Start Early, Reach Out Often and Be Outcomes-Based to Secure Renewals

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At De Correspondent, a Dutch, membership-based news site, journalists regularly turn to all 60,000 members to ask for potential sources, information and inspiration for new stories—a process that works so well that it expanded to the U.S. market as The Correspondent.

At the MelEdits blog, Melanie Padgett Powers, a big contributor to our Association Media & Publishing division, writes that organizations should develop a similar system when it comes to generating content.

“...put out a content creation call for sources in your regular e-newsletter,” she writes. “Plan ahead and regularly ask for contributions on specific topics... Continually monitor social media and your online communities to see what members are talking about—but also who is doing the talking.”

The benefits of this process are multifold: Not only will you be able to see what your members are talking about—and therefore what kind of content is relevant—but you can also add new, fresh voices into the mix and engage more of your audience. This can be huge when renewals come around.

Here are more ideas to help your renewals.

1. Start the renewal conversation casually—and early. When the time comes for renewal, the "ask" can start from a place of conversation and appreciation. Thank the subscriber/member for his or her loyalty and, if appropriate, participation. Highlight your accomplishments and what you are looking forward to in the year ahead. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes and no.

2. Pick up the phone. A MemberZone survey found that 68% of respondents use email to get members to renew. That's no surprise, of course. But many respondents reported that phone calls were nearly as effective: 66% picked up the phone to get a member to renew, and some of those calls came from company higher-ups. Just over 15% said they used calls from other members to spark renewals.

3. Come up with an upsell and a downsell. Often times, members walk away because they either don't find further value in their membership, or they cannot afford the membership they currently have. You can provide both a step up and a step down from the membership package they currently have, giving unsatisfied new members a chance to build up their membership or cut it back.

4. Take an outcomes-based benefits approach. People renew their subscriptions or memberships when you provide services they need along with emotional connections they crave. So instead of simply reminding them of a "basket of products and services," be more specific about the outcomes that you've seen.

5. Test methods. Email, phone and mail are all valid channels for renewals. If your organization sends an e-newsletter, add a renewal reminder prior to expiration month. Stick reminder cards in any print outreach that you do. Create a pop-up for users when they log in to the members section of your website. Make it hard for them to forget to renew.

6. Tie to current events, good and bad, and use data. Here in Washington, D.C., theaters pushed back subscription renewal payments to government employees when they were furloughed. That created good will. What's happening in your industry? Maybe there's a 50th anniversary that can become a $50 discount, or a birthday special if they renew in their birthday month. Be creative—we do know a lot more about our subscribers/members these days. Use data to your advantage without, of course, being intrusive.

7. Remind users of their password. When Pro Farmer asked their audience if they would recommend the company to others, the answer included an open text opportunity so Pro Farmer got more information—"Our survey resulted in multiple concerns from text responses about user log-ins and passwords to the websites," said Joe May, marketing director. "So what we did was proactively remind our users the basics—how to reset their password; how to set their browser to remember their credentials so they don't have to enter it every single time."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…