Digital publishers are seeing surges in website traffic as people search for information about Covid-19, but capitalizing on that interest and asking visitors to pay for online memberships or subscriptions is a delicate proposition.
Membership and subscription programs have become one of the key revenue streams for digital publishers, so it makes sense that publishers would want to take advantage of the bump in traffic to increase online memberships. At the same time, many readers are under extreme duress because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that makes publishers nervous about asking for financial support.
Where is the sweet spot? What sort of approach should publishers be taking to increase online memberships during a pandemic?
One approach is to take down paywalls during the Covid-19 crisis as a show of goodwill and community support. This is a strategy that local news websites have often utilized during natural disasters and breaking news events, so online visitors can access articles that might impact their daily lives.
In exchange for doling out free access to coronavirus content, many publishers are requiring visitors to enter their email addresses or opt-in to receiving their weekly newsletters. Email addresses have become a form of virtual currency, and the long-term approach here is to turn one-time visitors into regular readers who will eventually sign up for paying subscriptions once the crisis has passed.
Offering free access to articles to readers who share their email addresses is also a way to promote short-run newsletters. A number of publishers have launched successful newsletters focused specifically on local coronavirus news, but the possibilities with this strategy are endless.
Another strategy that digital news publishers are using during the Covid-19 pandemic is called the “ongoing campaign.” Publishers are weaving calls-to-action into almost all of the content published on their websites and newsletters. Publishers who previously embedded “subscribe now” buttons in the footer of their email newsletters are moving those buttons to a more prominent position at the top.
Local news publishers with large email databases are finding success sending standalone emails asking readers for their financial support, as well. Honesty is one of the keys to a successful email pitch in this situation. If your publication is experiencing hardships because of coronavirus, let readers know. Ask them to consider increasing their donations or “sharing” your posts with friends on social media as a way to support your business during this challenging time. The most successful calls-to-action are specific, and they clearly explain why the publication needs its readers’ financial support.
Publishers might also want to survey readers about what kinds of information they’d like to see more of. This sort of collaborative format fosters a sense of community, and it causes readers to be more likely to sign up for paid memberships and subscriptions.
Best Practices to Promote Online Memberships During Covid-19
Promoting any product or service during a pandemic is a delicate matter, and online memberships are no exception. As a general rule of thumb, publishers who are covering the coronavirus pandemic should feel comfortable asking readers for financial support during the time. That financial support could come in the form of memberships, subscriptions, or even one-time donations.
Publishers who are not covering the current crisis may want to take a more nuanced approach. In some cases, it might be worth waiting until the current crisis has passed before launching any aggressive membership campaigns. Soliciting donations while people are struggling with coronavirus could come off as opportunistic if it’s not handled in the right way, and it could have the unintended impact of actually eroding audience trust.
Regardless of your publication’s niche, stay on the lookout for new opportunities to increase online memberships while you’re seeing spikes in traffic. Finding the right balance is key. Maybe an aggressive membership drive is out of the question during the current pandemic, but there might still be a way to show empathy for the hardships people are experiencing while also asking for ongoing support.
- Take down paywalls or give visitors access to content in exchange for their email addresses.
- Employ honesty when explaining to readers why they should consider increasing their financial contributions.
- Include the option to give a one-time donation, in addition to traditional membership and subscription packages.
- Offer incentives to readers who renew their subscriptions before their annual due dates.