Over the years of trawling through the internet finding ways of connecting with new people, I’ve seen little pockets of communities to become a part of for various reasons. Some of those communities have been fan clubs for fiction books that I enjoy, other’s have been for professional networking in academia. However, one type has caught my attention recently: the Premium Access Community.
Also, this article is a bit longer than average so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add a Contents list:
Table of Contents
What Is a ‘Premium Access Community’?
In its most basic form, a PAC is an online group set up by a business owner/entrepreneur, which helps to both connect the business with its customers more intimately and help customers connect.
I got my first taste of a PAC around the time I also started my first blog about five years ago. It was a private Facebook group set up by a couple from New Zealand who ran travel blogs. The group was set up as a PAC to supplement a course they created about how to build an online business.
As it turned out, I felt the group itself provided even better value than the course it was based around. Not only did it give me a chance to network with like-minded people, but it also allowed the owners of the group to give and get real-time feedback on what they were providing.
The Most Common Type of ‘Premium Access Community’
As you might have guessed by my example, the most common type of PAC is a private Facebook group. I’m not saying that a Facebook group is inherently a wrong choice, but it does have its faults. The most annoying part of Facebook groups, in my opinion, is the disorganisation. It’s tough to organise a group in a way that’s helpful to members.
Think about a Facebook group you might be in or have been in before where you wanted to find a specific post or information about a particular topic within the group and had to scroll infinitely to find it? Or on the flip side, how much of a struggle it is to make sure the members see specific content, like announcements? I’m here to tell you there is a better way.
If you haven’t heard of Slack before, where have you been? Just kidding. The target audience for Slack is businesses, in particular those who have work-from-home options. It’s one of the companies (like Zoom) that have fared a bit better in the current working climate.
In their words:
“Slack brings the team together wherever you are. With all of your communication and tools in one place, remote teams will stay productive no matter where you’re working from.”
Their primary function, or goal, is to replace internal email communications with a smarter and more eloquent solution. One of my old workplaces used Slack for this reason, and I can say for them, it does what it says on the tin.
What I’ve found recently is that Slack is a near-perfect option for those who want to create a PAC. It leaves out the bad parts of having a private Facebook group and provides a clean interface to do it. Best of all, even though it has payment tiers, I’ve seen it used successfully on the free plan.
Slack vs Facebook
As I mentioned earlier, Facebook can be a good option for some. Especially if you have a paid ad ecosystem going on with them that links to your private group. However, the most substantial reason to switch over to Slack is their channel system.
On Facebook, you can only (as far as I know) post to the group proper and the post quickly gets buried in a flurry of other posts that may or may not be related. Whereas in Slack, you can create “channels” that lets you organise the groups posting content into whatever little folders you like such as #general, #marketing, #product design etc. As well as that you can set a “channel description” which works almost like a pinned post.
In our case of using it as a Premium Access Community we can create channels like #feedback, #announcements, and #self-promotion. You can also “lock” channels in a way that means only certain people can post on them, handy for an announcements-type channel. It also has a real sleek instant messaging system. In my opinion, it easily beats having to go to another community member’s Facebook profile, hoping they have lax privacy settings and sending them a message that may end up in their spam folder.
The only downside I can think of in using Slack this way is that your community has to download a new app (or log into the web version) and become familiar with it. However, that could also be turned into an advantage because members are far more likely to have an email they’d be happy to use than they are a Facebook account.
How to Set Up a Premium Access Community with Slack
From what I’ve seen, Slack PAC’s work best if you already have a customer base from an existing product or service, i.e. an email list. However, that’s not to say you couldn’t use the PAC as your primary service if your market is right for it.
Setting one up is super easy. Literally, all you need is an email, Slack doesn’t ask you for all your other private information which I think is quite refreshing.
When you start the process on their website, this is the first thing that you’ll see:
Here you’ll want to put in the email you use for your business or personal brand.
After you enter your email they will send you a 6-digit passcode to verify your email, and then you move onto the next step.
This is where you want to place the name of the group you want to set up, for the purpose of this article I created “Premium-Access Community,” which you’ll see in the purple column of the next screenshot.
After that, it will ask you “what project is your team working on?” This is how they help you set up the first “channel,” in my test space I created “Medium Group”, since Medium is where a lot of these sorts of groups form.
In the process of creating “the workspace” (your PAC), they ask you to either send invitations to individual email addresses or create an invite link that you can send to others. You can also skip this step to get right into customising your space before inviting anyone in. Which looks like this:
From there you have free-reign and you can create the channels you think you’ll want or need for your PAC, though you can chop and change them at later dates if you want to. To add new channels you can go to the little plus sign which is on the same row as the word “Channels.”
Removing a channel is a little more finickety, you have to go into the channel, then click of “details” in the right corner. After that, you hover over the “more” option like so:
After that you’ll be greeted with this screen which gives you the extra channel options, which includes permanently deleting the channel (just a scroll below the photo):
Deleting a channel is okay if you haven’t invited anyone into your space yet. But if you have an already established user base in the group then you’re better off archiving the channel instead. Archiving preserves the channel message and file history incase you need to get back to them.
It’s also worth looking at the permission settings and changing the “anyone can invite” to “invites require admin approval.” That way members can’t just invite anyone once they’re inside.
To do that you’ll need to click on your name in the top left corner and go into the “workspace settings” here:
Then you’ll find an array of options to choose from when it comes to setting up permissions for members, as well as customising Slack Bot responses. Though you can find the setting I mentioned here:
Some of the options are only available to those who pay for tiered memberships, but unless you’re working as part of an enterprise like my old job was, you can easily get by with the free settings.
That’s pretty much it on the Slack side of things. All you need to do at this point is to invite people in! The final product, after setting up your channels and inviting people in could look like this:
Making it Premium-Access
If you want to use the idea of a PAC, that will entail collecting payments to access your Slack workspace.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s easier if you have something like a paid course or newsletter where you can place the invite link in hassle-free as an added value to your services. Two of the groups I’m a part of use Teachable, where they can place the link in as part of the introductory module.
The other uses a website called Substack. It’s a free newsletter/blog platform where you can have the option to create a paid subscription. Having the paid option allows you to create “member-only” posts, where you can drop the invite link to your community.
I have a Substack (which is quite new) though I’ll shortly be moving it to it’s own website. If you go down this route you’ll need to have a Stripe account. You’ll be familiar with Stripe if you’re on the Medium Partnership Program. After linking the Stripe account you’ll be presented with the options in your settings to enable the paid subscription.
At this point, you can set up your paid newsletter subscription. I haven’t done this yet because my Substack is still a baby.
Alternatively, you could make a pretty PDF with the invite link and sell it using an e-commerce platform like Gumroad. I haven’t seen anyone do it this way, but in theory that could be an option. Of course, you could make it free and just invite people into your community however you like.
Successful Slack PAC-ers
At the moment I’m a member of three different Slack PACs which utilise the model pretty well.
The first I will mention is Tom Kuegler’s Medium Mastery group. He first created his course “Medium Mastery” a couple of years ago now, but I signed up about a little over two months ago. He does update it, and now part of his course package is access to his Slack group. It’s very active and super helpful, with quite a few writers I had been a fan of before starting the course as members too.Stephen Moore, who kindly helps Tom to moderate the group, said this when I asked him about how well Slack spaces does the job of managing a PAC compared to Facebook:
“I believe they [Slack PAC’s] are far more effective. The channels allow more structure, and to me, that’s what separates it from Facebook.”
When I also asked about tips for Slack member onboarding, in terms of getting used to using Slack he said:
“Download the app. A lot of users tell me they find it difficult to log on all the time on the web versions. With the apps, I’m logged in all the time.I think the best policy is just to ask. Introduce yourself into the group, and say “hey, I’m not so good at this, and could do with some help”. I’d also recommend that people look at the topic/channel description, to get a sense of what each one is about.”
Another group I’m a part of is Casey’s “Blogging Guide.”
I’ve been a fan of Casey’s work since I started writing on Medium because of his dedication to helping other writers succeed on the platform as well as how he goes about his business.
At first, he created his Substack newsletter, which has free and paid options. As a paying subscriber to his newsletter, which is excellent by the way, I also have access to a Slack workspace he set up for his subscribers.
It’s a pretty new move for him, but I think it’s working out well. Much like the other group, we use it to give article feedback, share our posts, discuss platform-related news as well as other paid writing opportunities. When I asked him about how he feels about using Slack, he said so far he was a fan, but he also had several great insights.
First on using Slack vs Facebook:
“Facebook works well as a marketing tool simply because of its reach but I would otherwise not use it because I hate how chaotic and disorganized groups become. I still run the [Facebook] group because I view it as an essential service for new Medium writers.”
As well as about general use of it:
“The barrier of entry is just high enough that it keeps people asking repetitive or low effort posts at bay (what is Medium? Why does my article have views but has not made any money?)”“Also, Slack has both good group features and private chat features. I wanted to give writers a chance to network and partner on projects without relying upon me to make an intro. I think premium members deserve that freedom. Some group admins don’t like being (potentially) cut out of the loop but I view that as my job — creating opportunity for writers.”
The newest group I’m a member of is Shaunta’s “Ninja Writers Club.” It’s not a Medium-related group, more of a general writing group. It’s used to keep writers accountable on our works-in-progress as well as a place to share links for conference calls, as part of the club.
It doesn’t seem to be as active as the other groups I’m in. I can attribute that to the nature of the group being about working on novels, which is slower-paced, as opposed to writing on Medium.
I can’t comment on how well this group functions for Shaunta, but there are a lot of people that are members of the group, which I presume have all had to pay for access as part of her online course. In my opinion, her group is under-utilised, and she could make a lot more use of it, but hey, I’m not running it.
Other Ways of Creating a PAC
Slack is probably the best universal option at the moment. However, it’s not the only one. If you’re not convinced about Slack’s prowess, here are a few other options that you could work with using the same model.
Discord is probably the most similar to Slack. It has invite-only access, channels, an IM system as well as a nifty bot service included. It’s also free. Discord will likely be familiar with gamers, as well as people who use Reddit.
While it functions almost identically, it’s more difficult (in my opinion) to set up than Slack. It’s pretty cool though and has a few functions that Slack doesn’t, such as voice-based channels and a super customisable bot system.
In terms of setting up a paid system, Patreon is probably the easiest in the list though it wasn’t built with ‘internal communications’ in mind. It functions a little like a newsletter in which ‘the community’ can also create posts, but then you have a similar organisational problem as Facebook.
Your own website
On the internet, nothing really beats having your very own place to call home. The same is likely right for creating a PAC. If you’re an adept web developer, it’s probably worth at least having a go at making your own version of Slack, hosted on the web with a paywall.
By creating your own, you’ll have ultimate control over what you want or don’t want to include as well as the ability to brand the whole thing, I’m thinking colour co-ordination.
Most importantly, your service wouldn’t rely on someone else staying in business. In theory, all the services I’ve mentioned could disappear tomorrow along with your business they hold. Having your own, you become self-reliant.
So that’s it. I hope I’ve inspired you with the opportunity to create a Premium-Access Community using Slack, or the others I mentioned. It’s a great way to create added value in a service you’re providing, but it also proves to be a lucrative way of communicating with existing customers if they decide to join.