member vs subscriber

Member vs. Subscriber: How to Choose the Right Term for Your Website

You’re building a membership site or crafting content geared towards your audience, and you pause, wondering, do I call customers members or subscribers? 

Because memberships and subscriptions are so closely intertwined, a lot of people don’t make a distinction between the two, treating them as synonyms when they’re not.

It can be easy to get tripped up over these two terms before – after all, a rose is a rose by any other name, right? However, there is definitely nuance to the way you label members versus subscribers, and labeling them properly can make it easier for you to move forward with your business plan. 

At the simplest point, a subscriber is subscribing to a service or product and a member is part of a community. When it comes to building a membership website, subscribers can become members and members can subscribe to benefits – which is probably why there is some confusion to member vs. subscriber.

Below, we’ll cover the five questions you’ve likely had about the difference between a member and a subscriber, leaving you with clear guidance on each term and how to use them, so you can get back to building an awesome website. 

What is a Member?

A member is anyone who creates an account on your site and through that account becomes a member of your community. This account can be free or require payment, or it can have levels of membership locked behind different pricing tiers. 

Memberships typically give a person their own account page and allow them to interact as a user on the website, in part because the reason for memberships is to create engagement and build community. It can also provide members the tools to interact with the admins behind the site, or reach out and contact someone if they need assistance. 

But a membership can go just beyond that. If you’re a member of any organizations or websites, you likely choose to become a member for certain perks. Whether that’s a loyalty program, a members-only restricted area, or an exclusive email list, there’s typically something in it for sometimes that entices them to become a member. 

Perhaps they’re just loyal fans of your brand, and joining your site helps them feel like an insider, gaining exclusive privileges not afforded to anyone else. 

The best part about determining the benefits of a membership is that it is up to you – you can customize your membership features to tailor this perk specifically to your audience. It might be helpful to look around at other membership sites too to get inspired at how creators are offering perks to their audience, 

For example, take the membership site Succulents and Sunshine. We’ve mentioned before the success they’ve found as a membership site, and it bears repeating.  Cassidy Tuttle’s succulent community offers tons of resources and tips and makes those who are members feel like a part of an exclusive club. 

While there is tons of free content on Succulents and Sunshine, she puts her premium content and the chance for one-on-one advice behind the paywall gates of an online course. These courses give members the feeling of learning and improving in their succulent care, which is a huge motivating factor to join. 

Since memberships have helped make customers feel like an elite group, the internet has exploded with membership sites over the last few years. With Restrict Content Pro, you can easily place content behind a gated area where only members can gain access. It can be a paid area or not – it is simply restricted content. 

Once a membership barrier is put into place, members will log in and gain access to those exclusive offers, content, or community that now opens up for them. 

What to put behind a gated membership? It’s up to you! Gated content can include nearly any type of content you choose, including webinars, ebooks, members-only courses, podcasts, members-only blog posts, and articles, or the chance to chat one-on-one with the site creators. 

What is a Subscriber?

When thinking of what a subscriber is, and how it’s different from a member, think of a revenue agreement. It’s more of a transactional, financial concept than a membership.

There is an agreed-upon financial transaction between you and your subscriber at the core of a subscriber relationship. A subscriber will choose how to pay, and how often to pay, for access to your website or your website’s services. 

A subscription doesn’t address the benefits of belonging to this website; however, it would be rare that a user would spend their hard-earned money on a subscription if it didn’t provide some insider benefits.

Think about the subscription services you use. They may be ones that offer one great perk, like Amazon’s Prime shipping. Your “membership” here is little more than a subscription fee that you pay for use of the service. There are rarely feelings of belonging to an exclusive club. 

Just consider Birchbox, one of the earliest wellness subscription services. They offer effortless, simple beauty routines right to your door  – five items a month, once you pay your subscription fee. There’s no reason to log on to the site to do anything other than change payment, address, or subscription details. As such, it’s clear here that those who sign up on Birchbox are subscribers, not members. 

Recently, Forbes reported that subscription eCommerce has more than doubled in the last five years. Over 15% of online shoppers had signed up for at least one subscription, so the market for subscribers exists. When building a subscription model, think of it as providing a simple pay structure for access to perks delivered nowhere else. 

Subscription sites are wildly popular for creators too because they provide a source of revenue that’s entirely passive. Considering all the lucrative ways you can incorporate a subscription plan into your current business model. The recurring payments structure will help you worry less about generating monthly revenue, so you can focus more on the services you provide behind the fee. The most common age range for online subscriptions is 25 to 44 years old, so consider how to capture that market, and you’re likely to convert the most users to subscribers. 

Is it Better to Say Member or Subscriber?

Well, it depends.  

When you’re thinking of those who access your site as either members or subscribers, think about the level of engagement. Is your site something people visit daily for tips, knowledge, and community? Or do people usually pay their fee, get their perk, and that’s it? 

Think of a membership as the idea of someone “belonging.” Being a member doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with cost or price, and you can have a membership service with or without a subscription fee.

Consider airline companies. Many airlines have membership programs where fliers can collect miles to use on future flights. While it’s a free membership, the program incentivizes the customers to keep coming back. A membership helps customers remain loyal to one brand over the other. 

Alternatively, someone could subscribe to a service that browses the best flight deals, like Scott’s Cheap Flights, and pay a subscription fee for the convenience of someone else tracking flights for them. It’s a passive experience that allows the user a huge benefit without daily logging in and tracking. It makes much more sense to call those people subscribers. 

With all that said, is your WordPress site focused more on daily interaction and community, or the convenience of a service? Answering this basic question can help guide your phrasing towards one word over the other. 

What Other Terms Can I Consider?  

Now, you might not like either term at all! Perhaps you want to have a different level of interaction, or you want to personalize your membership/subscription phrasing and use it as a way to integrate some branding. 

In that case, you may want to come up with a unique word or phrase to refer to those who pay for content on your site. 

Just take the company Cult Branding, for instance. Cult Branding is a business focused on building branding and awareness for its clients. They’ve decided to completely forgo the members versus subscribers debate and coined the term “Brand lovers”  to refer to those most passionate about a company.

It also depends on the type of site you run and the service you offer if you want to find an alternative word to use. For example, If you run a nonprofit site, it may feel wrong to call those who give to your cause “subscribers” anyway, even if they pay a monthly fee. In that case, donors or supporters might feel more natural. 

Patron is another term you can use, but be careful about this, since it’s also the term to refer to followers/subscribers on Patreon. We’ve written previously about the ways that building your own membership site on WordPress is a better alternative than Patreon, so we advise using a fresh term for your site. 

Of course, there are the standard options like customer or client, but due to the transactional nature of those terms, you may want to stay away from that, too.

Regardless of the words you use, at the end of the day, what you call your customers matters. Each of these words above carries meaning to those who say them. 

One good way to think of what to call your customers is to brainstorm a list of words that come to mind with those who visit your site. What are they after when they visit your site? What unique descriptors collect them under one umbrella? 

Which site should I build: a membership or subscription site?

When working on your WordPress site, you may be wondering what sort of model you want to build as you get started. Do you want to create an environment that encourages relationships and communication? Creating with that dynamic in mind will help you build places for members to continually return and engage with other users.

You may want to start with a free membership to test the waters. Once you begin accumulating a list of members’ emails, you can use this group to better understand what members would want out of a subscription model. Think of using surveys and net promoter scores to start collecting feedback. 

Collecting feedback and tracking scores for new features, like a membership or subscription services, will help you understand overall customer satisfaction for your product or service. It will also help you understand your target market better and learn how they feel about your site. The ultimate goal is to gain loyal members who become raving fans for life.  

Once you start converting members to a paid model, they’ll know your brand well enough to trust you. If you have new paid content ideas you’ve been wanting to try, consider testing it on your subscribers and see what sticks. This will help you improve your offers and meet your customers where they’re at.

When it comes to creating a subscription site, you’ll find that WordPress supports some incredible membership plugins. Restrict Content Pro, our WordPress membership plugin, can help you easily make a membership and subscription website. 

It makes managing your memberships and payments incredibly simple. With advanced membership features that allow you to create levels, accept online payments, and control subscriptions based on levels, this plugin has a lot going for it.

Try it out today to begin creating the membership or subscription site you’ve always wanted! 


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