How I can monetize a community or a forum
If you run a community that makes money from advertising, your constant challenge is finding ways to maximize revenue without turning off your membership. Adding too many ad units can cheapen the look of your site and slow down page load times.
Always remember that your community exists because it’s in some way unique and it has brought together a bunch of people who share something in common. It’s that uniqueness that is key to making more than what those low paying adsense banners pay out.
So, what are some other ways you can monetize your community?
1. Put up a paywall. This can work in some cases, for example if forum helps people do their jobs and they can expense the fee. Otherwise, charging for access might reduce your visitor to registered member conversion rate. A way to test this is to limit only a section of the forum to paying members.
2. Premium memberships. This differs from a paywall in that it doesn’t give members access to the content. Instead it might give them a feature (like being able to create a signature) or something more symbolic like a badge or rank.
3. Hold conferences or offline events. The Penny-Arcade forums are huge and don’t show ads. There are some ads on other parts of the Penny-Arcade website but it’s likely that their main source of revenue is the PAX conference. The first Pax conference in 2004 attracted about 3,000 people. The most recent Pax Prime event saw an incredible 70,000 attendees.
4. Sell merchandise. Profit margins on t-shirts or mugs are aren’t great but it’s easy to set up a storefront these days with services like Shopify. It’s also fun to hold design contests and get the community involved.
5. Apply to ad networks that pay better. There are lots of niche ad networks out there and some might might be looking to reach your audience. One of our clients targets mostly young urban males and has signed up with Complex Media, an ad network that specializes in that demographic. It’s win-win as the audience sees more relevant ads and the forum owner is doing better than with his previous ad network partner.
6. Do direct sponsorships. Reaching out to possible sponsors can be time consuming but can result in a nice steady stream of revenue regardless of pageview stats. Typically, we see the 3 or 4 packages being offered. The packages include a placement, term (the longer the better) and price. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some inbound inquiries and won’t have to do too much selling to land a few sponsors.
7. Sell member data. Look for a list broker or agency that has clients that want to reach people in your niche. A good broker will rent out the list on your behalf to legitimate marketers. It’s important to be upfront with your membership about this when they register and give them an option to opt-in or opt-out.
8. Monetize links. Services like VigLink replace links to products and services in your forum with affiliate links. If someone ends up buying via that link, you earn an affiliate commission. You can go a step further with these services and automatically hyperlink common product names but doing this can upset the post author and make your content look spammy.
Let us know in the comments your thoughts on monetization. If you want to explore other ways to monetize your community forum, check out our free white paper: How to Monetize Your Community Forum.