On The Bookshelf: Monetizing Online Forums By Patrick O’Keefe

On The Bookshelf: Monetizing Online Forums By Patrick O'Keefe
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Just this summer I had the opportunity to interview Patrick O’Keefe, an energetic and inspirational entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about running a successful business. His passion is for managing online forums, which he’s been doing for 12 years. Recently he published an eBook called Monetizing Online Forums that’s free for the downloading.

But like you, I’m busy, and I can’t download and read every freebie that comes my way. I bet you know how it works… you hear something is free, you go grab it, then it sits on your desktop or in a “to read” folder for the next six months until you get crazy and overwhelmed and go on a clean sweep, toss everything into the recycle bin and start over.

Good news: not only did I not toss this book in the recycle bin, but I read it and I’ll tell you, this is no “freebie” – you know the kind – some marketing gimmick to get you to join a list that has maybe one or two good sentences in it and the rest is just a bit of happy fluff. In fact, there is no opt-in at all required for this book. You can download it free and clear without a worry that someone’s going to bombard your inbox with the next greatest offer.

But even that’s probably not enough to inspire you, because – I get it – you’re busy! And you just know you’ll never read this thing.

More good news: I’m about to give you the highlights. Just a little taste to see if this book speaks to you. Because if it does, I highly recommend it. It’s 80-ish pages of usable, actionable and thorough information about making money with your website.

But wait! It’s called monetizing forums, not websites. And that’s the other awesome thing among awesome things about this book. You can apply many of these principles to your business site or blog, too.

What This Book Is Not

Marketing hype. Every suggestion in this book comes with concrete steps you can take and resources you can use.

For people who want to make easy money. There’s plenty of info about selling ad space and using affiliate marketing but it’s balanced with a lot of discussion about user experience, profit margin and risk.

Dumbed down. This book assumes you have a forum or site that you love and maintain. To that end, it also assumes you understand concepts like “user experience” and “revenue model”.

A 5-minute read. It’s an easy read – no big, fancy-sounding words that will baffle you with marketing BS – but it’s not for Sunday afternoon scanning while you watch the football game. You’ll find yourself making notes, highlighting, and doing research to check out the plethora of resources and options at your fingertips.

The Setup

Patrick hits the nail on the head when he starts with this opening line: “For some people, if they hear that you are considering how you can generate revenue, or more revenue, from your community, they leap to the worst possible conclusion.”

It’s true. In the last few years we’ve been so conditioned to “provide value” (read: free stuff) that the minute someone talks money it’s practically taboo.

But to stay in business you have to make money.

Whether you sell products or services or advertising, it’s about making money. But, as Patrick also points out, it’s not about “milking people” for all they’re worth.

What You’ll Learn

The book is broken down into several clearly delineated sections, each of which details one specific way of generating revenue. Here are a few highlights.

Display Advertising

With advice for establishing a Privacy Policy and a resource for a free online privacy policy generator, this section goes into depth about the types of ad models available, from CPM to CPC to CPA. Even if you don’t know CPM from CPR, you’ll learn about the different ad types and walk away feeling pretty confident.

You’ll also find advice for sizing your ads (along with guidelines for standard display sizes), placing your ads, optimizing your ads and pricing your ad space. Yes, it’s that detailed.

Not for the faint of heart, there is also quite a bit of detail about how to put together a media kit to attract advertisers along with resources for ad networks that you may want to check out, and a mind-bogglingly thorough example of how to calculate revenue.

In-Text Monetization

This can include the straight-up affiliate links that so many of us are already familiar with (and may already use) or the commonly seen “hover” ads that pop up when you mouse over a double-underscored word on a page.

I don’t know about you but I find those hover ads particularly annoying. Patrick also warns that many people feel the same way and talks at length about how to preserve the integrity of your site with appropriate formatting, link density and disclosures.

Classified And Thread Based Advertising

This can be summed up best in Patrick’s own words: “Instead of thinking about how you can sell a few ads for a high price, think about how you can sell a lot of small ads at a more affordable price.”

He goes on to give examples of these, with advice for how to price ads and how to add the proper disclosures on your site.

Product Sales

Even if you don’t sell a product… you could. Fan communities and passionate followers are often willing to support a community by purchasing branded merchandise.

From pens to t-shirts to just about anything you can dream up, there’s advice for printing and producing materials (with resources that you can use), setting up a shopping cart (from the simple to the complex), handling shipping, managing inventory (whether one-offs or stocked items), calculating risk and determining your potential profit. All before you produce or sell a single widget.

This was probably my favorite section because I do love to support communities that I believe in and I have shelves and closets full of kitsch… er, branded merchandise… from mugs to shirts to posters, stickers and bookends.

And the great thing is that you can sell products like these whether you have a lot of money to invest – or almost none at all. I admit this one got my gears turning about fun stuff that we can offer right here on this blog. Stick around, you never know when the first Web.Search.Social t-shirt will be coming your way!

Premium Memberships

This is a great option for blogs as well as forums. Again, Patrick goes into detail about pricing, what you can offer as part of your membership and how to maintain the integrity of your site without alienating non-members.

There’s also discussion about the option of a members-only community if you’re considering a private community.

More…

Yes, there’s more, but hey, I’m not rewriting the book! You’ll have to check it out if you want the rest. Suffice it to say that you can use one or more or all of these ideas. There are ideas to get you started and making a few bucks and ideas to keep you going making a whole lot more. You can scale these ideas to your skill level, time constraints, budget and site needs.

The Verdict

One of the things that impressed me throughout the book was that Patrick was clear about the pros and cons of each option. You never get the sense that he’s trying to sell you on a particular path because he isn’t. He’s simply giving you the best information he can about how to monetize your forum or site based on his extensive experience.

As you may know from reading his interview, he wrote this book at the request of Skimlinks, a provider in the affiliate space. But you’d never know it, apart from the introduction where he mentions it and the paragraph about Skimlinks in the affiliate section (right alongside their competitor, mind you). This is not a sales pitch. It just goes to show the integrity of both Patrick and Skimlinks in putting together this resource.

Finally, one thing that Patrick never neglects to discuss is consideration for your audience. He makes a distinction between your active community, “lurkers” and those who stop by once or once in a while (and the different profit potentials they have – you might be surprised!)

First and foremost, he stresses the importance of maintaining the quality of their experience no matter what kind of monetization you do. But better than that, he has extensive advice for how to do it. You won’t feel left in the dark or wondering what to do next. You’ll probably have questions, but you’ll also have resources that you can go to online and enough explanations and advice that you can get started right away.

So get out your highlighter, download your copy and take a peek inside the world of monetization. It’s not as scary as it sounds and getting started turns out to be a whole lot easier than you’d think. Yes, it will take work to do it right, to grow and to get good at it. But you don’t need to spend a year writing up a business plan to take action. Even if you start with a simple affiliate link, you’re monetizing. Then go from there.

But start here. And know that it’s your lucky day because this book is easily worth a $20 price tag.

And if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your opinion, too!

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera