A question I get all the time, “How do I monetize a social media community?”
It’s an inevitable question. Rarely do businesses invest in and grow online communities for the greater good. They’re looking for some kind of return on their investment, whether it’s sales leads, increased brand awareness or brand reputation.
The ultimate return on investment is cash. Many organizations are looking to monetize their social media investments beyond marketing metrics.
There are 4 primary ways to monetize an online community.
Advertising and Sponsorship
The most obvious route to monetization is advertising. Ads come in many forms: display or banner ads, sponsored posts, or search advertising with Google AdSense.
The primary premise of advertising is treating your community like a media platform. Members of the community are exposed to sponsored content, because they fit a buying profile for specific products and services.
Advertising can be very effective for large communities with a niche focus like consumer electronics or fashion, and have over 10,000 email subscribers or 50,000 unique website visitors per month. Volume is key for this option.
Affiliate Marketing and Recommendations
Affiliate marketing is a form of commission-based marketing. A great example of this is the Amazon Associates program. Amazon will provide a referral fee up to 10% for products that you sponsor or advertise on your site.
For example, if you reference a book in your blog or newsletter, you can share a specific link through the Amazon Associates program. Amazon will pay you a commission for anyone who clicks through the link and purchases the product.
Affiliate marketing is great for any online community that makes referrals or recommendations. The options here are endless: music, books, consumer electronics, fashion, apparel, cooking products, you name it. Almost any referral can be monetized.
The key is partnering with the targeted manufacturers or suppliers, and implementing an effective tracking system so you receive credit for the referrals.
Events and Experiences
I’ve long held the belief that content is free, but experiences are not. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to charge for an article or a video. But people will pay for experiences.
An example of monetizing experiences is the TED Conferences. You can watch virtually every TED Talk online for free, but if you want to see the speakers at a live event you’re going to invest upwards of $7,500 plus your personal expenses.
Building events and experiences is usually my starting point when monetizing a community, because they honor the community. Rather than marketing to the community, the experience builds upon the values and interests of its members. It draws people together, and provides an experience they are happy to invest time and money in.
The ultimate option for monetizing a community is to build a loyalty program. Loyalty programs require a shift in thinking from implementing a monetization tactic to building a business model.
The principles of a loyalty program are simple: purposefully connect community members with brands and retailers (or suppliers). Community members get products, services and experiences they want. Brands get to participate with passionate, interested customers. Retailers experience greater foot traffic and consumer engagement. Everyone benefits.
Loyalty programs are extremely powerful, but require more investment in research, strategy and software. Essentially you’re combining all the monetization options into one program, and coupling it with a database that tracks member profiles and behaviors. But for all the investment, loyalty programs deliver the highest return on investment.
It starts with a strategy
No matter which route you take to monetize your community, it always starts with a strategy:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- How will the program be authentic and honor the values of your community?
- What are the desired results?
- And is it worth the effort?
If you know what you’re trying to achieve, selecting the right options to monetize your community become much easier.
Did I miss any options?
Are there any other options or methods to monetize a community?
(Image credit: Jeremy Brooks)
What are you known for?
What do you strive for?
What impact do you want to achieve in your career?
Impact is another way to think about purpose. But I like the word ‘impact’ more, because it’s action oriented. A lot of time and energy is wasted on finding a mission, vision or purpose, when usually it’s as clear as day.
Purpose does not have to be complicated. It has to be clear and actionable. So ask yourself, “What impact do you want to make?”
Build upon your strengths
I’m willing to bet you’re already making an impact. It could be great, or you might not even recognize the good work you do every day.
You make an impact every day whether you want to or not. The challenge is to focus in and accentuate your impact.
You will make the most impact by building upon your strengths. The activities that come naturally to you and the areas you gravitate towards are likely where you can achieve the most. These are the traits, skills and competencies that you possess that make you unique. But they’re also the capabilities you can leverage to help others.
Choose a result
As you understand your strengths and where you can deliver results, make it a goal. What kind of impact do you want to make? How will you measure success?
Achieving impact requires a goal. Without a goal you won’t be focused enough on your actions, and the pressures of day-to-day life will distract you from really achieving the level of impact you want.
- Who am I serving? Who are the beneficiaries of my talent and efforts?
- What will they gain?
- How will I measure my impact?
- Who else needs to be involved to maximize the impact?
Clarify your goals, and you will automatically amplify your impact.
Get others involved
The final question, “Who else needs to be involved to maximize impact?”, is essential. There’s only so much you can achieve on your own.
To amplify your impact choose to grow from a doer to a leader. Get others involved. Empower them to achieve their best. Recruit, support and encourage others to assist you in your goals.
When you shift your efforts from what you want to what you will deliver, your impact grows exponentially.
What’s your take?
(Image credit: David Ian Roberts)
Nordstrom’s sales associates are amazing closers. What makes them so effective is you don’t even realize you’re being sold to.
Over the weekend my wife and I travelled to Connecticut to visit family. I took the opportunity of being in the U.S. to visit the local Nordstrom, and do some shopping. I discovered a couple of weeks ago that I tore my overcoat last season, and it needed to be replaced.
Nordstrom’s sales people are renowned for their customer service, and that’s a big reason why I like to shop there. As I was fingering the coats, a sales associate, Peter, asked if he could be of assistance. We quickly isolated a few jackets to try on, and then he asked me to come to the ‘Closing Room’.
Please join me in the Closing Room
Ok, Peter didn’t actually call it the ‘Closing Room.’ Really he invited me to examine the coats in front of the 3-way mirror in a private fitting area off the main floor.
I call the fitting area the Closing Room, because I know at this point I’m going to buy something.
As I tried on the coats, Peter suggested I try on a sports jacket to help size the overcoats. Next thing I know I am wearing a jacket and an overcoat. Hmm, this outfit needs some pants. Pretty soon I’m decked out in a whole new outfit, and ready to hit the winter season.
The Closing Room creates an experience
Many products don’t sell themselves. As much as I love buying things online, there’s no way I’m buying a suit from a website. I need to try it on, see how it fits and get a professional opinion.
Nordstrom separates itself from many other fashion retailers by helping their customers experience the products. It’s one of the reasons I seek them out.
The Closing Room creates a little privacy while you focus on the selection process. You get to mix and match the clothes, receive purposeful advice and find things that really work. Rather than leaving their customers to their own devices and distractions, Nordstrom’s associates facilitate the buying process and help you find the products you want—as well as suggest products you may not have considered.
Create your Closing Room
My experience at Nordstrom has me reconsidering my sales process. It’s got me looking for my Closing Room.
Selling professional services is similar to fashion sales. You have to create an experience to help your customers experience the service, understand their needs and facilitate the buying process.
Many service providers use a Door Opener or a discovery project to help their customers try before they buy. But maybe there’s an opportunity to go a step further, and create a purposeful step in the sales process to help your clients try on the services as part of the buying process.
What do you think?
(Image credit: Michael)
When your customers don’t understand the words you use, they don’t buy.
Expertise is a double-edged sword. On one side, your customers are looking for experts. They want to work with professionals that know their stuff and can solve problems. On the other side, they don’t know what you know.
One of the challenges of knowledge is we forget what we’ve learned. For example, we take 1 + 1 = 2 for granted. We learned it in preschool, and continued to build on this basic mathematical construct throughout our education. And now we assume everyone knows 1 + 1 = 2.
As professionals, we acquire far more knowledge, and learn to apply it in various situations. But explaining what you know is often harder than executing on what you know.
Experts make it understandable
One of the great differentiators between professionals is their ability to simplify and explain their expertise. They don’t “dumb it down,” rather they make it understandable.
Being an expert requires educating others. It takes sharing your knowledge in a way that connects with your customer’s level of knowledge, contextualizes it to their situation, and provides them a roadmap on how to move forward.
The ability to explain your expertise is a key way for building trust and rapport with your customers.
Speak in the language of your customers
Your customers may not be an expert in your field, but they’re an expert in their own. Communicate with them with their words.
Every industry has its own lingo. Your customers approach problems from their perspective and experience. They have a way of talking about their business, their clients and their services.
Take the time to understand the language your customers use, and adapt it to your expertise. The more you can communicate and educate your customers on their level, the more you will be perceived as an expert.
Confusion leads to indecision
Effective communication is essential for sales.
When your customers don’t get what you’re saying, they stop. They may recognize you as an expert, but if they can’t connect how you’ll help them then they won’t know how to move forward. Confusion creates an impasse.
Be ruthless in your sales pitches, value propositions and marketing messages. Strip out any jargon, phrases or examples that don’t resonate with your customers. Simplify it to the point where anyone can get it.
Simple, clear communication demonstrates expertise. And simple, clear communication drives sales.
(Image credit: El Bibliomata)
It’s coming. There’s another recession on its way. It might not hit this year or next, but there’s always one on the horizon.
I have vivid memories of each recession since 1989, because of my family’s business. My parents own a recruiting agency, and their industry is highly susceptible to recessions. When the job market tanks so does recruiting.
When I joined my family’s business in 2004 the company was still reeling from the tech wreck and recession of the early 2000’s. Sales were down, and finding new clients was a struggle. And we knew it was only a matter of time before the next recession hit.
My mandate was to recession-proof the business so we didn’t have to suffer the rollercoaster effect of a volatile job market.
Be in your prospects’ Path of Search
Google is your best friend in a recession. In a down market you need to cast a wider net. You’ve got to go beyond your customers and network, and find the few companies that need your services.
The first issue I tackled in recession-proofing our business was making the services very easy to find. I went beyond search engine optimization, and considered who we are, what we do and when customers needed our services. And I built our search strategy at a brand level—by positioning the firm exclusively for recruiting sales and marketing professionals in the Toronto market.
Being purposeful in defining who we are reflected in our search results. And when prospects visited our site they found a clear story and services to fit their needs. Since 2005 search has delivered at least one new customer per week on average. And this volume maintained through the 2009-2010 recession.
Grow relationships before you’re needed
Being in the Path of Search is not enough to recession-proof your business. It’s great for customers looking for services, but it doesn’t build brand awareness or create demand.
To grow demand for the business we focused on building and scaling relationships. Our goal was to build relationships with our prospects and customers upwards of three years before they needed us. We worked to be our customers’ first call when they needed our expertise.
We came to this model, because we examined our customers’ buying habits. Most of our clients did not hire a new sales person every year. Instead they brought on new reps every other year to support growth and manage attrition.
We grew our relationships through content. We built on our company’s focus of recruiting sales and marketing professionals, and created purposeful content that spoke to this audience.
The program was simple. Create high quality, opinion-based content that would engage our audience whether they were buying or not. The idea was to share our ideas and expertise freely, and build relationships with our market long before our services were needed.
The content marketing grew our reach. The phone rings constantly with customers who have been following us for years, and suddenly have a need.
Start preparing for the next recession now
Our recession-proofing strategy paid off. The business did not slip through the 2009-2010 recession, while the rest of the industry suffered. In fact, these were two of our most profitable years ever. And the program keeps ticking along.
Don’t let the memory of this latest recession fade. Keep it fresh in your mind and start building your strategy to not only weather the next one, but to thrive in it.
(Image credit: Wally Gobetz)
Opinions are like noses, everyone’s got one. Experiences on the other hand are highly valuable.
In every culture elders hold positions of respect and honor. Their depth and wisdom make them a valuable asset, because they provide guidance and leadership. And their value is not based on their judgements or opinions, it’s based on their experiences.
You can learn so much from the people around you. We are a collection of our experiences. They form and shape us into the people we are today. And when you take an interest in others’ experiences you can grow exponentially.
Ask people for their experiences
Instead of asking people for advice or suggestions, ask for their experiences. If you’re facing a challenge, seek out people who may have related experiences and ask them:
- Have you ever encountered a similar situation?
- What did you do?
- What worked?
- What would you do differently?
- What did you learn from this experience?
Approach each conversation with an inquisitive mind, and let them tell you a story.
The value of asking for experiences is in the story. Not only will you hear the facts, but you’ll learn about the context and emotions involved in the situation. You’ll hear about the players, and what influenced them. And you’ll gain insights you probably would never think to ask about.
You never know what you’ll hear, but you’ll often receive a pearl of wisdom.
Sharing experiences stops you from judging others
When you share an opinion or advice, you’re judging the other person. You may have the best intentions and share the advice from a very caring place, but you’re still judging.
When you give advice, you’re telling someone what they should do based on your experience. You’re interpreting the situation, and comparing it to how you approached issues in the past. You might give the advice based on actual experience, or you might give it based on a hypothesis. But either way, you’re making a judgement and telling someone what to do.
Sharing experiences changes the dynamic. Instead of judging, you’re sharing a story. You can talk freely about what you’ve done in the past, and how it may be relevant for someone else. You’re not telling them what to do. Rather you’re telling a story, and providing an opportunity for them to learn from your experiences.
They can take what they want. They can ask more questions. They can choose what to act upon. And what you think is a minor aspect of your story might just be the pearl of wisdom they needed to move forward.
Seek experiences / Share experiences
Experiences are all around us. Everyone has stories that you can learn and grow from. Some will come from people with direct experience, and others will come from tangents you may never have considered.
Choose to be curious. Seek out experiences so you can grow faster, and in return share your experiences freely. Experiences offer so much more value than an opinion.
(Image credit: Trey Ratcliff)