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More than a year ago, when I asked what topics that readers of this site would like me to cover, Nibor Narklife suggested that I write about brand interaction on forums and how they can be facilitated. Recently, I received an email from a different person asking for ideas on that subject, as well.

There can be great opportunities for brands to interact with your forums beyond standard ads, in a way that can be beneficial to the community as well. Obviously, some communities will be more receptive to these overtures than others. You, as the manager of the forums, will probably have an idea as to how your community might feel.

When it comes to monetization and to working with brands, experimentation is vital. If you don’t experiment and try new things, you don’t find out what works and what doesn’t. You don’t figure out how to maximize the revenue that you generate.

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Condor Comfort Class Bordservice
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Condor.com

Premium memberships can be a great way to monetize an online community. They allow loyal members to pay for extras on a community they already enjoy and appreciate.

These programs are not charity or donations. The best ones offer value that members want to pay for that goes beyond the good feeling of supporting a community that you have benefited from. A well executed premium membership program provides incentives, ensuring that participating members receive a good bang for their buck.

Scott Fox wrote a nice primer on how to get started with a premium membership program, but one of the best things that you can do, to determine what you can offer and how much you should charge, is to learn from what other communities offer. In this article, I am going to highlight some solid examples.

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This is a guest post from my friend Scott Fox, who runs ClickMillioniares.com, a lifestyle business community. He is the author of “Click Millionaires: Work Less, Live More with an Internet Business You Love.” Scott has developed successful premium membership programs for others, and for himself.

Online forums are great. They can provide friendly gathering places for people worldwide to meet and share information, build relationships, and have fun together.

Unfortunately, many forum owners find themselves challenged by the amount of time it takes to moderate a community to keep it friendly and welcoming for new members. Since most online forums are supported primarily by advertising, a question I often get is “How can I make money by charging for memberships, too?”

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As we put together “Monetizing Online Forums,” we focused on identifying all of the potentially appropriate ways that you can monetize an online forum.

I think that a lot of people who run an online forum and want to monetize it aren’t fully aware of the options that exist. There is a lot more out there than just banners and display ads. I mean, those things can be great, but you don’t have to use them. If you do the research, you’ll find so much more.

In this post, I am going to walk through them. If you want to go into detail on any of these methods, learn who they are right for and how to integrate them in the right way, the book has all of those details.

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In response to my request for reader suggestions, Kal was kind enough to outline the following scenario:

“I run a very small online games community that has around 500 [daily active users]. … The community and games are free but there is also the possibility to subscribe which gives access to additional features such as new games to play and being able to change colours and styles of the website – things like that.”

Some subscribers still break the more extreme site policies such as consistently verbally abusing each other or spamming the chat,” he continues. “What courses of action would you recommend for such community members, considering that they are also subscribers – should they still be banned without refund, for example? Thank you very much!”

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9 months of work culminates today with the release of my new ebook, “Monetizing Online Forums,” published by Skimlinks. You can download it for free right now.

The goal of this project was to create a detailed guide to monetizing online forums the right way – in a manner that respects the community and balances out the need for a positive member experience with the need to generate revenue.

We cover all meaningful methods and discuss how to implement them and get the most out of them. This includes display advertising, in-text monetization, classified and thread based advertising, sponsored brand placement, affiliate programs and CPA networks, product sales, premium memberships, mobile and monetizing your outposts.

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Back in September, nearly 10 months ago, Skimlinks co-founder Joe Stepniewski contacted me with an idea.

For a while, they had been kicking around the thought of releasing a whitepaper or ebook about forum monetization. They wanted it to be valuable and they wanted me to write it. One of the most interesting parts of Joe’s message? They wanted their one and only competitor to be mentioned right alongside them in the work. That caught my attention.

I was interested, but we had to work out some details. For it to be truly valuable, we agreed that it had to be independent and unbiased. I have a good, long term relationship with Skimlinks, Joe and co-founder and CEO Alicia Navarro and I think they are great, ethical people with a great product.

But, at the same time, them sponsoring the book creates an appearance of bias. It can’t be argued. So, how do we mitigate that? In the end, they agreed to something that I feel a lot of companies would balk at: to give me complete, unquestioned editorial control of the work.

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I recently backed a project on Kickstarter for the first time. The project was for “A Show with Ze Frank.” It was successfully funded (raising $146,752, well exceeding the goal of $50,000) the new series from Mr. Frank is well underway.

I have loved his past work and was excited to see him back doing a regular series. Beyond just supporting the idea, I also received a package of the 10 most popular episodes of his last series, “the show with zefrank,” in m4v format, all songs from “the show” and my name and photo on a special web based thank you wall. So, it wasn’t just a donation to something I liked or wanted to see happen, but I actually received others benefits, similar to a purchase more than just a donation.

This got me to thinking about Kickstarter and crowd funding. I think it is awesome. People are tapping into their audience, the people who love their stuff – their community of people – and funding their ideas and offering value. Most of the stories about Kickstarter are centered around content and product creators, not individual websites or online communities. But, I think that this is something that an online community is uniquely suited to benefit from.

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Scales
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

This post is part of the “How to Generate Revenue From Your Online Community” series. View all of the posts in the series.

Before I get too deep into the various methods that you can utilize to generate revenue from your online community, I wanted to first talk about why it can be important to do so and why it isn’t a bad thing to think about, even if some may tell you that it is.

Mentioning “money” with “online community” can sometimes be a contentious thing to do. I can understand why, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary to be on the defensive about money or monetization.

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Whether you manage your community full time or as a hobby, your ability to generate revenue can have a direct impact on the long term feasibility and stability of your community.

For some, managing a community may be a hobby – but, nonetheless, a hobby that may take time away from your job or other areas of your life and may also cost money, in the form of software, hosting, domain names and more.

For others, managing a community can become a full time job and full time jobs can’t usually be hobbies as you need to live, advance and to accomplish your goals in life, as you would with any profession.

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