Generating revenue from your online community shouldn’t feel like a profit-driven endeavor to members or make them feel exploited, targeted or taken advantage of. There are ways to monetize your online community that actually build trust with your members and give them a sense of ownership and belonging. Read on to learn more!
Know your value
Community is valuable. For many people, the connections your online community creates help them in a number of ways, including:
- Developing a professional network
- Building new knowledge
- Increasing their skills through courses
- Gaining access to industry events, webinars, resources and discussions
- Promoting their projects, businesses or organizations
These, and other things, create real value for your members. To build a monetization strategy that feels approriate and fair (instead of simply greedy!), identify what unique facets of your online community are valuable and build your monetization strategy around them.
Choose a suitable monetization model
Open Social is currently building three brand new monetization extensions that you can add to any Open Social online community. These extensions are each built with a specific model in mind:
- Subscription fees: Create different community membership tiers with unique subscription fees for each. The more expensive a membership tier is, the more advantages and privileges it gives.
- Content access: Add a payment fee to access specific premium community content such as online courses.
- Ticketed events: Add ticket purchasing fees to specific online community events.
There are also other models, such as: sponsored content, donations, advertisement, merchandising and more.
To create a monetization strategy that doesn’t alienate your members, you need to pick a model that is appropriate for your community based on the value you provide them. For example: if a big draw for your community is a series of online courses, you can charge a fee for access to these courses.
You can also create a strategy that cleverly combines models. For example: Perhaps you can keep the courses free, but add extra premium content that is only accessible to paying subscribers.
Make it about community sustainment instead of simply profit
Members might be more willing to pay a fee to access content, events or parts of the community if they know what the profits will be used for. They don’t want to feel like it’s simply about making money for you. They want to still feel like community members, not simply customers. Members should feel like they are somehow contributing to the community with their payments.
Let your community know that the fees will help support your organization, be used for important community projects or even help with the maintenance of the community itself! Members will be much more willing (and even eager!) to pay a fee if they feel like it is to support the existence and improvement of the community.
Follow the freemium payment model
The journalism industry learned through hard lessons that if you simply block your news website to anyone who isn’t paying, your readers will simply go somewhere else. Instead, the prevailing model is that some content is free, and some content you can only access as a paying member. Or that website visitors can read a certain amount of free articles a month before they need to start paying.
Don’t simply put a payment gate on your online community, otherwise you won’t grow your membership base. Members need to feel that they can still be part of the community even if they don’t pay. So find a freemium model that works for your community.
If you are going to do ads, proceed with caution!
Ads are the easiest way to monetize any online space. No wonder everywhere we go online we are bombarded with advertisements and that many turn to online community as a safe refuge where they aren’t being monitored and their data isn’t being mined.
Therefore, be warned: if you are going to bombard members with ads, they might feel like your platform is turning into yet another Facebook or Instagram!
An alternative to indiscriminate online ads as a source of revenue is to get community sponsorships. Find companies that are relevant to your community and ask them to sponsor specific (and relevant) events, community spaces, groups or content. Find sponsors that add value to the community, instead of simply distract them.
If you are dead-set on adding ads to your platform, at least give members an ad-free paid subscription option.
The quickest way to alienate members and lose your community’s trust is to make members feel like they’ve been lied to, tricked or taken advantage of.
Be 100% transparent with fee structures, payment processes, invoicing and importantly: what a member actually gets for their purchase.
Here are some basic DON’Ts:
- Don’t make false claims to boost the perceived value of something.
- Don’t include any small-print hidden costs in purchases (even if it is technically legal)
- Don’t put your trust in unsecured payment systems (Open Social uses Stripe, one of the best systems available).
- Don’t change fee structures or prices without notifying relevant members.
- Don’t forget to send prompt invoices or receipts.
- Don’t ignore complaints, concerns or refund requests.
Your members won’t mind paying to support your organization and their community as long as they feel that you are being honest and forthcoming.
Create value that outweighs the cost
Even if you want to make a profit with community monetization, make sure to give members more than they’d expect for the price that they are paying.
When members can see that the value outweighs the cost, they will feel like the fees are more than justified and that you still place the focus on their interests (instead of simply on their wallets!).
Start creating more and better content once monetization rolls out. Members should feel that now that they are paying, the community is instantly improving!
Invest back into the community
To make members more than willing to pay to be part of the community, you should put their money to good use. Visibly investing back into the community with a portion of the profits will build real trust.
Here are some ideas for investing back into the community:
- Get paid expert speakers to join online events
- Hire a full-time or additional community manager
- Create a community-based competition with prizes
- Create more and better content
- Upgrade your platform with new features or extensions
- Support community projects with materials and resources
A community is built on trust, something that you can’t buy with money. Monetizing an online community (or any community for that matter) is therefore a delicate balancing act. But if done right, your members will understand and support your monetization strategy. Just remember: members should always feel that paying fees is about creating a better community, instead of simply making a profit for the organizers or organization.