Trying to grow a successful membership site? Matt Eldridge shares his top tips for designing a meaningful experience for site members, so the numbers keep growing. From the type of content you should be curating, to promoting your community on social media, Matt weighs in with his expert advice.
Matt is is the owner and marketing lead at Melt Design, as well as an ActiveCampaign Certified Consultant. He has been working with business owners for more than five years on lead generation, websites, and building integrated stacks that facilitate automated marketing and sales processes. Connect with him on Twitter @Matteld80.
Chris Davis: 00:24 Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. I’m your host, Chris Davis. On this episode I have Matt Eldridge of Melt Design. It is a web agency that handles essentially all of your marketing and online needs for your business. I have the pleasure, however, to talk about one specific area that they businesses with, and that’s membership sites. It’s been awhile since we’ve able to really dive into either a membership site example or what makes a membership site successful, so I have Matt on this podcast to talk about that exact thing.
Chris Davis: 01:01 We talk about what are the elements of a successful membership platform. Many of you know this, but it’s really interesting to see how the dynamics have shifted from membership sites in the past to now. And I’ll give you a hint. They all revolve around community. But that’s all I’m giving you. Go ahead, jump into the episode, and enjoy.
Chris Davis: 01:24 Matt, welcome to the podcast, how are you doing?
Matt Eldridge: 01:27 Hi, Chris, thanks for having me. I’m really well today. Thank you.
Chris Davis: 01:30 Great, great, great. Tell our listeners a little bit about your background.
Matt Eldridge: 01:34 Yeah, so started off in 2005 kind of self taught myself how to code, kind of got bored in what I was doing, so taught myself to code. Did some freelance work for a couple years, and then I ended up working for a recruitment agency building websites integrated with Microsoft Dynamics, which is quite a powerful CRM. So that’s kind of my intro into integration and automation and all that kind of stuff. And then I kind of got bored of that and I moved to company called The Entrepreneur Circle. And from there I was building landing pages, squeeze pages, memberships portals. All kind of marketing focused stuff. And I really learned how to use marketing and kind of grew from there, really.
Chris Davis: 02:21 That’s interesting. You may be the first person that’s mentioned Microsoft Dynamics. I use a lot of tools, but I don’t know if I’ve ever used Microsoft Dynamics. Compared to the small business CRM in marketing automation software that you use now, what would you put a tool like Microsoft Dynamics, I know it’s more enterprise, but on a level on complexity?
Matt Eldridge: 02:52 Oh, it’s massively complex. I didn’t enjoy using it at all. And then to kind of get the automation with the marketing and stuff, there’s a lot of bolt ons and set ups. It’s not a simple … It needs some quite technical set up, so it’s not, like you said, a small business entry at all. It’s definitely for the bigger integrations with payment systems and all that kind of stuff.
Chris Davis: 03:17 I got you, I got you. All right, it feels good to be small in that respect. And, Matt, it should go without saying that that is something that we can’t lose perspective of, right. The small business owner, the software that we can use for our business, we have the option to choose non-complicated software. Whereas, I mean if you’re not using Dynamics, you’re probably up against Adobe offering or something, which is probably just as complex.
Matt Eldridge: 03:51 I always find clients that come to us with things like Hopespot and Infusion Soft and they’re just, they’re singed up because they heard someone say it’s great. Or they’ve read a book. And they’re just not using it because it’s too complicated to set up, or they just can’t figure it out, so they’re just wasting money each month and just, they’re stuck in their business because they’re not setting anything up. So we kind of transition them out into ActiveCampaign, and give them a better training and they kind of enjoy it then and learn and then they start to see the capabilities and that’s when we kind of kick back in and help them set bigger things up and get the business system set up and save them time, save them stress. Yeah, I always kind of start small and just, if you need to grow just grow as you can.
Chris Davis: 04:36 Yup. Yup. That’s good man. Tell us a little bit about Melt Creative. Your company.
Matt Eldridge: 04:42 Yes, so we’re a digital agency based in Warwick in the UK. Got a nice little castle and everything. But yeah, I started Melt back in 2013 and basically we’re kind of key focus is to hep entrepreneurs and business owners to kind of combine effective marketing focused design with the systems and the processes that will save them the time, so marketing automation, sales and billing, onboarding, call bookings, all that kind of stuff that can just make your sales part lines a lot slicker, and your marketing segmentation a lot slicker. So, yeah, we do a lot of work around building up assets for people, so the different … We were talking before the call about PDFs and chat lists and courses and stuff to kind of build the list and then sell them into the next tier of their offering.
Chris Davis: 05:36 Nice. Nice. That is, oh man, I love it. And one of things that attracted me when you came across my radar was some of the work that you do with memberships sites. And I was like, “oh, my gosh. Got to have you on and talk about membership sites.”
Matt Eldridge: 05:57 Yeah, we found it’s a growing kind of interest, really. We probably get more interest for membership sites than we do any other service now. And we’ve kind of seen it explode in the last year or so. And, yeah, I find it a brilliant business model to have if you can kind of get them right and they just bring so much peace of mind and predictability to your business. They’re just a wise thing to do if you feel you can bring it into your business.
Chris Davis: 06:22 Yeah, it’s one of the things where if you’re not, depending on where you’re at in your business, you don’t know the power of recurring revenue. Right, like I remember, Matt, when I was first starting it was all about making sales. And I was trying to get as many people to buy from me as I could. I wasn’t even thinking about the repeat buyers. I wasn’t even thinking about a model where people could pay me repetitively without making the decision every month to pay me. And you look at today’s society, especially here in the US, everything is moving to a subscription based model.
Chris Davis: 07:01 I mean, you can go on Amazon and have a subscription laundry detergent all the way to like a car wash here. You can have a subscription, a monthly subscription to a car wash, where you get unlimited car washes. You know.
Matt Eldridge: 07:16 That’s good.
Chris Davis: 07:17 Just to see the subscription space blow up, is showing, it’s just validation that it’s a convenient value. If I can just pay $ 20, I even heard barbers are doing this. You pay a certain amount and you get unlimited haircuts. But it simplifies my life. I don’t have to think about it every time, or necessarily pay for it every time.
Matt Eldridge: 07:43 Yeah, I think it’s a trend that is growing and it will become the future, like you say. It’s just convenient. So we looked back through the team, what we have on subscriptions ourselves, and you got kind of dog food, and your dentists, and what you say, haircuts. Our barbers do the same thing. It’s just, it is moving to that kind of way of working, people want to access information in the same way. Rather than paying for a big cost of $3000 or £3000, they want to kind of access the content as and when they need it.
Chris Davis: 08:18 Yeah, it’s almost like value on demand.
Matt Eldridge: 08:21 Yeah. And you’ve got the choice to step out and step back in if you feel it’s not adding the value.
Chris Davis: 08:27 Yeah.
Matt Eldridge: 08:29 But like I you say, it’s the beauty of the predictability of it. So, it was something I looked at in my business as well, was you kind of, one month is high, one month is down, so how can we make it more predictable and that’s when you kind of work in the services that are recurring.
Chris Davis: 08:46 Yeah, I love it. I love it. And again, it’s something that unfortunately a lot of business owners don’t realize the value until the experience the pain. So, hopefully this podcast, specifically, can help raise some awareness around that. But in your experience, what makes a good membership site?
Matt Eldridge: 09:07 I think the key to it is simplicity, for me. And also having an active community and communication. So a lot of people, for us, with the clients we work with, there’s always success stories and ones that kind of just drip along. But the ones that work well are the ones that communicate regularly with members. They have regular meetups or online conference calls. They encourage engagement in the membership site. They’re constantly updating the content, so it’s important to just keep it simple in what you offer as well. And I think a lot of people try and do too much with the site, and they try and have too many membership levels and too many, it’s open to too many people. But it has to be very focused on a certain purpose, and those are the ones that kind of work well, that are niched down and have a certain purpose to solve.
Chris Davis: 09:57 Got you. Now, when it comes to the community building aspect of it, are you seeing that it’s more valuable to have the community within the membership site, or do, like, we’re seeing a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs where they have like a Facebook community and there’s a link to the community within the membership site.
Matt Eldridge: 10:19 Yeah, this kind of depends what you want to, what kind of resource you’ve got to manage the community I think. Until you’ve got a certain kind of critical mass of members, the kind of membership inside the community can be quite quiet, so you have to kind of proactively try and start conversations and get people engaged with taking them to Facebook, you kind of lose control of the conversation, and also if you want to talk about private things, people aren’t going to freely talk about that in a Facebook group.
Matt Eldridge: 10:50 But what we’ve kind of found is people join for the content but then stay for the community. So if you [inaudible 00:10:56] community vibe, and that kind of, you belong to that community, you turn people more loyal and kind of raving fans for what you offer essentially.
Chris Davis: 11:08 Yeah. That’s huge. And you know what, Matt, I would say that’s a shift, too. Because I remember back in the days, oh man, I’m going to date myself in internet years here. But wishlist member was like, revolutionary. It was the plugin, and people were still like, “wait a minute, what is this?” You can pay, people can pay you every month? I remember when it penetrated the market, and internet marketers got their hands on it, and it was membership site, membership site, membership sites. And it was really around the content. It really was. It was you subscribe to a particular business or website, and the whole idea was the content exchange, whereas now, we’ve seen successful membership sites have that strong community element to it.
Matt Eldridge: 12:00 It makes it easier to kind of progress people up your kind of value ladder, so to speak. So, if someone comes in on a $40 ticket membership site access, but you’ve got the next level of kind of coaching or you’ve got the mastermind at the top that’s 20,000 pounds, it just makes it easier to kind of trends grasp people up through that ladder if you know what I mean. So, it’s a very wise thing to do to get them and build the value. Build the trust and it’s a lot easier to kind of escalate.
Chris Davis: 12:31 Yeah, and I know that communities, we’re on communities for a reason right now, but I know that people have a different … Let me say brands. Brands have a different way of communicating that they have a community and for instance, like a lot of these course platforms or plug ins, we’ll say built-in forums or built-in communities and what they really mean is you can have comments under the videos.
Matt Eldridge: 13:02 Yeah.
Chris Davis: 13:03 Right. Now, I’m not saying that’s not community, but when you’re talking about community, what does that look like with some of the sites that you all build?
Matt Eldridge: 13:13 Yes, and just the ability to kind of go and post. So, let’s say for example, I’ve built a page and I want to get feedback on that page or I’m struggling with a mental roadblock or something and I want some advice of how to break through it. You can go and get the advice that you want and it all kind of feeds in a nice thread and you can kind of at each of her and people can jump in and then the kind of secret to bringing it to life is then as an owner, spotting the conversations that are kind of trending or have more input and then you can send that weekly email and say, “Please go and help Matt with his problem or go and help Sarah with her problem or review this web design for so and so.”
Matt Eldridge: 13:56 It’s all about building that kind of relationship and that encouragement with a community.
Chris Davis: 14:02 Yeah, that’s nice. Are there any particular tools that stand out to you greater than others to achieve that?
Matt Eldridge: 14:13 Yeah, so we use a tool called IP Board, which it’s like a community plug in. It kind of sits separate to your website where you can brand it all up and kind of link the word press site to the community, and it’s just got really nice features like members maps and calendars, so you can put updates and upcoming events and upcoming training in the calendar.
Chris Davis: 14:36 Nice.
Matt Eldridge: 14:36 And the ability to add like at people and then you get the message to say, “So and so has mentioned you in a topic thread,” and links you straight back whereas a lot of tools out there are quite clunky and they look quite dated whereas this is very slick. It’s got a lot of kind of Facebook features in there, but it’s obviously not in Facebook.
Chris Davis: 14:56 Right.
Matt Eldridge: 14:57 It works really well. It’s kind of the best one I’ve found personally.
Chris Davis: 15:01 Yeah, and when you say it, it’s interesting right. When we talk about membership sites, we can’t ignore the fact that people are being trained to engage as particular way on social media. So, you can’t have a community aspect to your membership site that veers too far away. So, you know, I know we’re commonly saying or you’re just casually mentioning that you can at someone, but that is huge. Right? Because again …
Matt Eldridge: 15:29 Yeah.
Chris Davis: 15:29 Social media has trained us. If you go on Instagram, Facebook, and somebody sees something interesting, sometimes in the comment area, they’ll just at their friend.
Matt Eldridge: 15:41 Yeah.
Chris Davis: 15:41 So, that that post shows up to them and they can look at it.
Matt Eldridge: 15:45 Yeah, it’s like you kind of get oh, at Matt. Can you help with this post? Like some of the membership sites I’m involved with, I frequently get can you help answer this question for Jenny or whoever is asking the question because that person starts to see you as the expert in that field and that you’ve never met them in your life, but they’re kind of telling that person to speak to you, so it’s got some real power by far.
Chris Davis: 16:10 Yeah, I agree and with the community, and you mentioned you can’t have a growing community without engagement. What would you say for the people … I know one of the most terrifying things with building a membership site, is or community for that matter or both, is getting started and hearing crickets? Like it is, it’s paralyzing for most people because they are terrified at the idea. I would so this thing. Come be a member and nobody is a member or people join and they’re just not talking. What have you seen? I know you mentioned earlier in the podcast like in the early stages when it’s smaller, you have to be more proactive to facilitate the conversations. What other things … What could you tell somebody who’s facing that fear right now to help them with a kind of like a roadmap on how to get engagement from the jump?
Matt Eldridge: 17:08 I think the key is to kind of use those regular touchpoints like I mentioned the weekly emails. Updates on what’s happening in the community. What kind of problems have been solved? And also effective sites. I’ve seen a use kind of live chat they kind of bring up the latest topics in the forum, so it’s once you log in, a lot of people forget here is a community at the start. Like is said, they’re not going for the community at the start. They’re going for the content, so we’re having these little pop ups that say, “So and so’s looking for help for this or introduce yourself in the community.” So, that’s a first when you probably want to get your members to do is introduce themselves into the community and you can set it up, so it reminds them to introduce themselves as well, so you haven’t introduced yourself, please go and do to get the most out of the community. That kind of thing.
Matt Eldridge: 17:55 Like I said, it’s just about starting an interesting conversations and asking people’s feedback and a good way to do it at the start would be surveys. So, just start to kind of run these kind of subtle surveys or challenges are a good thing I’ve seen done. So, start to do group challenges and say, “By the end of the month you need to have this in place or you need to have captured so many leads.” Do you get what I’m saying? So, it works while in that kind of way.
Chris Davis: 18:24 Yeah. Because you know like the behavior of people online is we will traditionally do what we’re told to do. We won’t necessarily take the time to figure out what we need to do.
Matt Eldridge: 18:38 Now, I know that successful sites we’ve worked on, they all do that very well, so it’s a constant communication. The pushing people to the forum and just letting people know that people are actually engaging in the forum and for me, the challenges worked really well with one site. I kind of, we built a few years ago. They started doing challenges and it was a game changer for their membership because people got so brought in and yeah, they had a Facebook page and people would talk about on the Facebook page, but in order to go and post your results, you had to go into the community and from there people started to kind of develop friendships and kind of started to like the turnover. People’s messages and stuff and it kind of grew from there.
Chris Davis: 19:20 Yeah. Now, have you had many businesses, I’m sure you have now that I’m thinking about this question I’m about to ask. Have you seen or does it happen often? I should ask, that you get a client that is on Facebook and you see a strong opportunity for them to migrate or, I shouldn’t say migrate. Because you don’t have to migrate to build a community off of Facebook, but build a complimentary community that they own 100%? Kind of like your mentioning with IP Board. Have you had clients like that where you’ve had to get that conversation that was taking place primarily on Facebook over to their own platform?
Matt Eldridge: 20:06 Yeah, I think you have to make the decision. It’s kind of one or the other because people will choose Facebook over logging in because it’s easy for them. They’re already logged in, but you can’t control the conversations as well on Facebook and I find things get lost in the threads a lot quicker. So, you have to kind of just say, “We’ll post the other [inaudible 00:20:27] in the group and you can talk about stuff amongst yourselves in the group, but we’re not gonna proactively be involved in this group.” So, if you want access us, you’ve got to come into the community.
Matt Eldridge: 20:38 A lot of people respect that and they do come back in, but again, it’s dependent on how big your community is and how engaged they are, but you have to kind of lead that.
Chris Davis: 20:47 Yeah, and I’ve honestly seen it work really well if you … People, it’s hard to retrain your audience. So, if you’ve trained them to engage in one way, on one platform, then to get them to change that behavior, it does. It takes time. It’s doable, but it takes time. But, one thing that I have seen not be as much of a factor, Matt, was like maybe two to three years ago, the claim was, I don’t want another login. It’s easy. People are already on Facebook. They don’t want to have to carry all these logins. This, this, and that. All of the sass explosion has really nullified that because you’re gonna have a login to ActiveCampaign. You’re gonna have a login to this. You’re gonna have … So, having multiple logins is no longer like this overwhelming thing. It’s more so commonplace, so it does open up the opportunity for you to make that decision and say, “You know what? I am gonna build a community on Facebook and have it tightly integrated with my membership site,” because the potential of the stability. The predictability, and just stable income is worth it.
Matt Eldridge: 22:05 Yeah, definitely. So, you could do it where you’ve got like a … You don’t have a member’s only group on Facebook. You just have a group in general. But, then you’ve got a more kind of member’s only group inside the website itself and in terms of people logging in, yeah. The joy of browsers. Remembering your passwords nowadays and you can also get social login plug ins and well, so you can login with Facebook. Login with Gmail. So, that just makes life a lot easier for users as well.
Chris Davis: 22:34 Yeah, yeah. That’s right. I personally … If you’re listening, I in no way am I saying that Facebook communities are the wrong way to go. I just like to make sure that we’re providing options because the worse thing, Matt, that I’ve realized is when you’re in business and you take on a specific strategy or tool because you think you have to.
Matt Eldridge: 23:00 Yeah.
Chris Davis: 23:01 Right?
Matt Eldridge: 23:01 Yeah.
Chris Davis: 23:01 Instead of actually knowing what’s on the table as an option and then you picking the best option. Listen, either way, it’s going to take work. I get it. I know that everybody’s on Facebook and it’s easy, but you ask anybody who has built a strong community of Facebook, it still took time. Still took effort. You know, like there is … One is not easier than the other. It’s just your commitment and the way that you choose to do it.
Matt Eldridge: 23:29 You’re bang on it. Exactly, it’s all about what works for you. It’s not a case of I have to do a community inside the membership. You don’t. It’s about what works for you and what you can engage in. The benefit of having it in the website is you can give more private conversations. You can do more marketing back to members in terms of events and meet ups and stuff. It’s a lot easier to do that inside the membership site compared to Facebook. But, if you’re comfortable and you’ve only got the time to run a Facebook page or a group, then start there and it’s something you can explore in the future. The beauty of the tools we’ve got nowadays is we can add these things as we grow the site as well. So you can start without the community and just bolt it on in six months or 12 months, whenever you’re ready.
Chris Davis: 24:13 Yeah, and that goes back to one of the points you mentioned earlier when you said simplicity.
Matt Eldridge: 24:21 Exactly. It’s all about what works for you. So don’t try and overthink them, start with one membership level and just get your, what does my initial launch look like? And what does my end goal look like? And you can start there and just start with a minimal viable product, so to speak.
Chris Davis: 24:42 Yeah, and don’t be afraid to go small. I remember when I built my first membership site, and it was an embarrassment. I look at it and I’m ashamed of it, and I still cringe when I think back to it, but man, I spent so much time coming up with all of these membership levels, and all of these different privileges, I had this, this, and that. I had the plugins configured and all of that, and when I started to actually sell … First off, it was hard to sell because I spent so much time focusing on the membership levels and everything I didn’t put enough time into what is the value and how do I communicate that?
Chris Davis: 25:21 But then when people started to get in it was too overwhelming. It was too many things to do and it died before it even lived, and I’ve seen this so many times with people, and now, of course, more savvy in my marketing and understanding a product and everything else, I would. I would start extremely small where there’s the least amount of membership levels and then launch more membership levels, or launch more features, like more capabilities as features, right?
Chris Davis: 25:52 So I know I can have a community but I’m intentionally going to keep that until I see like, “Oh people, it’s time for a community. Hey, we’re adding a community.” You know? So it doesn’t have to be this whole, “Oh, it can only do this.” It could very much be intentional for that to get engagement, because if you have 100 people engaging in one group, that looks good. Whether you have 10 groups and 10 people engaging in 10. You spread it out and it looks a little thinner, those posts are a little more further apart, so it does have that ghost town effect.
Matt Eldridge: 26:33 Yeah. You said keeping it simple, you can launch essentially with one course, or you could even launch with a monthly call or a weekly call, whatever you want to. You don’t have to have reams and reams of content, it’s just important to focus back on what the value is and what people are looking for help with, and then if that is a call, in the monthly call, they just sign up to get access to the call. But essentially you start to build that content out as you grow the site and you get more successful you can add more interactive features, more content levels and layers, and just build it that way. That’s the successful model I’ve seen people grow their membership sites with.
Chris Davis: 27:15 And it’s up to you. You’re the owner. It’s your responsibility to know the value that people want, so that you can provide it.
Matt Eldridge: 27:24 Exactly.
Chris Davis: 27:25 Last question I have for you is around payment. I’m not going to go in the direction of how much did you price your membership site, that’s an impossible question to answer because the answer is always, “It depends.” Like what’s your audience, your value. But in terms of payment, I know if one fear is creating a membership site and nobody’s engaging, it’s crickets, blah, blah, blah. The next fear is somebody’s paying me and they stop paying. What have you seen as far as trends with some of the most successful membership sites that retain their customers longer?
Matt Eldridge: 28:04 Yeah. So the ones, like I kept saying it’s all about the engagement, so I find the ones that do the monthly calls or the weekly calls, they tend to have the longer sticky time. So less churn rate in those kind of sites where they actually are setting challenges once every two months, because people look forward to those challenges, or if they know they can come onto a call once a month. And also when you’ve got a lot of quick win type videos, because people might feel, “Okay, I’ve not been in the community for a while, but I know if I need that information I can jump back in and get it.” And people tend to just keep it onboard just for that information, knowing it’s there like a peace of mind. So that kind of content works really well as well.
Chris Davis: 28:50 Yeah, it sounds like as long as the site is living with value, right? You don’t create this one and done.
Matt Eldridge: 29:01 Yeah. You have to keep adding to it. So it’s never finished. So as you evolve, because obviously if your membership site is talking about technology, the technology changes. So you have to update the videos and certain strategies and tactics might change and work better, so you want to keep updating your members about those strategies and tactics, and it’s just a case of keep adding content, and try and have a road map of what content’s coming, because people can see, ” Okay, I’m interested in that. I’ll wait for that to come out.” And again, you can bring that back into the community and start to tell people the road map and what kind of features do you want? And just asking questions of what are you looking for help with? And if they feel like you’re listening to them, then they’re not going to leave. They’re going to become more loyal and stick for a longer time.
Chris Davis: 29:52 Yeah, because at the end of the day, with all of these membership sites, and the communities, and everything, the true value is the knowledge share, right? If you can build a strong enough knowledge share where people are engaging on their own, you’re facilitating that knowledge share with the content that people are initially paying for for the membership site, and then it gives you this mastermind effect specific to your business and the problem that you’re trying to solve.
Matt Eldridge: 30:22 Yeah, exactly. It’s a very wise way to do it, and it positions you so much higher when you build that trust. So like I said earlier, when you want to start launching higher ticket training, or coaching, or masterminds you’ve got that audience of people who love you and trust you and are a lot easier to promote that too.
Chris Davis: 30:43 Yup, yup, I agree. Well, Matt, thank you so much, man, for jumping on the podcast and breaking down the science, the science behind membership sites. Where can people connect with you and find more about your company?
Matt Eldridge: 30:57 So yeah, the website address is mountdesign.co.uk, and I’m also and Twitter at Melt Design, and that’s the best place to get me.
Chris Davis: 31:08 Okay, okay, great. Well, we’ll have all of those links at the bottom of the podcast, activecampaign.com/podcast. You can access them all. Matt, again man, I truly appreciate you coming onto the podcast and sharing your insight and wisdom.
Matt Eldridge: 31:25 [inaudible 00:31:25] pleasure to come on board.
Chris Davis: 31:26 Yeah, no problem, I’ll see you online, Matt.
Matt Eldridge: 31:28 Take care, bye.
Chris Davis: 31:28 Thank you for listening to this episode of ActiveCampaign podcast. I hope that listening to Matt made things a bit more clear on the approach and what success could look like with a membership site for your business. A lot of times these things are spoonfed to us, right? We see them in advertising, or a friend is saying they do it, or a lot of times we’re part of a membership site or a community and we just take it for granted the engagement that’s happening. But very rarely do we go through that thought process and trying to figure out how do I create that for myself? So hopefully this podcast was instrumental in being a piece to get you closer, or maybe it was the missing piece for you to do what you need to do with the membership site in your business.
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