Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Don’t build a membership site; build membership chatbot instead

Subscription business

Subscription (or membership) is a very popular business model for online businesses today. The core idea behind the model is that a subscriber gets access to some benefits in exchange for paying a subscription fee (usually on a monthly/yearly basis).

Depending on the arrangement, the benefits are predefined by the issuing subscription platform. It could be software, exclusive content (videos, podcasts, blog posts, analytical reports), networking in forums, or chat groups.

The beauty of the subscription economy is that it’s beneficial not only for large companies like Netflix or Apple, but also independent publishers, teachers, experts, podcasters, analysts and others that start their own membership projects online.

It’s not difficult to understand why online membership projects are so popular among entrepreneurs. Such business can be run by the entrepreneur themselves and can provide the person in question enough to make a sustainable living. If you do create value for your subscribers, you will be paid off, your income will grow, and it will allow you to create even more value. It’s a win-win model that benefits you, the entrepreneur, and your follower, the interested viewer or consumer.

One of the benefits of a subscription model for businesses is that it generates constant and predictable revenue streams, while income from ads or partnerships experience considerable volatility. Stable revenue gives publishers confidence and helps to produce quality content regularly.

Just to give you an idea of how lucrative subscription-based models can be today, in a statistic published by Forbes last year, it was discovered that in a 3-year period, subscription models increased by 800% worldwide.

There are many examples of successful membership projects. Nomad List, for example, reports over $30K monthly revenue. Ben Thompson’s Stratechery is doing $200,000 a year in revenue. Bill Bishop, the sole author of Sinocism in the first 24 hours attracted over 1,000 subscribers and generated over $100,000 in revenue. The numbers are there to make the case; we’re now going to look at how you can open your own subscription-based entity.

How to run a subscription business

There are four basic technologies that can be used for a subscription or membership business: website, email newsletter, social media or messaging app.

Websites are the most common option. Usually, membership websites are websites with some content available for free, some behind a paywall in a “members-only” area.

One of the easiest ways to build a membership site without hiring a developer is WordPress. There are hundreds of membership plugins available on the market, some of them have over 100,000 active installations, according to official WordPress plugin catalog. While WordPress requires some effort to build a membership business on it (one needs to integrate WordPress, membership plugin and payment processing system like Stripe), there are also full-stack platforms like Kajabi and Teachable. They work as membership site constructors and provide everything needed from landing pages to payment processing.

Another technology that is used mostly by writers is, surprisingly, email. Paid email newsletters can be built with a newsletter service like MailChimp and membership plugin. There are also Revue and Substack, recently founded email-based full-stack membership platforms for writers.

Social media has something to offer content-makers, too. In June 2018, YouTube introduced channel memberships and Facebook introduced “subscription groups”.

Messaging apps weren’t intended to be used for this purpose, but they can be used for membership business as well. WeChat, one of the world’s most popular messaging apps with over 1 billion users, rolled out paywalls for testing at the beginning of 2017. Telegram and Slack don’t have an internal paywall feature, but there are external services to fill this gap and there already are paid channels/communities within both apps.

Why chatbots are the future of the membership market

The world officially became mobile-first on March 26th when Google announced mobile-first indexing. It means that mobile devices became at least the same important as desktops (and in many cases much more important). Mobile is where consumers reside, with 79% of Americans reporting that they do all of their shopping directly through their mobile devices today.

For membership site owners, it means that now it’s an absolute must to optimize the site for mobile devices. That means prioritizing functionality, simplicity, and mobile layouts so that sites are easy to peruse and sign up through today.

But in general, it means that in this new mobile-first world those will win who provide a better user experience on mobile devices. And in some cases, chatbots can beat sites and email in this fight. You might be asking yourself: what is a chatbot, and why should I care?

Here are the advantages that chatbots in messaging apps provide for membership business:

  • Heightened subscription action. Customers don’t need to register (forget entering email, confirmation emails and all that stuff); they just click “Start” to launch your chatbot, immediately receiving their contacts. Now you can send them messages right in the messaging app. With just a few clicks in your chatbot — they pay subscription fee, with Android Pay for example. It’s as easy as can be, and from that convenience, comes increased subscription action.
  • High retention, up to 80–90% opening rate. Messaging apps offer much more retention and opening rate within the mobile app. Messages sent by chatbots can be really high (up to 80–90%, 1, 2), however for email, it’s significantly less (around 22%, according to 2016 E-mail Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study).
  • Emotional environment. Your customers will see you not in the email inbox (mixed with tons of transactional and promotional messages from dozens of services, spam, etc.), but in their favorite messaging app, which they use every day to communicate with their friends and family. It will give a human element to your brand and platform, which will make them more likely to interact with you on an ongoing basis.

These advantages help entrepreneurs attract new subscribers (by simplifying lead capture to one click we’ll get more leads and clients) and keeping them (with opening rate 80% and ability to send personalized offers, it’s much simpler to keep retention high). Not to mention, chatbots are able to provide infinite support to users, which means they can answer and engage as many people as possible without ever having a bandwidth malfunction.

Best messaging app for subscription/membership business

As of June 2018, the only popular messaging app with a built-in paywall feature for subscription channels is WeChat. And it might be the best option for you, but only if China is your main market. WeChat failed to expand overseas and only 70 million people use it outside China (here is, why).

Among other messaging apps, Telegram is probably the best choice. It offers private channels and groups whichever type of communication you need, advanced bot API, allowing you to create paywall bots, and payments API. It is very popular and actively growing (hit 200M active users in March, 2018).

The only problem with Telegram for membership businesses is the lack of internal paywall for Telegram channels and groups.

The missing paywall for Telegram channels and groups is found at: InviteMember

InviteMember (https://invitemember.com) is a paywall bot for Telegram channels and groups. As the missing solution to today’s messaging apps, InviteMember comprehensively brings everything together for your most effective subscription contests and ongoing arrangements today. It’s like LaunchPass for Slack or Memberpress for WordPress.

InviteMember can fully automate paid channels and groups management:

  • process payments;
  • grant access to new clients (send invite link when payment is received);
  • remind clients to renew their subscription;
  • revoke access when subscription ends (kick user from the channels/groups);
  • notify about new invoices, payments, payouts.

With InviteMember, you can build a membership chatbot for Telegram and benefit from high amusement and retention. It’s the win-win you’ve been looking for today.

Getting started with InviteMember

Firstly, you need to decide what “benefits” will you provide to your subscribers. Will it is a private channel with exclusive content? Closed group chats? Or both? Some membership projects may need even more.

Next, you need to create these channels and groups in Telegram. It’s possible through any Telegram client you may use. The creation process is simple — you enter title, optionally add description and avatar, and you’re done.

One last step is to put paywall for your channels/groups with InviteMember. Our bot is already available for early adopters. If you’d like to try it, please contact us: @InviteMemberSupportBot in Telegram.

Consider the power and performance of pushing subscriptions through messaging apps today. You don’t have to do it all by yourself; bring in a messaging app bot like InviteMember that gets the job done.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 373,685 people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.