The Benefits Behind Running Community Sites and 4 Ways to Monetize Them

Even though it may sound a bit cheesy – communities are the mind, body, and soul of every online business. It’s the only thing that can actually build a certain brand on the Web; not you, your products, or services. The community is what makes it truly valuable. Finding the right color, logo, and website has very little to do with it. The only thing that can really transform your online business into something more are the proud followers you have picked up from the grassroots level. They have identified with your mission from the very start and stood firmly by your side on your journey from zero to hero. That sort of loyalty cannot be bought or gamified.

Let’s look at Reddit for a second. In all fairness, this has to be one of the ugliest websites on the Internet. Everything on it is so plain, out of date, and confusing. The design is terrible and the UX is even worse. And yet, it still works like a charm. This year’s survey claims that Reddit now counts over 542 million visits per month, 234 million of them being unique. These statistics have put Reddit all the way up to the number 9 position on the World’s Most Visited Websites list. That’s right; the number 9 position, out of 644 million active websites, according to Netcraft. Crazy, right?

What Makes Reddit Such a Popular Site?

The fact that Reddit has 50,000 active communities, in which thousands and thousands of users frequently discuss everything that comes to their mind, makes this site popular. Reddit has a rich and neatly segmented audience, built around every popular topic, from business to entertainment.

But Reddit is just one of many examples out there. There are dozens and dozens of active community sites today that have more than a million registered users. Some of them being 4chan, Bebo, Something Awful, OffTopic, IGN, etc.

Considering this, regardless in which niche or market you operate in, you should always first think about your community. Before you even start to work on your website and its design, it’s imperative that you first have a pretty clear idea of which community you’re targeting and how to bring its value to your own domain. Once you have a real sense of the people that you’re trying to reach, everything will go a lot smoother.

This goes for every business, not just dating.

You can build a big community around any topic online. There is a huge number of communities on the Web, and the range of possible conversation topics is basically limitless. Interested in ice chewing? There’s a site for that. How about vacuum cleaners? Need advice on how to fix your vacuum cleaner? Join ifixit.com. Wanna meet vampires? Check out vampirewebsite.net. This is a community site dedicated to people who think of themselves as vampires, and are interested in meeting other individuals who share the same beliefs.

Every single one of these communities is just a click away. Most Internet communities are small and specialized because there are only so many people in the world interested in a certain topic. But that doesn’t really mean that they are worthless. It doesn’t mean that you ignore your core audience, regardless of its magnitude.

People Want to Connect

We do. That’s how we are wired.

As business people, we tend to think about connecting to our audiences from all sorts of wrong angles. Instead of seeing them just as leads and potential customers, we should really start to acknowledge our followers for what they really are – the lifeblood of our business.

Communities are extremely important for businesses because they have the power to:

  • Ensure our voice is being heard;
  • Provide first-hand info on what your customers want before you offer a product or service;
  • Position our name and brand as an authority figure in our niche or market;
  • Expand our reach and connect with other leaders and potential customers.

These are all essential elements for every business.

Considering all these points above, we can easily agree upon the fact that by taking care of a potential group, bringing it together in an environment that’s truly tailored to their needs and preferences, we are basically assuring good health for our brand and business.

We need to nurture those relationships in a form of a community. The only way we can do that is by:

Creating content that demonstrates we really know our business and niche;

  • Creating content that educates;
  • Creating content that builds trust;
  • Sharing relevant user-generated content;
  • Sharing relevant and powerful content written by others;
  • Taking actual interest in other people’s passion;
  • Stimulating them to connect and reach out to other members;
  • Listening to what people are saying;
  • Becoming a source of inspiration to those less involved in your network;
  • Supporting the cause or an idea, with direct benefit.

The goal here is to bring people together, get them to trust you and perceive you as a knowledge leader, stimulate them to start sharing, learn everything you possibly can from their interactions, and apply that new knowledge to your products and services.

Understanding the Concept – What Makes and Breaks a Certain Community

The community isn’t a marketplace. That’s probably where most people go wrong when they try to gather their targeted crowd around their cause. It’s not an ecosystem where you can just shove shameless advertisements down people’s throats.

Nope. Online communities don’t work like that. They’re built around service and interaction.

The idea here is to participate – not ask for favors. You can occasionally ask your community to try new products, attend a webinar, or sign-up to your list, but not all the time.

As a brand, you cannot really lead a one-way conversation with your audience and expect from them to care about you on a deeper level. If they see that you are chasing them with an order form, they’re going to leave. You need to help your community thrive, not just milk it dry.

You need to become a real community member. You need to engage the audience; far more than anything else.

In order to truly build a community around your brand and make money while doing it, you need to come up with a holistic business strategy. Even though the benefits that come with starting and leading an active online community are endless, precisely calculating your ROI here is just something that cannot be done. In this process of “giving without expecting something in return,” the real strength comes from the relationships you make along the way.

For example, a lot of small businesses actually benefit from their communities. Back in 2010, David Edwards, founder of a New Mexico Tea Company, was having money troubles. The bank refused to give him a $5000 loan, so he looked at his community for help. He ran out of cash and asked his loyal customers to help him raise that money and keep his small retail store and online tea shop going. David set up a gift card program where he promised to pay back with interest everyone who contributed to his cause. Being a sweet guy and an active member, the community came through for David and helped him raise that money.

This is just one of the examples. As I already wrote, the real benefits here lie in trust and loyalty. That’s the only thing you cannot buy. Loyalty has to be built. Even though precisely calculating your ROI in this department is close to impossible, however; there are still numerous different ways you can make some cash via your community.

1. Membership Management

Once you get the ball rolling and build a community interest around your cause that’s big enough, you should really start charging for membership. You should also include a method for tracking your members. If you offer quality content or access to a specifically tailored group of people, your potential new members will surely be willing to pay for their membership. If, for an example, you run a Christian dating site that hosts a lot of meet and greet events, other lonely Christians will surely be interested in paying to join.

The only problem here is to figure out the right billing system for your site and community. What program will you be using and how will your charge for the membership? Are you going for a once-off fee or a recurring payment program?

My advice here is to look at what your direct and indirect competitors are doing and how does your product, meaning community, compare to theirs.

Once you do that, you should figure out the best value of your products and how to actually bring that to your members.

From there, you should try to setup a reasonable price for the membership.

Think about what you’re actually doing for the users. If you’re offering around-the-clock support, you can probably charge more for the membership. List down the perks before making your final decision. Also, be sure to always survey your audience first to see what price range are they willing to pay to join your network. Think about how many new members you want to gain each month, how much you want to earn, and then determine the fee needed to achieve that.

Once you do that, you can start working on your marketing. For example, you can set up various membership program with different benefits, like discounts for people who pay for more months in advance, etc.

2. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing still works. It is still one of the most popular and quickest ways to make money from your community website. By endorsing products on your community site, you could really make some serious money for almost nothing. The trick here is to pick the right products to promote. If you find something relevant to your audience and share it on your community site, they’ll most likely click on your affiliate link and purchase the products.

The commission goes somewhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of the product/service price, which is great. You can promote an ebook, makeup, basically anything. A lot of companies now have their own affiliate programs.

The trick here is to find something that’s actually useful to your community members. You don’t want to spam them with everything that comes your way. Check out sites like Commission junction, ShareASale, and Clickbank to find products you’re comfortable promoting on your site.

3. Invest in PPC and Sell Ad Space on Your Site

Paid advertising still offers great ROI. Google’s AdSense is really simple to use. All you have to do is sign up for the program and Google will place a code on your website that will identify your content and start displaying relevant ads next to it. For example, if you run a community website built around dog lovers, Google AdSense will start showing dog food and dog trainer related ads to your audience.

Sweet, right?

Another way to make money from your community site is to simply sell your own ad space directly to companies looking to promote their products all over the Web. As a community site administrator, you can offer them exclusive access to a specific group of people that have a high potential of becoming their customers. Let’s stick with the dog lover scenario. If you run a community site that has a lot of active dog lovers on it, pet shops will surely want to advertise on it.

4. Location Marketing

Location-based marketing is huge right now. Believe it or not,  60% of searches now come from mobile devices. According to Google, that’s roughly around 2,100,000,000 searches per day. That’s a lot. As Salesforce claims in their report, 68 percent of companies have made mobile marketing a crucial part of their overall marketing strategy. In fact, more than 70 percent of them now believe that mobile marketing is the core of their business.

The above-mentioned statistics have basically opened the door for mobile-driven marketing and location-based strategies. More than 58 percent of the above-questioned businesses now have dedicated mobile teams in their companies. Figuring out the right way to approach geomarketing is currently their number one goal in business.

Regardless what you sell or do, your consumers and customers want top-notch, personalized experiences. They want something that enhances and improves their day-to-day activities. That’s why mobile and geomarketing is now something in which most retail companies invest. They are doing their very best to come up with tactics that allow their brand to make use of various locations and deliver to their customer’s personalized messages that stimulate engagement.

Just look at what Tinder did. This company has successfully made geomarketing a central figure of their community growth strategy. An estimated 50 million people use this app every month. It is used world-wide, in about 30 different languages, and research shows that there are around 12 million matches made through it each day.

Of course, this is just one of the many examples. Geomarketing is the real deal. If you have a community of active users, you can surely benefit from adding geomarketing to the mix. The trick here is to really know your community. The more you know and learn about your customers and their desires, and how they would like to use geo-location technology, the better the chances you’ll have of providing the content that exactly matches their needs and builds trust and loyalty. Nothing drives more engagement (and sales) like making your content timely and appropriate to your user’s location.

Over to You

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post from top to bottom. I hope it helped you understand the value of owning an active community site and how to make money from it, without spamming your users. If you have anything to ask or add, feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section below and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP.