The most successful online communities across the nation all have one thing in common, they are backed by a powerful business strategy. Sometimes this means keep customer engaged and leveraging the social activity in the community identify revenue opportunities for your business. For other organizations, the online community generates revenue directly. The following outlines how the latter.
In my conversations with potential customers I often get the question,
“How can I actually turn my online community, typically an expense, into something that generates revenue?”
This is something our Socious customers are already doing. I’ve compiled tips around their successes, failures and best practices to keep in mind when transforming your community into a revenue-generating machine.
Community First, Revenue Second
The first instinct when we start talking revenue is creating an ad campaign. Options like these should be carefully weighed against the maturity and goals of your community.
Before we create any revenue model within the community it is crucial to evaluate the goals of your community. Consider the size and maturity of your online community when building a revenue model. Bear in mind the golden rule of revenue generation.
Any benefit offered to a vendor within your online community, should always be a benefit to your members.
Your community members should always be considered first in every decision made within the community. There are a number of things you can put a price tag on within your online community: a webinar, ad placement or guest vendor blog post. However, don’t sell anything that wouldn’t benefit both members and the purchaser.
For example, don’t create a community that's got a ton of advertising and a bunch of vendors running around, and the members feel like, "Ugh, I don't want to be a part of this."
Vendors can be a valuable resource for your community members. They can answer questions, be thought leaders, and provides tools. However, don’t allow revenue opportunities to overtake the needs of the community members. It is their online community, anything that you give a vendor the ability to do has to be a benefit for the members.
How to Build Revenue Opportunities in Your Online Community
As we mentioned there are a number of opportunities lurking in
Building offers that are out of place or don’t make sense with your community goals can alienate community members rather than engage them. Don’t clutter the community. This leads us to step one. that make sense for your community.your online community for revenue generation. When creating a revenue program, make sure to select offers
Step #1) Create Special Permissions for Sponsors/Vendors
Don’t simply grant vendors an all-access pass to your community. Most vendors in the community are helpful, but a few aggressive self-promoters can ruin the experience for your members. You’re going to want to place some limits and restrictions on their capabilities in the community. This protects your community members from unwanted solicitations.
Here are some areas to consider when granting access to vendors:
- Online Forums
Advertising is great, but vendors want to participate. They want the ability to talk with the members. And if you can give them that, they're going to come back year after year.
You can also set who in the community can post to discussion forums, add to resource libraries, and create content. Consider your online forums, you may choose to allow vendors to ask questions only in certain discussion forums or answer member questions, but not start new discussions (so they don’t get spammy). Most online community platforms have complex admin features to accommodate this request.
Step #2) Give Vendors Their Own Corner of the Community
Your online community will most likely have resources libraries for documents, files, and videos. Give every vendor their own resource library. It’s an attractive benefit of sponsorship to be allowed to put their market materials, case studies, white papers, etc. into the community.
These materials then become searchable within the community. The vendor will appreciate the opportunity to get information to members. Meanwhile, your members’ available resources just doubled.
Step #3) Spread the Content Creation Burden
The most time-consuming task of any community manager is coordinating and creating content. Consistently pumping fresh, exclusive content in your community can be a struggle to keep up with, especially as your community grows.
Well, you’re in luck! Vendors are a great source of content.
Invite them to contribute to a partner blog or write educational articles for your main blog. Set this blog up such that you go in and approve their blog posts before they are visible to the community. This protect your members from irrelevant content and blatantly self-serving articles.
Bring vendors and sponsors into the content production process is a great opportunity for you to get more high-quality information to your members while offering vendors another opportunity to be seen. Now you have the vendors paying you to give you the one thing that costs you the most amount of time to create for your community.
Step #4) Implement a Webinar Program
Webinars are a huge driver of content and a great way to get people onto the site. Vendors are always more than willing to do these for you. Here’s how the model works:
- Vendors pay to lead the webinar. This usually means that they build the slides and actually present the webinar.
- You record the webinar and add them to the file library in your community.
- Members can download these webinars either for free or a small fee. You can also add these as a perk to certain levels of membership.
You’ll be amazed at how many times those webinars are downloaded versus the amount of people that are actually attending the webinar, which is a great benefit to your vendors as well.
Online Community Revenue Generation Takeaway
Socious customers that are building powerful vendor programs are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for their organizations each year. These are organizations that aren't necessarily all that big. The revenue is there.
Consider which methods make the most sense for your community based on its goals and maturity. However, always keep your members needs at the heart of every decision. Prioritizing the wants of a vendor can send your community members running. Build a program that benefits everyone and turn your community into an online revenue-generating machine.