There are many reasons people choose to create an online community. Businesses may want to interact with & help customers. Individuals may want to create a community to discuss an interest or serve a niche.
Whatever the reason building & maintaining an online community is rewarding but unfortunately not free. You have to pay for your hosting every month and cover the time spent building & maintaining your community.
The way you monetize your community will differ depending on the type of community you run. It's unlikely if you maintain a community for your business you'll want to display advertisements. On the other hand advertisements may work very well for a smaller interest or niche community.
You should choose the monetization approach that will fit your audience and carefully consider how the ideas you implement could impact your community.
1. Deliver Value First
Online communities are a fickle beast. Users will come and go and unless users get value from your community it's unlikely they will support your site or stick around for any period of time. Always think of delivering value for your target audience to keep discussions lively and users coming back.
2. Be Transparent With Your Users
If you need to monetize your community be open and transparent with your users. Let your community know why you need to monetize and how you intend to do so.
For example you may announce something like "Hi All, We are looking to hire a community manager to support our members here within the community. To raise funds to cover this we are introducing a new premium only area within our community. This area will allow you to post questions and receive answers from our moderators and other premium members. We'd love to hear what you think of this ideas or indeed if you'd like to become a community manager. Please respond here and let us know what you think."
Poll your users to ensure they are happy with your monetization ideas and to ensure they won't leave on mass if you implement this into your community.
3. Don't Impact on User Experience
If users don't have a good experience they won't be around for long. It's important to remember regardless of the monetization option you choose that you don't impact on the end user experience. Remember to use everything in moderation. You don't want to annoy or frustrate visitors with pay walls, dozens of banner ads or constant pop-ups.
4. Introduce Ideas Slowly
One of the golden rules of AB testing is to introduce one change at a time and then test how this change impacts your metrics. We would suggest a similar approach when you introduce monetization options into your community. Don't add everything at once. Introduce ideas one at a time and start gathering user feedback & review your metrics.
5. Create Private Community
With a gated or private community you require that users must first purchase a monthly or annual subscription to access either all or parts of your community. The ares you charge access for will vary depending on the type of community however we would certainly suggest making some forums available to everyone so they can start engaging & hopefully see the value.
A few ideas for private or gated areas of your community could include...
- A private discussion area for priority customer support questions
- A private discussion area to share what your working on with your customers.
- A private discussion area to share industry news or insights with your customers
6. Create an Insider Program
An insider program is a great way to reward users who want to optionally support your community for a small monthly or annual fee. This option allows users to sponsor your community and in return you reward them with a special badge, title or reputation level within your community.
In addition you could create a private discussion area only available to insiders or from time to time reward your insiders with special offers or insider company news.
This is a simple approach that can work well for both business & personal communities.
7. Create a Referral Program
A referral program can be used to help grow your community numbers. It's a great way to thank your members that also benefits you. A basic referral program is when one of your users recommends someone they know to join your community, they use a code that indicates they came from that recommendation (or referral). The referrer gets a dollar amount or gift and the referee starts using your community which gives them an opportunity to join the referral program. You can incentivize users in many different ways to refer others to your community. For example you could offer a digital download (ebook, infographic, webinar etc) or provide a discount / promotional code to use on your web site whenever a user refers someone.
The best thing about a referral program is that the new user is coming from a trusted source and can be considered a highly qualified user.
I could not leave advertising off this list. It's simply to easy and a great way to bring in additional revenue. Advertising is a natural fit for personal or niche communities discussing a particular topic or interest. The most popular option here is to include Google AdSense on your pages which can work extremely well for targeted niche communities.
Google AdSense is simple and you can be up & running in minutes however if your looking to maximuze your ad revenue you can't beat securing your targeted own ad inventory. If you secure your own advertisers you could develop a special run of site background image or side-bar campaign within your community to highlight the sponsor or get creative in other ways.
If your maintaining a community for your business you should not completely discount advertising. For example maybe you could partner with complimentary businesses and bring offers from those businesses to your customers within your community.
9. A simple "Donate" button
For smaller personal communities a simple PayPal.com donate button can be very effective. This allows anyone who finds your community helpful to optionally donate a small amount.
When adding a Donate button you should test different call to actions to see which offer the best results. You could simply show your Donate button in the header of every page within your community however a more effective approach may be to have your donate button slide up from the bottom of the when when you reach the end of a topic or when a user marks a reply as an answer. It's a fine balance, users understand you need to pay for your site just don't annou them in the process and you'll likely see better results
10. Show them you care
Building a successful community is all about being helpful, delivering great answers & keeping users coming back with interesting new content. Be the most active user in your community. Get all your colleagues or friends involved to get the ball rolling. Welcome every new member, be friendly, polite and go out of your way to help.Of course participate in the silly conversations and show your human.
We hope you've find something here helpful. Whilst some are fairly obvious hopefully we've shared something new that has sparked your imagination. If you have any additional ideas we've love to include them in the list to hopefully help other community manager. I'm sure we've missed some. Don't hesitate to respond below or contact us directly with your suggestions. As always thank you for reading to the very end. Your time is sincerely appreciated.
Now go build community :)