How to make money out of your online community (and keep them happy)?

In answer to a question on the community manager’s Yahoo group e-mint I came up with a quick suggestion:

One non-intrusive way might be to allow relevant companies like Sony access to your community for a set fee to ask questions for a set time, for example.

I know this can work as I have done community management training for a company in London which sets up communities on that very basis, for market research purposes.

I also know in the movie industry of a site like which gives fans the chance to follow news about specific movies before they premier, and in return builds a fan base for those movies;-) UK featured members

But don’t just take my word for it, check out Sue’s response to this question raised by Patrick O’Keefe:

Forgot to add: A Vendor section in the forum can work well too. In order to keep the vendors contained though it should be stated at the beginning of the agreement that their own Vendor section will be the only place that they would be allowed to personally interact with the membership. I think a Vendors section can be quite helpful in many ways, including:

  • Community members will have a direct avenue to the advertiser to ask questions about the vendors products and services.
  • Allows the “vendor” to be in charge of moderating their own section giving them complete control over the type of postings/topics made in their section (within community guidelines).
  • The vendor’s products/services are easily found within the community, but they do not infringe on discussions that are taking place elsewhere on the site.

I think the interesting concept that offers though is for an enterprising agency to offer a service to companies to find relevant fans/influencers on niche communities. And to work with community managers to help generate income for them that helps sustain their growth. Kind of how Lithium currently sells the value of its community platform to potential customers, by making it the ‘hub’ for social commerce activity:

“Lithium helps you bring your static website alive with social conversations. Deploy Lithium Reviews and Q&A on your product pages to increase conversion rates and average order value. You can also draw customers into conversations by promoting Lithium Blog posts, Knowledge articles, hot Forum topics throughout your site.”

Which is great, but for a company like Sony it’s a case of ‘belt and braces’ of having both such a branded community, and also for specific campaigns being able to reach out to target communities to promote new products, ask for feedback, etc. And that’s why community managers can potentially both help their revenue and benefit their members.

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