In his seminal analysis of the psychology of mass movements, The True Believer, Eric Hoffer reminds us of how eager many people are to be led, to join a cause—any cause.
Of course, Hoffer is worried about the kind of blind faith and single-minded allegiance that nearly destroyed the world in the last century under charismatic leaders such as Adolph Hitler. That is not the subject of this article.
I simply want to say here that I agree with Mr. Hoffer that many people are joiners. They enjoy being identified with an idea, a group, or even a movement that is larger than themselves. Whether out of patriotism, religious conviction, or unbounded enthusiasm for a hobby or pastime, people like to join with others who share their beliefs.
For many people there is more comfort in belonging to a larger entity than in being alone, an individual.
Astute marketers have capitalized on this idea since the invention of advertising and continue to do so.
Member or subscriber?
Would you rather have a subscription to National Geographic magazine? Or would you prefer to receive an invitation to join The National Geographic Society?
Joining is more prestigious. Being a member has benefits. As a member, you receive a beautiful glossy magazine that reports on the adventures of explorers and photographers who are sponsored or underwritten by the Society.
I was reminded of this last week when I received an unsolicited letter in the U.S. Mail that announced in bold typography:
- Peter Schaible, Your Membership Has Been Approved!
“You are an Official Member of the Handyman Club of America. Please keep what you learn here to yourself. Use your special Member privilege for YOUR benefit only. Keep any free tools or equipment given to you by the Club out of the hands of non-members. Your first FREE product test, a 6-piece Screwdriver Set, is reserved in your name.”
My membership acknowledgment, which must be mailed within 14 days, includes a statement of conduct. By accepting membership, I must promise to keep all benefits and privileges for use of Members only, to maintain the Club’s high standards of workmanship and safety, to always be fair and honest in product test reviews, and to conduct myself in a courteous fashion while wearing or displaying the Club’s emblem.
Wow! These guys are serious!
I’m not going to join the Handyman Club of America. And I think they’ll probably be relieved not to have a clumsy do-it-yourselfer like me in their membership ranks.
But many do-it-yourselfers will join. And they will join because membership in an organization is more attractive than simply signing up for a subscription to their publication and product review (read product buyer) group.
Who else wants to be led?
Every week, SWEPA receives letters from members who want to become subscription website publishers. SWEPA members appreciate the subscription website business model. They like the idea of recurring income. They like the revenue model of getting paid from members who they expect will join their online groups and subsequently renew their memberships for a long time.
That’s one of the appeals of being an online publisher. If you provide good content, you can expect your members to stick with you for many renewal cycles. Do a good job and you will continue to receive the revenue from their membership dues.
The problem for many SWEPA members is finding a niche topic. And a frequent complaint we hear is that all the good niche topics are already taken.
Because while there are numerous online affinity groups and discussion forums, the vast majority have no strong leader. There is no real organization, but rather a loose affiliation of discussion forum contributors and lurkers who exchange opinions but who are not being led.
This spells opportunity.
The Obvious Expert
Elsom Eldridge is president of The International Guild of Professional Consultants. Mr. Eldridge has given over 6,000 presentations, has authored more than three dozen books, audio and video learning packages, research reports, and booklets. In the past five years alone, he has worked with clients in 49 different businesses, industries and professions, focusing especially on associations and entrepreneurial start-ups.
In his book, The Obvious Expert: Turbocharge Your Consulting or Coaching Business Now!, Mr. Eldridge says that you need to become recognized as the expert in your niche if you are to succeed.
But what niche is that? How do you find a niche?
One resource that is frequently overlooked is at http://groups.yahoo.com.
Here you’ll find literally thousands of online discussion forums on every conceivable topic. Notice how Yahoo! indicates how many participants belong to each group. Check out the right-hand column for Editor’s Picks.
You can click through the numerous categories of groups.
You can sign up to join almost any of forum.
Some are moderated, many are not.
And some of them are crying out for leadership.
I believe Yahoo Groups is a goldmine for SWEPA members in search of a topic for a paid subscription website. That’s because many contributors to these forums would prefer to be members of a private, members-only, website.
As we have said many times, in the current political and social climate, there is heightened anxiety and concern about privacy. If you have ever contributed to public online discussion forums, you may feel vulnerable. You never know who is lurking and reading your comments, or gathering information about you. One frequent concern: what spammers are harvesting your email address?
However, in the seclusion of a pay-for-access, members-only website, you can feel more protected. You can share ideas with an affinity group of like-minded people with less fear of ridicule or repercussions. The publisher moderates the forum and promises to honor your privacy.
These concerns are not diminishing over time, they are intensifying as people perceive the world—and cyberspace—as an increasingly dangerous place.
Stake your claim
Are you ready to become a leader? Are you the writer, researcher, subject matter expert, enthusiastic hobbyist, or an authority on any topic who could organize an affinity group and transform it into an exciting, viable and profitable online membership organization?
It’s entirely possible. You probably don’t need a whole lot of special skills that you don’t already possess. You can learn what you don’t already know. That’s part of the process, and part of what your members will expect to pay you to do.
What you need is a passion for your niche topic.
You need a passion to learn everything you can that will make you the obvious expert.
You need a passion to lead.
And you need a passion to succeed.