On December 4 and 5, 17 news organizations with membership models revisited Austin for the second in-person session of The Facebook Journalism Project: Local News Membership Accelerator.

The Membership Accelerator kicked off in Austin with its first meeting in September. Publishers got together over the two days to learn the essentials of a successful membership program and how to build a membership-based news organization. You can find a recap of the kickoff here.

In the two months since the kickoff, participating publishers have been meeting weekly with their coaches Tim Griggs (Accelerator Program Director), Yasmin Namini (Consultant) and David Grant (Associate Publisher, Christian Science Monitor) and participating in trainings and webinars. They’ve also implemented actionable tests to improve their membership businesses.

In session 2, all 17 publishers shared their test insights. “You’ve managed to get so much done in a short amount of time,” Namini said. “You’re finding ways to implement and deliver results in six weeks.” For instance:

  1. VTDigger saw a 137% increase in page visitors who proceeded to donate, after simplifying their donate page.
  2. MinnPost saw a 269% increase in transactions, after streamlining their ask and appeal messaging on their donate page.
  3. Richland Source added a ‘Be A Member’ call-to-action (CTA) button that now accounts for 41% of their traffic to the donate page.
  4. DPTV increased newsletter signups by 200% by adding a pop-up CTA to their schedule page, the site’s most-visited page.

Slate Plus, Scrum Inc, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Griggs all led lessons as well. The lessons dove into the actionable elements of increasing membership in your organization — from adopting agile team processes to retargeting users with off-platform marketing channels.

Read on for a recap.

Increasing Membership: Publishers’ Test Results and Learnings

In Session 1, each of the 17 publishers was asked to test some element of their membership program. In Session 2, each shared what they tested, what they learned, and what they were planning to do next based on the results.

Across the board, publishers discussed two shared learnings: That actionable ideas are almost always worth testing and that to increase membership you need to make an ask. “I’m impressed with your clarity of purpose,” said Griggs. “I’m seeing your progress from having a lot of gut-driven assumptions to having a lot of data-driven knowledge.”

Here’s a recap of the tests that helped pave the way for increased memberships.

Simplify the Donate Page

VTDigger, City Limits, MinnPost, WABE, and Richland Source turned to their donate page. They all simplified the page layout and its checkout process. The results:

Tailor Messaging to Super Users

Whereby.Us and KOSU set out to test their membership messaging, with the ultimate goal of crafting more effective appeals to become a member. Both started by conducting in-person interviews with their super users. Here’s how they approached the process:

Tell Readers the Impact of Their Membership

“We came back from the last Accelerator and immediately started thinking about what we can test in a short amount of time,” said Bill Emkow, Growth Strategist at Bridge Magazine. “We decided to try and answer the question: How can we show readers what we’re doing with their donations?” MinnPost conducted a similar test. Here’s how they approached the process:

Experiment With Newsletter Elements

KUER, WisconsinWatch, Berkeleyside, and PublicSource all focused on optimizing elements of their newsletter. Newsletters are a key way to engage readers and make a membership ask. Here’s what they tested:

Optimize Website Calls to Action (CTAs)

CTAs include buttons, interstitials, display ads, etc. CTAs are pivotal for directing users where you’d like them to go. As such, many publishers focused on testing their way to a more impactful CTA. Here’s how:

Optimize Newsletter Sign-Up CTAs

DPTV and KOSU both tested newsletter sign ups on their websites. The goal: secure more subscribers that engage regularly with newsletter content and, therefore, are more likely to become a member. Here’s what DPTV and KOSU tested:

This test has pushed all our departments to think the same way around a shared goal. This test has changed our culture.

— Ryan Laurie, VP of Individual Giving at DPTV

Build the Foundation for Data-Driven Decisions

Reporting frameworks are crucial for building a test-and-learn culture. City Limits, CALmatters, and Spirited Media all took a look at their key performance indicators (KPIs) and reporting tools:

The Accelerator Program

The final session will be held in January at the Facebook offices. Head here for recaps of the lessons and learnings from the Membership Accelerator.

The Facebook Journalism Project: Local News Membership Accelerator is a program designed to help news publishers build their membership revenues. Funded and organized by The Facebook Journalism Project, the 3-month program includes hands-on workshops led by news industry veteran Tim Griggs, a grantmaking program organized by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and regular reports on best practices authored by both The Lenfest Institute and the Facebook Journalism Project. The Membership Accelerator is part of the broader Facebook Journalism Project Accelerator Program. Previous iterations have focused on digital subscriptions and digital video.