Before social networks existed, forums were the original way to put together online communities sharing the same passion for a given topic. Maybe not as popular as some years ago, numerous forums still are born each day and some of them will grow strong and be successful. When you decide to get into this business model and start your own forum, there are some things you must certainly consider.
First, the selection of the forum platform you want to use. Many are free, some are better, more reliable and secure than others and very popular among forum enthusiasts. SMF, phpBB and Vanilla are my first three choices.
Second, the selection of a skin for your forum, one that will give it shape and showcase its purpose. You will have a wide range of free choices. Main features you should look for are that it must be responsive, since mobile friendliness is a top priority today for any website which wants to engage a broad user audience, and it must reflect the true soul of your forum niche. For example if it is a forum about web design, interior design, traveling or arts, with many pictures from the members, and you chose SMF as your forum platform, then you can add the creative Sketchzoo as your forum theme (demo – download) .
Third aspect to consider, and probably the most important point to each and everyone who wishes to build an online business, is your forum monetization strategy that is the way to make money from all that hard work. Here are a few strategies that might help you out:
You can monetize your forum directly
You have basically a few options:
- Using ad networks, such as Google Adsense. You will share part of the revenue with them, but they are usually safe and easy to use.
- Selling ad space to advertisers and sponsors directly through a CPM or CPC fee model or a fixed monthly rate.
- Selling products you are affiliate with. You can publish image banners and product links, or write reviews, or discuss with your own members about a specific product and explain why it is a great choice for them.
You can take advantage of all the data your forum generates
Forum members discuss about everything including what they like and dislike about your industry, so why not give them what they want.
- You have their e-mail address and sending them an email is a very efficient way to reach them once they opt in to receive regular updates from you.
- You can create products and services that fulfil their requirements and sell those to them.
- You can cooperate with leading brands or experts who already offer those products and services, and earn money leading your members to them.
You can promote your other businesses through your forum
Sometimes you decide to create a forum just for this purpose, that is a way to showcase your other ventures to a well targetetd audience truly interested in what you offer.
The forum topic will be obviously related to your industry. If you sell tech gadgets and computers you can do a forum for geeks. There are several things you can do to make it work:
run contests and games to showcase your products, advertise your main company, offer exclusive offers or discounts to forum members, use your forum to generate traffic to your main site by creating a forum name that relates to your main site or by adding an RSS feed that links to your main site, or by having the forum as an integral part of your main site URL (e.g. yourforum.yoursite.com).
You can create business relationships with your members and the wider reached community
Your forum will give you the unique opportunity to interact with people who work or are interested in your own sector, to know them, to build trust and, yes, why not, build mutual beneficial business relationships.
You can build a membership site
If you have a clear expertise in an industry, or industry leaders regularly interact with the community or your content is very valuable, you are certainly justified to limit access of you forum or parts of it to paying members only.
There are definitely more ways to earn from your forum, but you can start with these tips and fine tune your strategy as it moves forward.