Can a Forum Still Make Money?
Online forums have been around for a very, very long time. While many social sources have faded away, forums seem to have persisted over the years. There are several reasons for this:
Forums can be dedicated to virtually any long-term topic
The amount of information available can grow very quickly
Subjects are archived, allowing newer generations to benefit
Active users are very loyal, at least for some time
So, the answer to this article’s question is ‘yes, a forum is still viable even today.’ But how can you make it work among today’s fierce competition, especially with the rise of social networks and other friendly communities?
First, let’s get a few points out of our way…
Be Driven By Passion, Not Money
It’s crucial to have a financial plan laid out, but it should never be your project’s main motivator. In fact, many forum owners are making money today because of the deep, admirable love they felt for the community’s subject matter. That brings me to my next point:
Understand How Communities Work
Let me ask you: Do you still visit every website you were once a loyal fan of? Chances are you have moved on at this point, even if said website is still great.
It’s human nature to use things in cycles, leaving for a time and then (maybe) coming back. This means that obtaining XYZ amount of forum subscribers will never be enough. By the time you double that amount (or even triple it) many of the previous users will have moved onto other sources.
This, too, brings me to my next point.
Be Ready to Work Your Butt Off
I won’t lie or sugar coat it: Managing a forum is tough. People who sign up to a relatively empty forum are unlikely to start a conversation. But how do you get the ball rolling if you need people to interact?
In my opinion, it is best to hit the ground running by:
Inviting a few friends to participate: You have more connections than you realize. Just look into your Facebook profile, or politely ask that one slacker friend of yours to help out (most of us have a slacker friend). Offer an incentive, if you must.
Hiring someone or ask for volunteers: If you have little to no money, places like Craigslist allow you to place unpaid gig listings.
Staying active: Getting the forum off the ground also means being there to answer questions and starting new topics everyday, especially toward the beginning.
Now let’s officially look at how to start a forum and make money.
Choosing a Niche Topic
This goes without saying, but the more focused your forum is, the more money you will make in the long run. Will you have fewer signups? Perhaps, but increasing your forum’s interaction and profits is about quality, not quantity.
Thankfully, researching a niche has become easier over the years thanks to the vast amount of online communities available. Here are the ones I recommend most:
Reddit: Browse through the thousands of subreddits and see how many years they have existed for, how many subscribers they have, and pay attention to their level of interaction. Just about any subject has a loyal following, but you must also keep in mind the financial viability of your chosen niche.
Quora, Yahoo Answers, and Similar: Look into new, trending, and all-time popular questions on these websites. What questions keep consistently popping up? Why? What do you think you can offer to your members if you were to start a forum based on said topic?
Google trends: Set up email alerts pertaining to your chosen topic on Google trends. You can turn virtually any trend into a forum topic by asking questions about it. This is a goldmine.
Browse similar forums: What subjects are they covering? What are they missing? How are those members treated there? Can you bring something new to the table, or at least improve upon their existing methods?
Interestingly enough, promoting your niche forum is best done using the above sources you used for research in the first place. Of course, don’t confuse natural promotion with blatant spamming, either. Simply remain active and, when appropriate, link to an existing topic on your forum if the website allows it.
Finally, How to Start a Forum and Make Money
I could easily sit here and tell you to slap PPC or CPM ads into your forum and call it a day. However, even though these can certainly bring you some money, you should eventually move onto a more profitable and viable strategy…
Offer an incentive per signup and build an email list: This is no different than blog owners giving you a free report in exchange for your email address.
Keep in touch, and send a monthly (paid) report: This is why owning a niche forum is so important. Imagine a community based on the video game Minecraft. Can you develop a series of helpful guides? This will eventually be your ticket to revenues, along with remaining an active, helpful member of your own forum.
Offer paid access to other forum sections: Can you provide other benefits besides the usual? How about exclusive access to other tutorials on your niche? I should also mention that setting up a recurring payment model may not be ideal. Remember, forum members come and go in cycles, which means they are less likely to sign up in the first place unless your offer is insanely valuable.
Note: Most of the information you provide should be free of charge, and generally useful. Leave only the most important/crucial bits as a premium option.
What About Other Methods?
You may also sell ad space in certain sections after the forum has become more popular, and/or ask for donations on a monthly basis. Depending on your community’s popularity, some advertisers are willing to pay no less than $3,000 per year.
The majority of your revenue should come from the value you provide, which turns your members into loyal fans.
Lastly, I suggest you read this other post on the best WordPress forum plugins, in addition to researching newer ones on the scene.
To conclude, rather than asking how to start a forum and make money this year, you should instead ask yourself, “How much time can you dedicate to this monumental endeavor? The money is certainly there. Are you?