Membership websites have regained some of their popularity in recent months and for good reason. Many people sought to make good use of their time while stuck at home during the pandemic.
Membership organizations are a logical choice when it comes to developing new skills and expanding one’s network. However, on the other side of membership websites — operating the business in a profitable manner — a lot of work is required. Membership site managers have an impressive to-do list. They oversee the development and updating of courses, workshops, and webinars. They might also host events, market membership benefits, and be responsible for growing the community.
Increased demand is unlikely to fall away even after pandemic restrictions ease up. Too many people have discovered the possibilities for getting a leg up on their careers while working from home. What that means is that there will be a corresponding and increased need for membership-based businesses to level up. One way to do that is by offering branded certifications.
Combining educational courses with certificates offers an obvious benefit to your members. Successful completion of a course provides another resume line item plus a wider variety of job offers from which to choose. The best part is that adding certifications is easier than ever when your site uses a modern, cloud-based learning management system such as Skilljar.
There are three major benefits of adding a certification program to your membership website.
Improved Credibility and Brand Recall Value
One big benefit of offering a certification program is a direct result of the satisfaction a member experiences after earning a certification.
For example, let’s say your company introduces a certification course to existing members at no extra charge. The free course focuses on a relevant skill or set of complementary skills of interest to your audience. Upon completion, your company presents a branded certificate to everyone who successfully completes all of the required assignments.
Upon receiving their certification, one of the more common responses is to share the achievement on social media websites, especially career-focused sites such as LinkedIn. Of course, not every graduate will respond this way, but many will, especially if your company uses its social media outlets to announce a new class of awarded certifications. By making it simple for your members to share their recent accomplishment on social media, you increase the chances they will do so.
Branded Certifications as Low-and-Slow PR
Assuming your company has effectively branded the certification announcement — and focuses primarily on offering congratulations — your members act as a credibility endorsement for your company merely by announcing their new status to family, friends, and followers. Everyone who applauds their friend or family member can’t help but notice that it was your company that offered the certification. They may even be inspired to check out your website.
Whether a graduating class of members noticeably generates additional income or not, someone else’s first impression of your company is overwhelmingly positive. Those people see you in a positive light as an organization that provided a tangible benefit to one of their friends. If they happen to find out that their friend received that chunk of training as a free fringe benefit of being one of your members, well, so much the better.
It might help to launch one or more certification programs as a loss leader. Participants get something they need and generate excitement and positive buzz around your brand. It also positions you as an authority in that field and helps you reach a previously untapped audience.
The Ability to Nurture a Community
All membership websites should be built to help members effortlessly engage with helpful content and thrive. Your website needs to excite its members and motivate them to interact with your information and with each other. If that doesn’t happen, achieving financial success will prove to be a steep challenge.
Certification programs help bolster participation by giving members something of shared interest to talk about. Managers can enhance communication through chat programs and other informal learning spaces. Implemented correctly, you allow users with a common goal (certification) to interact and share experiences. You can also spot both the positives and deficiencies associated with your programming by monitoring questions received by the course administrators.
Your branded certifications can build upon each other, too. By answering the “What’s next?” question as part of the certification completion process, you encourage your members to keep going. Many companies have found it helpful to offer a limited-time discount as an incentive to enroll in the next section.
Another helpful device for building your brand is to offer a virtual learning environment dedicated to the skills acquired during certification. By restricting access to members who have completed a certain level of training, you promote loyalty to your brand as your graduates have a safe place to ask questions they might be reluctant to post in other professional forums.
Another way to nurture a community of learners is to give your “graduates” the option of paying it forward by agreeing to act as tutors to members working their way through lower-level courses. This represents another opportunity to “silently” promote your brand. Relative newcomers seeking certification interact with other members with an assurance that the other person “gets it.”
Make Membership More Lucrative
Certain types of certification courses can also act as a differentiator for your membership site. This is especially true if you are operating in a competitive niche. These advantages can be advertised as an added perk of the membership you are selling.
When implemented correctly, the certification feature can also enable you to charge a premium to new members. You can even turn your certification process into a secondary source of income. Many companies do so by offering certification courses to non-members at a higher price point.
Curriculum Development Brings Authority to Your Brand
Of course, building a top-notch certification course will require a lot of work on the front end. Your company will need to have recognized expertise for your courses to garner any interest. The investment in launching original, branded certifications is not insignificant. However, it’s far less effort to update a curriculum once you’ve launched, and your company will generate increased awareness.
As with many other ambitious undertakings, it makes sense to start small and build. Focus on your company’s acknowledged strengths and begin developing certification curriculum there. Plan to launch your first program with at least three to five modules stacked from beginner to expert. Make every effort to listen carefully to your grads as a commitment to continuous improvement.