Social Media for Wordpress: VIP Memberships

by Michael Kuhlmann | April 2012 | WordPress

In this article by Michael Kuhlmann we'll be learning the following topics:

  1. Why customer value proposition, sustainability, and timing matter
  2. How to set up memberships and make category-specific content restrictions applicable only to non-members
  3. Key opportunities to mention your other social networking accounts on our site
  4. How to implement page-specific custom scripts like a countdown timer
  5. More ways to reward site members for using our site

Let's bring some of these ideas to fruition.

(For more resources on WordPress, see here.)

Three important facets of membership sites

Although you can dissect a successful membership-based site into pieces, there are three vital elements. What do I get out of registering for this site? Why should I register now? How will this site impact me two weeks from now? These are all simple and fair enough questions. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

Customer value proposition

Creating membership-based sites is tricky, because there is a natural expectation that a visitor or customer will receive something of value by registering for a site. If there is a low incentive for registering for your site, don't expect too many signups. The opposite is true, as well. A site that offers a full album in exchange for site registration will fare better than a site that only offers one song from the same album. Customer Value Proposition (CVP) is not rocket science, but it's a concept that you need to grasp to grow your site. What you perceive as great value might not necessarily be in line with what your prospective members expect. CVP also doesn't dictate that you need to put a price tag on the value that you're proposing; it merely suggests that what you are proposing will be useful and relevant to your site visitors. If you are unsure whether you are proposing something valuable on your site, in exchange for the time and effort it takes to complete a site registration, ask a neighbour, co- worker, or other acquaintance some of these questions:

  • What aspect of this site would make you register for it? If you wouldn't register for it, why not?
  • Would you recommend this site to your friends or family?
  • How can the membership be more compelling?
  • Would you ever consider paying a fee to keep your membership?

Regardless of what people say, you have to be open to constructive criticism. Throwing all feedback by the wayside typically means that you are not prepared to embark on what you are doing. Last, be honest with yourself and try not to ask your parents, best friend, or spouse for this type of critical feedback, unless you're certain they won't be shy in trying to poke holes at your ideas. The more uncensored, truthful opinions you can collect, the more your site and membership will be polished.

Timing

Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca is often quoted as saying, Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. While you don't have to be lucky to offer memberships, you do have to be strategic in how you open up site registrations. For example, you wouldn't suddenly offer a VIP membership in the form of a paywall, if there weren't any significant differences in your own freely available content or that of a competitor. You would, however, open limited VIP membership registrations on December 12, 2012 that offered premium content such as videos, downloads, and other goodies. In this example, the advantages are two-fold:

  • First, you would spark a sense of urgency and exclusivity by using the terms limited registrations.
  • Second, the registration date would allow you to market the VIP membership during the holiday season, when people are already on a spending spree. Plus, you would be able to make it easier for prospective VIP members to memorize this registration date by advertising it as a 12.12.12 event.

Again, it's not rocket science per se, but you do have to take the opportunity and be prepared with a plan of action. You only get one first impression when you pitch your membership to your visitors, so try to schedule the registration period during a time when there is a significant change on your site—a site launch, re-design, newly added section, partnership, or any other big announcement. This way, it appears more like a bonus feature than a gateway to profile your users. If you plan on keeping membership registrations open indefinitely, be sure to keep the content fresh on the page that outlines the benefits of registering for your site. Some sites update rotating testimonials whereas others may feature recently registered users to prevent the membership opportunity from looking stale.

Holidays and other celebratory days are extremely helpful when it comes to timing, as they allow you to spotlight your membership section. If you charge for a premium membership, for example, you can always promote discounted specials through Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media networking site. Pairing Earth Day with news that your sites are running on energy efficient servers, for instance, would allow you to advertise something like Our community is all about green energy. You could even build a whole green campaign around membership signups, utilizing videos (http://www.youtube.com) and photo galleries (http://www.flickr.com) to paint a more telling story.

Sustainability

We've figured out a way to entice your prospective customers to register with our site, but what now? When it comes to site memberships, sustainability is a blanket term that incorporates long-term growth coupled with loyalty marketing—the practice in which you retain your customers, or site members, by focusing and delivering customer satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to an increased ROI.

We come full-circle, now that we're honing in on building site memberships. Sustainability, at this juncture, means repetition. It means that we cannot rely on a one-off piece of content, an interesting blog post, a great album, or an amazing product to engage our members. It means that we cannot procrastinate on our content, if we want people to actively talk about it. The web works at warp speed, so it's imperative that we churn out good content on a regular basis. It can be absolutely time-consuming. But that's also why we've learned how to automate a lot processes to dedicate more resources to content. Good content will always remain at the forefront of sustaining your user retention.

Time for action – how to open limited membership registrations and reward users

For this activity, we will start off by using WordPress' official Twenty Eleven theme and four plugins—HeadSpace2 SEO, WP Show IDs, S2 Member, and Cube Points:

Part 1—setting up member-accessible content

In this part, we will configure the S2 Member plugin to block content for site visitors that have not registered with the site yet:

  1. In your dashboard, navigate to Add New under Plugins and search for S2 Member. Install and activate the plugin.
  2. Next, add a new plugin called WP Show IDs by repeating the directions in Step 1. This plugin simply displays the ID associated with each post, page, and category.
  3. Now we'll create the login welcome page, which is the page a member will see upon logging in, by navigating to Add New under Pages. Title it Login Welcome Page. Since this is the first page that members will see each time, take the opportunity to let them connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any of your other social media networking accounts, by mentioning this in your content field. See the following screenshot for an example:

  4. Create a new page but, this time, give it a title of Membership Options Page. This will be the page non-members, or the general public, will be redirected to when they attempt to access any content that's restricted to members. It can also double as a payment gateway page, if you choose to sell subscriptions to access content. Again, be sure to highlight your other social media network accounts by mentioning this in your content field like in the previous step.
  5. Navigate to Categories under Posts and create a new category called VIP. We'll use this to restrict access to posts filed under this category. Be sure to jot down the ID of this category when you create it, as you'll need it later. The ID is located in the last column to the right of the category list.
  6. Configure S2 Member to recognize the VIP category as a restricted category, only accessible to registered members, by navigating to Restriction Options under S2 Member. Click the Category Access Restrictions section and type in 3, the ID you obtained by the previous step, under the Categories That Require Level #0 Or Higher: field. Be sure to press the Save All Changes button at the bottom to save your changes.
  7. Since S2 Member isn't set up yet to use the two pages that you've created in Steps 3 and 4, we'll now configure this by navigating to General Options under S2 Member. Under the Login Welcome Page section, select the page that you created in Step 3 from the drop-down selection. Under the Members Options Page, select the page that you had created in Step 4 from the drop-down selection. Be sure to press the Save All Changes button to save your changes.
  8. As an optional step, you can test your VIP membership by creating a new post and categorizing it under VIP. View the page to simulate the logged in state. Then, log out and try to access that post again. If you're redirected to your Members Options Page, it's properly configured.
  9. Everything still remains customizable, so if you change your page titles, post contents, category labels, or slugs, just be sure to update your settings accordingly under the General Options and Restriction Options sections in S2 Member.

(For more resources on WordPress, see here.)

Part 2—adding a countdown to your members options page

We'll use the Members Options Page that you created in the previous part and dress it up a bit with a timer that counts down to a set time. The countdown script itself will be readily available, but we'll use the HeadSpace2 SEO plugin to implement it:

  1. Download the countdown JavaScript and accompanying CSS file at http://socialmediaforwp.com/downloads/countdown-script/.
  2. To host the files from the previous step on your WordPress site, navigate to Add New under Media and press the Select Files button to upload them. After they've been uploaded, press the Show link on both files and write down the file URL, as you'll need them later.
  3. Navigate to Add New under Plugins and search for HeadSpace2 SEO. Install and activate the plugin.
  4. Edit the Members Options Page that you had created in Part 1, by navigating to All Pages under Pages and clicking on the Edit link, after you hover over the page name.
  5. Under the content field on your page, you will notice a new section labeled HeadSpace. Click on the advanced link on the bottom-right corner to reveal the JavaScript and Stylesheets fields. Enter the file links from Step 2 for the respective fields. The .js file path should be entered in the JavaScript field, and the .css file path should be entered in the Stylesheets field.
  6. Finally, paste the following code snippet into the content field wherever you want to display the countdown timer. In the following screenshot, this snippet is located above the first line of text:

    <div id="countdowncontainer">
    <script type="text/javascript">
    var futuredate=new cdtime("countdowncontainer", "December 12, 2012
    12:12:12")
    futuredate.displaycountdown("days", formatresults)
    </script>
    </div>

  7. The highlighted part indicates the time this script will count down to the exact second. This is a relative date, which means it is relative to the time the computer is set to. In the preceding example, the timer counts down to December 12, 2012 at 12:12PM and 12 seconds for any time zone. To adjust the target date, change the values for the month, day, year, and time, using the 24-hour time format.
  8. This script will not stop registrations for you, once the target date has reached; it will just display a message, stating that registrations are closed. You will have to manually close registrations within the Settings section, in order to accomplish this task. Using the CSS styles you've uploaded in Step 2, your countdown container should be orange with white text, counting down to a set time that you've configured in Step 6:

    Modifying the target date countdown message
    By default, the message that appears after the countdown script has finished counting down to the target date is as follows: Registration is closed. Visit us regularly for updates! You can easily edit this message by opening up the countdown.js file in a text editor, searching for that string of words and replacing the text. Consider the opportunity to allow site members to follow you on Twitter, as well. For example, you may want to display Registration is closed. Follow us at @YourTwitterName on Twitter. Whatever you decide, be sure to reference the most recent version in the HeadSpace file URL field to reflect your edits, if you're using copies of the JavaScript file.

Part 3—rewarding your site members

In this part, you'll reward your site members for registering with your site and you'll also reward them for each time they log in:

  1. As there is no core functionality within WordPress or S2 Member to reward points to register and log in for your site, we'll add it by installing a new plugin. Navigate to Add New under Plugins and search for CubePoints. Install and activate the plugin.
  2. To enable rewards points for registrations and logins, navigate to Modules under CubePoints and click on the Activate link for the Daily Points module.
  3. Click on the Activate link for the Notify module to enable visual notifications whenever your users earn points.
  4. If you do not want to associate a dollar value for each point earned, as it is set by default, navigate to Configure under CubePoints and delete the $ (dollar) symbol from the Prefix for display of points: field. Be sure to press the Update Options button toward the bottom to save your changes. You can also temporarily change the value to 1 for the Time interval for awarding points field under Daily Points to test out the two modules that you activated, but be sure to revert your changes before going live.
  5. To display the users' CubePoints, navigate to Widgets under Appearance and drag the CubePoints widget into the main sidebar. If you access your site as a visitor, you should see a section labeled My Points with your current point count. You should also see a notification in the upper-right corner of your screen, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Be sure to tell your site visitors and users about your reward system, as they will not know how the points and notifications work. The best place to mention this is on the Members Options Page, where you outline the benefits of registering for your site. Additionally, you can dedicate a whole page to your rewards system, which further details that aspect of your site and link it from the Members Options Page.

What just happened?

In Part 1, we learned how to make certain content inaccessible to non-registered members. We also took the opportunity to cross-promote our social networking accounts on the Members Options Page as well as the Login Welcome page. In the next part, we learned how to emphasize the registration process by including a countdown script. In Part 3, we rewarded our users for registering and logging into our site.

S2 Member and CubePoints

S2 Member in conjuction with CubePoints provided us with an alternative solution to BuddyPress and Achievements. There is no one right answer when it comes to finding the perfect set of membership functionality to complement our site. For some, the BuddyPress and Achievements combination may be too much maintenance, even if it is scaled down to a few activated components. For others, S2 Member with CubePoints might seem too limiting to start out a new site launch. However, the main advantage with S2 Member and CubePoints is that they both integrate with BuddyPress. We can start out with just a basic WordPress installation, go through the activities in this article and, months down the road.

Both the S2 Member and CubePoints plugins feature a comprehensive list of features. The activities in this article merely scratched the surface in what you can do. For a better look at the scope of available functionality, consider this:

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S2 Member

CubePoints

Free subscribers and four primary membership levels

PayPal integration for membership levels

Customizable membership labels

Support for an unlimited number of Custom Capability packages, which allow you to create an unlimited number of membership packages, all with different capabilities and prices

Protection capability for pages, posts, tags, categories, URIs, URI word fragments, and URI replacement codes for BuddyPress

Specific post/page, Buy Now access, and portions of content within posts/pages/themes/plugins

Multiple ways to earn points through registering, commenting, logging in daily, writing posts and more

Display points with widgets

User-to-user donations to cultivate more engagement with each other

Log all your point transactions

User ranks which can automatically assigned based on the amount of points users have

Easy user management

Tracking for user points, which users to access point balance, and recent transactions

Integration with other plugins

More detailed information on S2 Member and CubePoints can be found at http://s2member.com/ and http://cubepoints.com/

Another foray into gamification

CubePoints features more functionality, in this regard, and combining it with S2 Member takes this idea up a notch. There are a myriad of possible combinations to attract our users to connect with each other such as the following:

  • Visitors on our site can pay for a certain membership level and attain a badge
  • We can create a membership level where we can hand pick several special members to promote our site for us through other social networking sites and be rewarded in the process
  • An elite group of our members can represent us and our brand on our behalf for a full day, pending on our users' rank or points

 

The possibilities are virtually infinite and, starting out, you will most likely have to limit yourself in becoming overzealous to what you'll want to offer to your site members. Just remember validation is key. Make them feel as special as Google does with its doodles. There are a ton of sites requiring users to register, but only a handful of them take the time and initiative to engage and reward their members to establish a meaningful and loyal following.

Have a go hero

It is possible to use UGC, combine it with a MailChimp campaign and reward your VIP members by interacting with the campaign. Everything is doable, but you have to strategize first, and you always have to use your own voice. For example, if your niche site deals with renegades and mavericks (that is, bungee jumpers, drift car racers, or parkour practitioners), you could easily reward users for doing something wrong or risky. CubePoints and Achievements merely provide a set of functionality for you to distribute points and badges based on an action. That action is always predefined by you and needs to appeal to your users. Think of it this way, what is something your site user can do that validates him or her as someone who is part of your community? If you can find the answer to that, be sure to have those rewards ready.

Summary

Pop-ups, rewards points, and badges don't make up a site, and they certainly don't make it social. What matters is how site members connect with you and vice versa. Social media only comes into play when your members have something to share, when there is something worthwhile sharing. Sometimes that something is worthwhile blocking through memberships for exclusivity.

Rewinding back to the beginning of the article, here is what we've learned:

  • Three important elements of membership sites are customer value proposition, sustainability, and timing
  • Blocking access to posts in a specific category based on a membership level
  • How to take advantage of cross-promoting social networking sites, while simultaneously outlining the benefits of your site on a Members Option Page
  • Implementing page-specific custom CSS and JavaScript
  • Advantages of S2 Member and CubePoints

 

 

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