Like most business ventures, the answer to generating profit from your community doesn’t lie in some lazy hack. It’s easy to start spamming your community with ads, merch, and membership fees…but it needs to be handled professionally. Do it wrong, and you might not have a community left to monetize.
That said, there are myriad ways you can make a profit from your community without selling your soul or alienating members. Let’s start with our personal favorite: developing products and services they actually want to buy.
Developing new products and services
If you’re thinking about monetization, then you’ve already got a stable community with regular new members, consistent engagement, and stable churn. Those members are your most powerful monetization resource.
They are a pool of ripe-and-ready-to-buy customers. When you build new products or services specifically targeting their needs/desires, it can be extremely profitable. The most effective ‘products’ tend to be educational tools (things like guides, training courses, or even books) and are generally highly specific.
But you shouldn’t just fly in. You need to be sure that what you’re building is genuinely desired and something members will pay for. You have two main sources of data:
- Observation—You see which problems, concerns, and pains keep resurfacing time and again within your forums. This can provide an exceptional insight into what your members might need or want, even if they haven’t thought of it themselves.
- Interviewing—You can directly ask members what products/services they would ideally love to see…and then build them.
This requires more active effort than simply running ads, but if you get it right it can be massively profitable and only increases the perceived value of your community.
Alternative income streams
There are many, many ways you can monetize your community. Let’s take a look at the most popular options and give our take on how to, and whether you even should, do them.
By charging to access a private community, you will get fewer members. However, they will be the most engaged and dedicated of the bunch. If you can guarantee value in excess of the membership fee (value that can’t be found elsewhere for free!) then this is an excellent option. If it takes off, the financial returns can be enormous—allowing you to reinvest in making the community better, even after taking your cut.
Advertising & affiliates
This shouldn’t just be Google Ads taking up valuable real estate all over your community. You want to invite vetted brands with great ties to your niche, then consider how best to display them. Banner ads can be fine, but you might invite them to participate in threads or launch a dedicated area in the community.
Affiliate sales can also be effective, but you must thoroughly vet every product and ensure only the very best, most valuable products are ever displayed. Cack-handed adverts and affiliate marketing is cancer for online communities.
If you’re like me, the idea of selling branded merchandise for your community might sound ludicrous. But many people (many, many people) love rocking the branding of their favorite online group. I’m a member of a niche pizza maker’s community; if they had a nice hoodie, I bet they’d fly off the shelves.
Third party sites allow you to maintain an open store where members can order on-demand. They take a cut, but there’s no logistical burden on you whatsoever. The desire for merch will often surface naturally from members, but it’ll never hurt to ask if there was interest.
How to decide what to do
The hardest step is deciding what route to take. Our recommendation is to always consult with your members, or at least examine the data closely to make sure it’s likely to succeed. If your gaming community is constantly debating the best computer build for a specific game, you could publish a concrete guide and charge for it—but don’t punt on a guide if you don’t see clear demand.
If core members are often complaining about trolls or repetitive questions etc, then consider a paid membership. The key is observing or interacting with members and reacting to what you see. If you find the right approach and time it well, the payoff will be massive.
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