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Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

    
Dilemma in realizing great potential
how to make the best of a good looking situation?
freshfish




msg:1562769
 6:55 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hello,
I have been working on developing a resource site for a particular niche which is drastically underserved :o) Yepee! The main competition, i.e. the #1 site I will have to do battle with is a bulky, messy site that tries to sell you on everything…they are even charging folks $50/m to host a 3 page website. Mind you, this is not a commercially driven field…its more like the field of Education versus Webmasters of B2B. However, there are loads of professionals & organizations that would happily join and many already spring for advertising on competitor’s site.

So, my main aim is to provide quality content and to build a community of active members. The other site does not really nurture a sense of community….articles are regurgitated (some as old as 2001) and many have no comments.

Here is my DILEMMA:
I am using phpBB to create a WW like website that is content driven. The posts will be articles in their own right which in turn spark discussions. Competitor is free…but I want to charge a membership fee (nominal and annual) right off the bat so that I can start paying for quality articles. I don’t want to spring fees on them once everyone is happy with the free status.

Do I market the site as a membership site to start? Or do I risk saying to everyone, “Hey, check out my awesome new free site” and then once I hit critical mass I would have the unfavorable task of trying to convert them into paying members?

My plan is not to get rich but to realize the full potential of a site that I feel has great potential as I’m offering something unique.

Any guidance and opinions would be appreciated!
Thanks!

 

rogerd




msg:1562770
 9:26 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi, freshfish, welcome to WebmasterWorld.

My first take on your question is that you will have an uphill battle to convince new arrivals to pay money while you are still in the development phase.

It's not impossible, but you'd need a real value proposition to convince potential subscribers. There's SO much free information on the web - articles, blogs, forums, etc. - that getting people to pay is a challenge.

I would lean toward building traffic and content for a while by not charging, and then, if you are wildly successful, try to convert some percentage of your traffic to subscriptions. If you are worried about your members being put out, or thinking you are doing a "bait & switch" scam, then start off with membership model but waive the fees for some period of time.

Even the latter approach will cut down on traffic. People are suspicious of "free" offers that will convert to paid eventually. It's like the "Free issue of Widget Magazine" offers - you know that what they really mean is, "We'll send you a magazine, and then start invoicing you and then dunning you if you fail to pay up." Even if your offer is totally above-board and you don't collect payment info, I think some people will be reluctant to sign up.

Stujoe




msg:1562771
 9:56 pm on Aug 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

It sounds like you are approaching your site the same way as I did mine as far as content goes.

I took an entirely static website and converted it over to a PHPBB forum. I made different sections for articles, news, educational displays, and some other things specific to my area's focus. I think of it as more of an interactive website than just a forum and I think that gives me a little edge over the other forum sites in my area.

Having said that, I don't think any of my users would pay a fee to use the site. You area may be different but I can guarentee my traffic would hit 0 immediately and they would just start using a different forum.

I have started to use ads (google) and that is generating some money. With PHPBB, you can have things only visible to guests and that is what I do with the ads. Users don't see them and because I have a lot of articles and other real content on the forum, I do pretty well with guests coming in from search engines.

I suppose that is one way you might introduce fees...charge to eliminate seeing advertisements?

Just some thoughts...

freshfish




msg:1562772
 12:01 am on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks guys for the quick burst of info!

Rogerd, you stated “There's SO much free information on the web” which is so true. But the field I’m focusing on is very web unsavvy and pay hundreds of dollars a year for professional memberships that offer them didley in my opinion. They aren’t spendthrifts, on the contrary, but they are the types who will pay for the industry specific magazines/journals…they are big on professional development. I’m offering them this in a dynamic form where they won’t have to wait for the quarterly which has 5 articles and no chance for discussion.

The thing is I’m not afraid to experiment with different models…and have many in mind, I’m just worried that if I undercharge – I could be making more but it would be too late having set the standard…or I overcharge and no one will bite.

I will be promoting a design/hosting package in parallel and that will bring in some good revenue. I will be trying out the commercial postings topic where people pay a small fee to promote their wares. I will have organizations wanting to promote themselves on my site once I pick up just enough steam. The people in this field are behind in the learning curve and they don’t think of ROI per click, etc.

Stujoe, sounds like I’m the same boat as you. Unfortunately, I doubt Adsense would work with my audience…there would be little to no ads and if there were enough ads to catch people’s attention, the per click rates would be quite low. This is not a gambling site. I will have to make the money the good old fashioned way…some sort of membership structure with an unobtrusive advertising model built in.

So, without totally boring the heck out of you, I will say that my goal is to run this site as a career move. Its not a side project and would hate to mess it up by going down the wrong path. I need to get out of the blocks real fast so that I would have gained enough momentum that once my competitor (and there really is only one or two) gets wind of me, I would have reached the critical mass I’d be content with.

rogerd




msg:1562773
 2:27 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

pay hundreds of dollars a year for professional memberships

I think your best marketing approach will be to try to put the cost of joining your site in context - compare it to association and newsletter expenses, and point out the better value, timeliness, and interactivity of your offering.

I'd also recommend devoting effort and/or money to making your site very professional in appearance and operation. If you are asking for money up front, your site will have to look as credible as the trade associations and journals that you are competing with.

freshfish




msg:1562774
 5:43 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

"I think your best marketing approach will be to try to put the cost of joining your site in context"

Rogerd, that's a very good idea. My niche has no loack of content, but very few people publich because there is that mystique/aura that scares alot of people who have great ideas to share. I want to create a resource rich site yet keep it informal and relaxed. Most of all, I want my site to be as fast as possible...I'm planning on using phpBB with a nice clean skin that looks crisp.

I have seen several posts about people debating the chicken/egg question and I'm starting to feel overwhelmed.

Do I:
a) Create a totally free WW like community and then ask for donations (or offer value added services for a paid membership) and hope that enough people convert?
b) Start by creating membership based site with a fee that is almost too good to pass up given what I will be offering?
c) Keep it free and hope to get enough advertising and commercial posts to keep me afloat?

My main problem is that my site has been a dream for a while now but have been scared to jump in because there is that one big bad site that I will have to compete with. I'm scared of making the wrong move and them getting wind of me and deciding to change their format.

And finally, I WANT this to be my fulltime gig and want to earn a living off it. As a hobby I could do it no problem...but I self employed and looking to build something solid for the long term.

GaryK




msg:1562775
 6:26 pm on Aug 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

Respectfully, I think we all have that problem of the big bad site copying our good ideas. Truly professional individuals will quickly realize which site is better - hopefully yours.

What I've done is let anyone browse any part of my hobby site in read-only mode. I also subject non-members to AdSense to help pay for their use of the site. Therefore one of the incentives to join is avoiding the ads.

I also clearly state in my TOS that non-members do not get to see whatever links are in the content. This is another great incentive to join and has the added benefit of me not having to worry about someone posting a link to a bad neighborhood and being penalized by search engines for it since search engines crawl the site as non-members.

So far so good.

raywood




msg:1562776
 2:09 pm on Aug 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

The only sites I've found that warrant any money from me are those that conatin archives of scholarly papers and articles with very large inventories of proceedings and professional publications. Just about any info you want is available for free. Only occasionally do I search for info that I only find in a pay site.
If you build a really useful site that has real value, why don't you consider a free trial period. Give the potential member enough time to evaluate the site, and hopefully get them hooked, so that when you ask for a fee at the end of the trial, they can't resist.

raywood




msg:1562777
 2:20 pm on Aug 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

freshfish,
If you plan on this idea as a full time career, maybe you could start a professional association. I've seen people do it before. Some successful ones made it into a real association, others were just phony fronts to sell insurance.
Association membership could add a little prestige and respect to your group if done eight.

freshfish




msg:1562778
 6:01 pm on Aug 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

raywood...that is a great idea. However, there is a professional association already and they are very active. However, I see a real niche for myself as the association is more involved in the larger scheme of thing such as the direction of the field, standards, etc. They a lack a sense of community which I want to bring to the table.

Everyone's hints here have given me some great ideas and pointers. I have decided on a mix. Undoubtedly, if the site catches on, the adevrtisers will pay and I know how much they pay and for what. So, I will have the following as a model:
a) Free site in general
b) Pay membership fee of $4.95/m for more value added services such as no advertising, inclusion in the directory, adding images, ability to email other members, etc.
c) Advertising & charges for commercial posts

The thing is, I have a goal to make as much money off this endeavor as possible without ruining the idea and sacrificing quality. So, I have set a financial goal (monthly revenue that I would be content with) and will create a mixture of the above that will hopefully help me hit that goal...does this sound reasonable?

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