An online community is an investment.
It's an investment of time, resources, and yes...money.
Even communities that are grown on "free" platforms aren't really free, since you will always be spending time and resources if you want to succeed.
However, a thriving, healthy community also provides huge returns. Happy customers, empowered brand ambassadors, hard-working volunteers, educated partners, delighted fans, the list goes on and on.
Beyond the intangibles, there are also opportunities to make money from your online community. If you plan to run your community for business purposes, it's a good idea to write a community business plan ahead of time.
Provide Membership in Your Community as a Value-Add
If your organization already has members who are paying for a larger program, you can set up your community so that it's completely private.
Provide invitation-only access to the people who have already paid.
Be sure to promote community access as part of your program description, and consider offering a sneak peek via screenshots or testimonials from existing members. Show prospective members what benefits they will get from the full program package, including access to your community.
We love the way VolunteerPro does it!
Monetize Your Community with Advertising
Nobody wants to be bombarded with random ads (so easy does it), but there is room for a few select, relevant ads inserted into the community. Your header/footer space, custom pages, or even the occasional news flash popup can all be used to insert programmatic ad code, or a one-off ad.
The Penny Hoarder community includes Google ads on their home page, for example.
Consider reaching out to your industry colleagues or service providers who can provide value to your community members. They might be interested in running an ad in the community interface or in a directed email to your membership.
Don't forget that you can segment your members using profile field questions, which would allow you to approach the appropriate people with the appropriate messaging. Note that, if you plan to send marketing emails to your membership, it's a good idea to let them know ahead of time in your terms of service.
Monetize Your Community with Sponsorships
Some communities lend themselves to an over-arching sponsorship approach. Consider mission-oriented nonprofits or other organizations that are already approaching donors.
Add "community sponsorship" to your list of items that can be donated by your partners!
Key sponsors can be highlighted in the header/footer with a logo or thank you credit. Individual forums could be sponsored, with a pinned forum topic containing information about the partner.
Monetize with Community Swag
Once you have a critical mass of community members, and a recognizable community brand, you may consider setting up a swag shop!
The profits from selling t-shirts or phone cases won't be massive, but you get a double assist because people are walking around promoting your community.
Check out the cool swag from Cookie Connection.
Monetize Your Community with Premium Memberships
Last, but not least, why not offer premium memberships? It's easy to get going on Crowdstack, using our FeePod service. We handle the credit card wrangling, and you get to decide how much to charge (and how frequently).
Once you've enabled FeePod in your community, you can create premium content, provide premium access (forum, group, database, etc.), and restrict specific permissions to paid-only members (for example, only paid members can upload photos).
Crowdstack takes care of promoting your premium memberships.
As the site owner, you also have the ability to comp memberships or to issue coupons for discounted memberships.
Premium members can also have a flag or badge next to their name, so they feel special!
Please share your great ideas for monetizing community in the comments below.