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.

There is this thought that if you consider how to generate revenue from your community, that is the same as trying to get every last penny out of it or the same as having half of page content be ads or the same as not caring about the people aspects of your community. These things can be true, but they are not mutually exclusive.

If you know me, you know there is no greater champion of online community than me. I love this space, have invested in this space and care very deeply about it. I defend it vigorously from those looking to abuse it for a quick buck. I’d never advocate that approach.

If one wishes to look at revenue as an evil thing, and wishes to look at those who work generate it as people who are trying to milk their community for all that it’s worth, you can apply that to most anything that generates an income.

A consultant can try to milk his clients for all they are worth. A grocery store can try to milk their customers for all they are worth. A publication of any kind can try to milk their subscribers to all they are worth.

But, that probably shouldn’t be your objective. That’s not a good recipe for success, usually. Generating revenue might be one of your goals, but milking people for all they are worth shouldn’t be. That implies that you try to get as much money out of someone as possible without any consideration for outside factors.

That’s bad and it ignores a very simple truth: if someone feels like you are taking advantage of them, you lose them – either in part or in full. And that’s bad for the operation.

For example, a consultant might have these goals: to provide value to his or her clients and help them grow their business or whatever it is they are seeking help with and to generate an income, to the greatest extent possible while continuing to work and treating clients with respect.

And someone who is managing an online community might have these goals: to create a friendly, helpful community or resource and to generate an income, to the greatest extent possible while also balancing that out with what he or she feels works best for the community. Balance. That’s an important word.

There is a very, very big gap between (a.) every page having 500 ads and charging people $1,000 a month and not caring about how people feel about the ads – and (b.) not generating any income at all. A very big gap. There is a lot of room in between and there is nothing bad about generating revenue.

It is exceptionally important that online community be looked at as a serious responsibility, because it is. Managing an online community well takes a lot of time and skill. Whether it is a hobby or your full time thing, it is serious and I believe it is appropriate for those managing an online community to generate revenue from it, in a manner in which they feel is appropriate.

If they do it in a bad way, people will vote with their feet and leave. It is all part of the equation of community management. There is a line, and it differs by community, and it is something I am personally always very aware of.

An online community is not some special, unique medium that is somehow supposed to be devoid of any revenue making. That doesn’t have anything to do with the actual purity of the space. It’s not wholly unlike other websites. It is a website that utilizes resources, both people resources and monetary resources.

When I partake in a website and I enjoy it, I don’t think that the people behind it should have to toil away for the rest of their life on what I enjoy and never generate income. Instead, I want them to be as successful as they can be – wealthy even, if it’s possible without damaging their brand.

And I believe that a majority of people who partake in a free service of some kind understand that. If an online community is not financially supported in some way, it is usually always a hobby or a side thing and when it comes time to cut things out of your life, because you have a family to feed, it makes sense for that sort of side thing to go.

Many, many great communities are run as a hobby. So, if you are able to do that, awesome – that is perfectly fine and great. I have complete and total respect for that. I just believe that you have the choice to do what you want, either way.

But, perhaps, if it is a hobby, you reach a point where you can’t dedicate the time you want to it because, well, you have to live. To be able to make it full time, you have to be able to live and accomplish your life goals. It’s fine for managing a community to be a hobby, but all communities have financial and/or personal cost and if those costs become too much to bear, the stability of the community is threatened. So, I view revenue generation as a natural part of the process.

An online community can take a lot of work to maintain to where it can become a full time role and I believe that it is perfectly acceptable for that community to be monetized like any other web service – like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and countless others. The purity of these services isn’t threatened because the people behind them need to live.

Of course, some will disagree with all of this. The great thing is that you don’t have to generate any revenue. I wouldn’t say anything negative about anyone who chooses not to generate any revenue from an online community (whether it be ads, leads for their business, etc.) and I would hope, at the same time, that they would not say anything negative about those that do. There is no one way. You can do what you want and that is good.

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