With all the social media hype around Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, online forums are not usually at the top of the list. Ironically though, they are at the very root of social media. They may not get as much attention as some other sites, but they play a very important role in both the social Web and the entire Internet.
“They are where the most meaningful, deepest discussion on the social Web takes place,” he said. “These are communities where people engage around a specific topic or interest - something they are passionate about.”
He went on to say that people can find online forums on any topic, no matter how obscure or niche that it is. According to him, there are active discussions going on all across the Web over just about anything.
Another aspect about online forums that is often overlooked is that they take a lot of time and effort, just as a business would, since they require management and revenue streams. What’s more, just as we’ve seen Facebook, Twitter, and many other social startups struggle to become profitable, it’s a difficult process for online forums as well.
O’Keefe just released a new free ebook called Monetizing Online Forums in partnership with Skimlinks, in which he addresses these very issues. Interestingly, one of the first points he makes is that not all forums need to be monetized. As he explained, some forums are hobbies or part-time efforts. There are others though, that are full-time and take money to pay hosting bills, software, and other necessities.
“Managing a large community can become a full-time job,” explained O’Keefe,” and if it does, then you have to make a choice. Either you can make a living through the community, or the community will suffer."
"You will have to give it away or do something else with it, perhaps even close it," he added.
When the need to monetize the forum arises, O’Keefe told us that it is very important to find a balance between making money and maintaining a positive experience for the community. In other words, you don’t want to put tons of ads all over a forum.
“When you monetize a forum poorly, you can kill that forum,” he pointed out.
O’Keefe gives several effective approaches for monetizing forums including:
- Display advertising
- In-text monetization
- Classified and thread-based advertising
- Sponsored brand placement
- Affiliate networks
- CPA networks
- Product sales
- Premium memberships
- Mobile monetization
- Monetization of outposts
While there are a lot of options, it is important not to overmonetize because in the ebook, O’Keefe says, “overmonetization can kill a forum.” He told us that forum owners should look at their audience and then decide on the best approach for making money.
“Different audiences definitely have different levels of toleration for what they are willing to accept when they visit the community,” he said.
He went on to suggest experimentation for deciding on which methods work best for each audience. While he doesn’t give a specific percentage for content versus ads or other monetization approaches, he does say that forum owners again need to be careful in finding a balance.
Incidentally, O’Keefe told us that, with the influx of sites like Facebook and Twitter making the entire Web social, it is much easier to get advertisers on board with placing ads on forums. In the past, he said, they were somewhat hesitant, but now that everything is social, advertisers and ad networks know that they need to have a presence on these sites.
Overall, O’Keefe told us that, if forum owners are careful in their approach to monetization and test and track their results, they will find a way to be profitable.