Community owners: 4 ways to monetize an online community
Turning an engaged online community into a revenue generator is every community owner's dream. A considerable amount of work goes into building a space that members find valuable, whether it's by locating answers, sharing solutions, or just spending time with like-minded people. Naturally, there should be recompense for your efforts.
Why monetize your community?
Most brands see online communities as a marketing strategy or a supplementary effort to their primary products—but they’re so much more than that. In fact, yours could become a major contributor to the growth of your brand. By monetizing your online community, you’re turning it into an additional revenue stream rather than a marketing expense.
While monetizing isn’t always easy and it takes time to figure out what works for your community, it’s worth doing (once your brand is positioned for it!) because, over time, the money earned can make the campaign self-sufficient—and even profitable.
Aside from generating additional revenue, monetizing comes with several benefits including:
- Clear identification of high-value members
- Less reliance on third-party social platforms
- Increased monetary resources to reinvest into the community
A great monetization strategy is usually made up of a combination of tactics, each generating a sum which creates a sustainable model that supports your community in the long term.
4 ways to generate more money from your online community
Monetizing is a crucial step to turning your community into a scalable and sustainable endeavor. When talking about generating revenue from a branded community, it’s likely that what comes to mind is selling membership to access exclusive content. However, there are several other ways to monetize the work you’ve put into building a community, largely falling into four categories: content, access, products, and presence.
Once you’ve built out a value hub that attracts your target audience—so much so that they are willing to pay for it—consider a combination of the following community monetization options:
Most communities use educational content as a way to attract new members, especially when what they circulate is inextricably tied to a product and directed to a certain demographic. The more curated and difficult the content is to find, the more people are willing to pay to access it.
There are several ways to leverage the interest already shown in your content, including memberships and per-product charges.
Offering memberships is one of the most popular ways to monetize the exclusive content you release to your community. If your existing followers are ready and willing to spend to continue accessing your content, you can convert to a paid membership site.
If a single paid option isn’t attracting enough members, another option to consider is membership levels or even a freemium model where everyone can access free content like blog posts, recorded webinars, and perhaps even some ebooks. This tactic uses attention-grabbing content to pique their interest while reserving unique, high-quality material—where the majority of your effort goes—for paying members.
Individually paid products
If you’d prefer to primarily offer a free community membership option or your audience isn’t ready for a paid subscription, consider releasing exclusive access to content that can be purchased individually. This strategy makes a part of your community exclusive while keeping it accessible to those who aren’t ready to pay.
Ebooks, webinars, online courses, and training modules are all popular types of digital content that your members might be willing to pay for, especially since a significant amount of work goes into their production.
Many online communities are valuable not only for the content they produce but also for the people they connect. This is especially true when they include thought leaders and individuals recognized in the field.
If this is the case for your community, consider charging for access to the specialized knowledge it holds. Like with content monetization, you can charge all-access or per-event fees.
Individual or group coaching
Coaching, in short, involves working with clients individually or in a group to maximize their personal and professional potential. Its value as a monetization tool cannot be overstated, seeing as 99% of corporate and individual clients found it beneficial and 96% would undergo coaching again.
Depending on what your community is centered around, you might be able to charge for an individual or group coaching program. Almost any skill can be monetized as long as you have the right audience for it.
Sometimes, the value of a community lies not in any one person but rather in the group as a whole. Examples of this are career networking and discussion-focused groups.
Charging a fee for access to private groups ensures it is largely made up of invested members who will engage with each other.
Live community events
Just like exclusive groups, live events give community members a chance to mingle in the same room. But since they’re time-based, they’re typically more affordable and yield the highest levels of community engagement.
Events don’t necessarily have to be held in person to be successful, either. Online communities can use social features like chat paired with live streaming to drive engagement among participants.
No small amount of work goes into planning an online community-building event. So assuming you’ve proven your ability to deliver value, most people are happy to pay to be a part of it.
Selling physical products is another way to monetize your online community. Because the audience already shares common interests, it’s just a matter of promoting items that are relevant to them.
Sales in the global licensed merchandise industry amounted to $280.3 billion in 2018, and the number has only grown since then. More and more consumers are purchasing merch in a show of support for their favorite brands.
An engaged fan base that is proud of being a part of the community might want to purchase merch such as t-shirts, hoodies, and beanies. This is an incredible opportunity for you, as it creates brand ambassadors and sparks conversation around your community. Just make sure that your own products are an accurate reflection of your overall brand and resonate with your members.
Brand deals and affiliate links
Affiliate marketing is an excellent monetization method for online communities simply because you’re speaking to an audience that already has several things in common. Many brands will pay to have their products promoted to your audience, and by allowing this exposure, you get a cut of the profits.
When it comes to affiliate sales, you can search for your own partners or sign up for something like the Amazon associate program. Either way, you'll get the best results by vetting each partner carefully and ensuring their products align with your community’s interests.
Your monetization strategy doesn’t always have to involve action. Sometimes, all it takes is the presence of members. Here are a few passive ways to make money just by having people pay a visit:
Banner or in-app ads
A site or app with a fair amount of traffic could fetch you a decent sum through ad space each month. Of course, it’s unlikely that advertising space will be the bulk of your money-making strategy (if you’re a small- to mid-sized site), but it’s still worth doing.
You can monetize your advertising space in several ways, including joining an ad network like Google Ads or personally approaching relevant brands. Typically, you will earn money per click or per impression.
Market data is an indirect way to generate revenue from your community. If you have an extensive database containing information such as user behavior, demographics, preferences, and more, that information might be helpful to market research companies or brands looking to target that specific type of audience.
All you have to do to monetize market data is ensure you have an updated collection of data on your audience, which is possible to set up using digital tools and APIs. Then, approach market research companies and relevant firms to see how you can make money from that database.
Preparing your community for monetization
As tempting as it is to start monetizing in every way possible, keep in mind that not every community is ready for it. Starting before you’re ready could result in a loss of members, putting you even further away from your goal.
Maximize your chances of successful monetization by asking yourself these questions:
- What monetization methods are most appropriate for the size of my community?
Larger communities may have more options for monetizing, but communities can make money at any size. Take a close look at the demand in your area and how much people are willing to pay to be a part of it. The more specialized your niche, the more you will typically be able to monetize directly from your members.
Broader communities may draw more interest, but fewer people are willing to pay. In this case, you may need to reduce prices or lean on passive tactics and individual product sales.
- How engaged is my audience and where are they engaging?
Your active members are the ones driving the most revenue. Driving engagement helps your community become more advanced over time which, in turn, increases your ROI by up to 60%!
Consider how involved the average member of your community is and where they seem to be interacting. Spark more conversations yourself by holding live events, posting thought-provoking prompts, and inviting guests to offer additional content.
As engagement grows, you’ll find more people who are willing to spend money to continue getting value from your community.
- Are my community members ready and willing to pay?
Not everyone will want to join a paid community, and that’s okay. But if you’re planning to shift to a monetized model soon, the majority of your audience should be on board.
The easiest way to find out if your audience is ready to pay is to ask them. Release a survey that includes questions about whether your members are willing to join a paid community, how much they are willing to pay, and what features they would like to see.
A survey gives you insight into your audience, and it also makes them feel like they’re being heard and valued. Continually reinforcing your appreciation for your members in small ways like this is crucial because that’s what a community is all about: meaningful connection.
A monetized community is the gift that keeps on giving
Most businesses can benefit from building a branded community. And the advantages go beyond brand recognition! With a diverse monetization strategy formulated for the needs of your audience, you can turn your community into a revenue-generating machine.
Great communities are difficult to build, so finding a way to earn money incentivizes you to keep giving your members a place to socialize, learn, and grow while accessing high-quality resources. So long as the community remains mutually beneficial, your brand will grow to new heights!