Building an online community is a tremendous effort in and of itself. However, once you accomplish it, the result can be very rewarding. It feels really amazing to win a following behind a theme or an idea that’s important to you. It’s empowering to know that what you believe in also resonates strongly with a wider audience. You may have a noble cause and host your community pro bono, with no intention of ever getting anything out of it for yourself. I salute you if you do. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with trying to monetize it if you do it the right way.
An important aspect of an online community is your leadership which can take up many forms. You can be an active member, moderate it, or introduce new tech and organizational solutions. Anything that will make members feel welcome, safe, and stay supportive to each other.
Long-term success requires a lot of planning. You need to have a growth strategy in place and, importantly, a platform for members to come together and interact. Preferably, one you own.
At the end of the day, it’s never about getting stuff out of your community members. If you’re going to do it, you’ll have to provide value first.
Figuring out what makes your audience tick may be a topic for another time. Right now, let’s take a look at some of the strategies you can employ to monetize an online community and not make people hate your guts for it.
Joining a community for free is fine and a win-win. You get more people to sign up, while they continue to use the service at no cost. At some point though, you might want to consider user segmentation.
Start by creating a new tier of value and introduce a paywall, or a similar mechanism, to charge for accessing it. The number of people who will rush to pay may not be that great at first, but you’ll be able to pinpoint the most loyal members and possibly reward them in some way.
Regardless of the character of your community, surely there must be businesses that would be happy to target it’s members with some sort of sponsored content.
Here’s your chance for indirect monetization. Work with these businesses on developing the most fitting, appropriate content pieces including product promotions, blog posts, forum threads, videos, social media posts, etc. and charge a fee for publishing them.
This is probably one of the easiest monetization strategies to implement and won’t demand much of your attention once it’s running.
Essentially, you can devote certain areas of your website layout to banners that will ideally show ads strictly related to you membership profile. It’s crucial for them to be non-invasive and relevant to the audience, as otherwise they will quickly become annoying.
Branded swag has been around for a long time, before the Internet blew up. Its lasting popularity is not to be overlooked, and many personal brands, like vloggers, as well as a variety of sites still successfully push it.
It’s a great way for the most die-hard fans to showcase their support. They’ll proudly wear your merch to signal they’re a part of something important, a part of an exclusive club. There’s plenty of ways to go about selling merch, a dedicated shop section being one of them.
Staying on the commercial tip, a dedicated trading area may work great for certain type of online communities, like collectors. This will stretch to pretty much any group centered more around some physical objects, instead of ideas.
Site members can buy/sell stuff in a secure area of the site and you can claim a fee for every transaction. This may be difficult to set up, depending on the means and budget you have at your disposal, but the investment may be worth it, as this will surely generate that extra traffic.
There’s a lot of different stuff you can include in an ebook but one thing’s for sure – top-level expertise will sell. Heck, you can even offer some amazing fiction!
The questions are – how much do you value your knowledge/talent and how much will your community members be willing to pay for it? Sure, you can sell a copy at a $1 but will you sell enough to get a return on the time and work you invested? The good news is that once the ebook is out, the sales process can be self-maintained so you’ll be generating revenue while you sleep.
This online community monetization strategy is somewhat along the lines of paid membership. Free-forever should still be an option, but some people will be willing to pay to boost their profiles.
Now, there’s a lot you can offer in exchange for a fee. Badges, avatars, distinct username color, no post per day limit, ghost mode, direct messaging, the options abound.
As far as a contest goes, you can kill two birds with one stone. First, you can charge a tiny entry fee, and second, you can get a business you’ve already worked with involved in terms of sponsoring the prize.
If there’s an entry fee, it’s better be worth it. Don’t come up with any corny stuff that will make the audience scoff.
Lifelong learning is an idea embraced by more and more individuals. People have goals and if you can help them achieve those, they’ll be willing to pay you.
This strategy is kind of like the ebook, but delivered live. People pay for school, so why not pay for a quality, well-targeted course online? Importantly though, you’ll need a strong personal brand or a track record of success in the given field to attract students.
Paid newsletter subscription
I know, newsletter open and click rates are a nightmare, so you’re thinking “how the heck am I going to get people pay for mine?!”.
Well, I never said it’s going to be easy. You have to make sure there’s AMAZING value inside if you’re going to continuously charge people for it. Oh, and since we’re at it, cancellation has to be easy and possible anytime.
Ask for donation
Let’s make one thing clear – asking for a donation in exchange for the effort you put in is no shame. In 2018 people are well aware of that.
Before you add a PayPal button on your site, or set up a Patreon, deliver on your part. Provide excellent content people will love, and they’ll be glad to share a penny with you.
If you wish to monetize your online community, it has to include a core of loyal fans. 100k anonymous visitors will not automatically translate into revenue.
Community members share the same values, tastes, aspirations, passions – it’s a powerful force to harness. Leverage user data to create exceptional experience for them worth the penny.
Be real, be yourself, be authentic, be someone people can relate to. Develop strategies that fit your member profile best. Figure out what’s important to them and what they expect. Good luck, go get that buck!