Many people and organizations are beginning to make great money from their online communities. The secret is to avoid the obvious routes (advertising/affiliate marketing) and focus on adding value to the community.
- Charge for membership. By far the easiest, pack your community with added value and charge for membership. This means less members, more dedication and a budget to do cool things.
- Advertising. By far the most common. Find companies that want to sell products to your members and charge a fee for promotion. This might be giving them sponsored areas of your community, opportunities to participate in threads about their brand/specific topics or standard banner adverts.
- Affiliate sales. Promote relevant products through your community and take a % of the sale. Many platforms already exist to make this easy.
- Focus groups. If you know how to run a focus group, there is great money here. The top online communities in many sectors (healthcare, car-drivers, managers etc…) sell focus groups to interested companies for large sums.
- Events. One of my favourites, organize events. Charge an entry fee, find sponsors to come, persuade or hire speakers to give talks and watch it develop. Techcrunch and Mashable have begun doing this very successfully.
- Branded products. If your community is big enough, approach companies with an offer to create community-branded versions of their products just for you. Split the profits, it’s good business.
- Job-seekers. Have a featured job-seekers area. Members can pay to have their profile/cv/resume featured before people looking to hire them. This can also link to their member profile.
- Recruiters. Let recruiters advertise for relevant positions in their field. You should even let members recommend people they know for the position. Works better if they get a % of the deal.
- Members trade areas. Introduce an area where members can buy/sell products with each other. Take a % of the fee. Once you set up, it runs itself. A flourishing second hand market in seconds.
- Coaching. Can you coach members of your community to be better in your topic/sector/niche? Focus on the high end, those that recognise the value of coaching and can afford it. What if you connect them with people that can provide coaching?
- Exclusive access. Can you sell exclusive access to select members to certain events, shows or exhibition? What sort of access will your members be willing to pay $500 for?
- Recommended/Suggested products. Have a recommend equipment/reading/products list for your topic. Keep it limited to the absolute best. Make some money from affiliate sales.
- Design products. Your community are the trendsetters, approach companies and help to design the products your community want to buy.
- Merchandise. Sell branded t-shirts, hoodies and playing cards. Find items that your members would be happy to buy and create them. Your community should be a brand. Why would they not want to wear the community t-shirt?
- Sell eBooks. Get the absolute best expertise you can access, compile it into an ebook and sell it to make money.
- Customization & Virtual products. This is great business if you can find it. Charge members to customize their profiles better or to buy & send virtual products.
- Identify tiny profitable niches. You know your audience better than any company, what are the tiny unexplored niches that aren't being served. 200 members willing to pay $50 for a detailed guide about building the ultimate gaming PC for a single game is great for that game's community. Create services that only a handful of your members need.
- Mementos. What about souvenirs of the community? A physical yearbook, seasonal greeting cards to each other, birthday cards which people can send through your community site to each other.
- Competitions. Charge a small entry fee to have the opportunity to win a fantastic, sponsored-provided, prize.
There are three key themes here.
First, the best way to monetize a community isn't by extracting value from members, but by adding value. Develop things that members want to buy.
Second, there is a huge opportunity for most community managers to earn income from their online communities without selling out.
Finally, there is an even bigger opportunities for experts to earn their income by monetizing existing communities.