Monetizing social sites: turning love into money

Posted on: August 24, 2009

Considerations of how to sustain sites with great content and vibrant communities converge as publishers get as social as they can – and communities add multiple ways for their members to share all types of media. At the same time marketers are descending on these social destinations in droves, searching for the right time and tone to get their brand recognised, garner interest and secure sales. 

Pay walls (methods to restrict content access to paying subscribers) are annoying and counter-intuitive to growing a loyal, satisfied community, despite some powerful players insisting on giving them a bash. Miles Guildford has argued strongly that “the major shift in thinking that most publishers must make is the real value of an online content business is the audience, not the content“. But the core question publishers and community managers need to ask themselves is, why would a visitor or member make a decision to purchase a product via you? If you need to turn the love of your community members into hard cash, here are four core areas to look at:

  • Usability: The option to buy something via the site should be  easy, quick, clear and safe – for example you should not unexpectedly send users off to affiliates – that open in a new window and set off pop-up blockers and browser warnings. 
  • Relevancy: Where possible suggest the purchase of products and services alongside relevant content or to relevant members. Even better, also display reviews of those products and services by other community members (ala amazon reviews).
  • Loyalty: Make clear to the user that if they buy something via the site, this will help it – and that this help is needed. Making a purchase will appeal to users for whom the site is useful – they should understand that without revenue it cannot exist.
  • Honesty: Be upfront about activities on the site that are designed to make money. Don’t just happen to mention how great the turbo7000 hairdryer is in the middle of an article with a link to buy. Advertorial content ‘cunningly’ mixed in, is likely to be quickly spotted and serve as a massive turn-off to valuable visitors and members.

Here are some good examples of the above principles in practice:


The links within the content:


The explanation about links to members and visitors (read the ‘how this site is financed‘ section for lots of ideas on how publishers can make a ‘free’ website work):


Ladies who Launch

Has an online tool that allows community members (women starting or running businesses) to post their requirements and have those with relevant products and services bid for them:


6 Responses to "Monetizing social sites: turning love into money"

[…] The user: The user of the web will not know that a website has some content she wants. This user may actually have been willing to pay for the content, if they only knew it were out there. Or, the user may have been inclined to read the content for free, but could have been persuaded towards paying in some way, given the understanding that doing so will be of benefit to the publisher. […]

[…] (2) market actors whose business models do not depend on the regulatory framework of intellectual property, such as freemium or moneysavingexpert’s community loyalty model […]

[…] from subscribing / donating / making a purchase. But the site can also be explicit that an action will help the site – and that this help is needed. Content on the New York Times isn’t free to produce, and making it clear they […]

[…] Bringing together community user flow and turning love into money, these simple steps outline how community websites can optimise revenue and content in […]

[…] pay for news and information products, it would make much more sense if I can easily spread that love across many […]

[…] social websites must facilitate intimacy and loyalty and there is nothing more destructive to this than […]

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