Today's readers demand more from online publishers than ever before. The number of people using ad-blockers rose 48 percent in the U.S. by mid-2015. More users are now accessing content on mobile than desktop, and an increasing number are discovering content on non-publisher-owned platforms like Apple News, Facebook's Instant Articles and Twitter Moments.
To keep readers engaging with their content - and effectively monetize those interactions - publishers must adapt quickly.
A resurgence of one platform is already solving many publishers' woes: the B2B membership organization. Invitation-only B2B membership communities for executives, business owners and the self-employed can enhance a publisher's brand perception among consumers without competing for its resources by offering members 360-degree benefits such as on-demand knowledge sharing, publishing opportunities, volume discounts on business services and VIP events - all of which the publisher can curate through third-party providers, allowing for high margins and low overhead.
In doing so, publishers also solve many of the problems they face: Namely, the need to expand advertising to include community-driven experiences; the pressure to find new recurring revenue models that are easier (and cheaper) to scale; the drop in reader engagement; and the obligation to solve all of the above without sacrificing brand value or editorial integrity.
Many publishers are well-positioned to take advantage of this opportunity because they've already gained the trust of potential members. We've seen this firsthand; CommunityCo, a company that builds and manages invitation-only professional communities, partnered with Forbes Media in 2015 to launch Forbes Councils. Condé Nast's Wired Media Group just announced they are launching a similar B2B community, the Emerging Technology Council. And these are just a few of the most recent partnerships showing the growth of this trend.
Here's how it works:
Expand existing advertising offerings with community-driven experiences. By design, there's a natural ceiling for advertising opportunities -- mainly, available eyeballs and real estate. Community-driven content programs can raise that ceiling in two ways.
First, by creating a separate space on publishing platforms for knowledgeable community members, publishers can maintain clear editorial oversight, fuel their B2C channels with a new group of qualified writers, and provide valuable insights to their audience.
Second, these communities help publishers create all-new products, from member magazines to events and digital webinars.
Provide a new, scalable revenue model that aligns with the brand's values. Traditional "communities" - social media or networking events - either scale and are low touch, or are high touch and not scalable. But an invitation-only community focused on delivering transactional value is both scalable and high touch, and opens up a brand-new product offering catered to business owners and professionals who would never pay for traditional advertising packages.
Just because a publisher targets consumers doesn't mean it can't build a B2B community; the top echelons of most publications' readership are already comprised largely of professionals. If you have a car enthusiast publication, building an elite car dealership community is on-brand and provides value to your core audience.
Publishers can use these newly identified segments of their readership to create hyper-targeted revenue opportunities like multichannel sponsorship programs, custom content packages and business services.
Increase engagement and loyalty. When publishers collect member data during the application process and subsequent touch points, they can connect members to the right resources at the right time. For example, with Forbes Technology Council, CommunityCo can identify which members have the expertise to help others solve specific challenges and encourage those members to share knowledge with one another.
The publisher brand is also seen as a badge of honor to members. The business and career coaches in Forbes Coaches Council have already told us how significant this association is for their businesses, especially when talking to potential clients and partners. Our strict criteria and rigorous selection process ensure that only the most qualified influencers represent their Forbes Councils association publicly.
In short, publishers must consider the building of B2B communities a new frontier for their business. With long-term value and strong multichannel expansion opportunities, such communities help a single brand diversify into many scalable sub-brands -- and solve many of the core challenges facing the industry today.
Scott Gerber is the CEO of CommunityCo. Follow him on Twitter @scottgerber.
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