every waking moment worrying about improving their engagement with their members.

They are significant investors in the latest CRM technologies to enable them to track the activities of members and potential recruits. They are often experts in selling packages and courses in training, professional development, certification and recognition. They run a busy schedule of events.

An emotional relationship

But I was most intrigued to hear there is now a recent shift in thinking from the old, blunt tool, of seeing member engagement as a transactional relationship – how can I get people to interact more frequently – to build an emotional relationship.

In the book Managing the Membership Experience authors Sue Froggatt and Mark Levin remark: “The most successful organisations… have discovered that there is value and profit in creating (managing) experiences that make people feel good about themselves.”  Apple does not sell hardware, it sells beauty; Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee, it sells aroma; Amazon an effortless personalised shopping experience – and so on.

The modern approach to building a community is, according to the book, to focusing on how being part of it makes members feel about themselves. Managing the member experience puts the focus on the qualitative (how members feel when they interact) rather than the quantitative (how often do they interact.)

James Roberts, from the Royal College of General Practitioners, is one of the new breed of membership engagement managers and will be talking about his experiences at our summer event, specifically with what lessons might be learned by non-professional organisations who are looking to build and engage communities.

Magazine editors and publishers are potentially already at an advantage. They probably already create beautiful content which speaks to their readers’ hearts. Unfortunately too many of us have seen clunky, transactional, commercial applications being bolted onto beautiful titles in order to bring in extra revenue.

Perhaps the message might be to learn from the membership organisations who are doing it well to discover how to build communities, make readers into avid members and then carry the emotional relationship which exists in print into the community and from there create new revenue opportunities.

Come along on July 5th and let’s see…

We will be exploring the theme further next Tuesday night, July 5. Please join us. Publishers, editors, digital strategists and membership organisation professional can sign up to our ‘Building communities’ event here.

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