How to Properly Sell VIP Memberships on Your Website
Selling access to hidden content or exclusive sections on your website is a great way to reward members for donations, paid subscriptions, or a one time sale of a VIP membership. However, this exclusive access must be worth it to your users if you expect to earn money long-term, and not leave a foul taste in the mouths of your loyal, paying members. Today we'll look over some common flaws in VIP membership schemes and focus on how to create a positive and worthwhile experience for your users.
Types of Exclusive Access
There are plenty of different ways to reward paying subscribers. For example, many YouTube channels have opted to not use the video network's internal paid memberships and have instead set up loyal followings on Patreon. This external network allows content creators (not just from YouTube) to offer quality content to their subscribers at varying prices. Often there are different packages that come with varying benefits. Perhaps a small fee of $1/mo will reward you with your username being shouted out in a video. A cost of $5/mo might get you a private conversation with your favorite entertainer, and $15/mo will provide you with access to videos that are never released publicly or for free. Whatever the rewards are, you will expect them to be worth your money.
Just like Patreon, there are many other methods to charge people money for access to restricted content. Many forums use plugins that give users VIP access / permissions to see hidden sections. This content may include tutorials, quality discussions, exclusive downloads, or content similar to the most common Patreon rewards. However, just like poorly executed Patreon offers, many VIP memberships on forums across the internet are simply not worth it. Online mentors and teachers, developers, writers, and many others offer services or premium content for either a large amount of money for a one-on-one relationship with a client, or a smaller amount of money for more widely distributed content or work. Everyone that offers something for money has a responsibility to deliver, and many do not deliver on those promises. This is the same across the board, no matter what type of exclusive access people are selling. There are always communities or websites that simply do not know how to reward their paying subscribers properly, and that can lead to a lot of issues. For one, a user may issue a credit card chargeback. Perhaps another person may write some bad reviews, or even start controversial feedback discussions on your website - discouraging others from paying for additional content. It must be done right.
Don't Sell VIP Memberships / Content if You Can't Deliver
When you go to an e-commerce store, you will often see how many items are left in stock. Perhaps the online shop will allow you to order the item anyways because the stock will be refilled, but in many cases you simply can't buy something that is not available. This is even more true when you go to a brick-and-mortar shop to buy an item. So why is it that so many websites sell premium memberships when they can't deliver? "Sorry, high quality content is out of stock!" is not something anyone wants to hear after paying a pretty penny or more for the quality content they were promised. If you want to be successful and not enrage your current members or future paying subscribers, here are some things to keep in mind...
- Premium content must already be available. Do not sell access to a "VIP Members Only Section" if you expect the VIP members to create the VIP content themselves. The very first person to purchase access to your exclusive content should immediately see what you promised. If you own a forum, blog, or another content-related website, then your VIP-only sections should already be filled to the brim with premium content. The promise of exclusive access and content was already made. You can't sell access and then tell them, "don't worry, the content is coming" or "well, we need more VIP members first so the VIP sections can be more active." That's not how it works. You don't buy a membership to the local country club just to find out that the club isn't built yet, and they certainly shouldn't be asking you to help build it either.
- Whatever you are promising should be clearly defined, and not misleading. If you say there are thousands of articles for paying subscribers, there shouldn't only be dozens or hundreds of articles. If you promise to release one VIP-only video per week, you can't expect your members to be happy when you only release one per month.
- It's not just quantity, it's quality. That's what everyone is expecting. If your pay-to-view content is lackluster or hardly any different than your free content, why does it cost money? One time I purchased access to high quality tutorials just to discover that the forum's VIP sections were just regular forum sections encouraging VIP members to share their personal tutorials. The webmaster did not release private tutorials of her own, and that's what we expected based on their description of what VIP membership would provide. The "exclusive" tutorials were poorly written by other VIP members attempting to give back to other VIP members and it was honestly very disappointing. Even worst, any feedback or reviews by VIP members that weren't complimentary were promptly removed from the website.
Is Offering Premium Content Right For You?
Now that you know a fair bit about your responsibilities, the ethics involved in selling access to premium content or services, and how many people fail to deliver on their promises, you must consider if you can handle it all. Are you going to be able to consistently provide the quality your paying subscribers expect? Can you ensure your website will be online and the same in a year or more from now to accommodate those "lifetime" VIP memberships slots you sold for $5 each? You need to make sure that the cost of the content/access is not only worth it for the customer, but for you as well. You can have the happiest customers in the world, but if you can't support your business model long-term, you are failing your customers. If you answered 'No' to any of these questions, you may not be ready to offer VIP memberships, hidden content, Patreon offers, or other methods for premium content.
Let me refresh your memory. The best way to start selling access to higher quality content is to make sure you can...
- Deliver content that is of higher quality than your normal content / site access
- Rely on only yourself or staff members to produce content, and never ask VIP members to supply content for other VIP members
- Provide a quality experience long-term, at a cost that is appropriate for the customer, as well as worthwhile for your efforts
You may find that you, your YouTube channel, Twitch stream, forum, blog, or website is simply not ready to be turned into a money making endeavor. That's totally okay! Do not stress out about not being where you need to be. You will get there, but if you can't honestly offer a VIP experience long-term then don't commit to that. Instead, you can commit yourself to offering a positive experience for free, building up your loyal following and community, and then consider offering paid memberships or access later. Whatever you do, do not scam, mislead, or let your paying subscribers feel like they were slighted by you! If you can avoid those things, you're going to be okay.