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Forum Moderators: rogerd
Was the forum meant to build traffic for a related site? Was it about creating 'stickiness' as an approach to building loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals? Did you simply wish to foster community, therefore money 'isn't really an issue' (unless and until it grows considerably)?
My research suggests that most forums fail to yield a ROI when subjected to a "time/dollars in = dollar profits out" analysis.
The ROI may be valuable when other metrics are applied. I'm a huge fan of altruistic behavior, however good works that require - but lack - adequate funding can wither and die. If that's your situation then I feel your pain.
Perhaps a reassessment of the purpose, intent and goals of the venture in forum building might yield a different determination of 'whether it's worth it' or 'whether it's paying for itself'.
Think about the many ways 'pay for itself' can be interpreted and you might see some new possibilities. One client referral, for a developer, could more than cover the costs of running a forum whereas the money paid for running banner ads won't.
Consider eliminating 'pay for itself' from the formula and focus on giving value. Changing one's focus, particularly from 'me to you' or from 'what's in it for me to I'm here to help you' is sometimes pretty magical stuff.
If you can figure out how to do it with the software you have, try putting a banner AFTER the first message in each thread, rather than above the thread or below the thread. That might get a few more percent clicking.
There are always going to be a handful of forum members that use 90% of your forum resources (bandwidth, mysql cpu-load) but generate the least income. The problem is unless they are abusive in other obvious ways, you can't typically ban them.
2) Survey your membership regularly. Question 1: Which of the following products/categories have you personally purchased online in the last 6 months? Which are you planning to purchase? Etc.
Get more info about your membership's habits, economics, etc. Use this info to build answers/solutions to your questions about how to get the forum to pay for itself.
If your membership is moms at home perhaps you should partner with educational software providers, etc. What economic decisions are the venue of you demographic? Product reviews by members + AdSense?
In order to sell to your market you need a deeper understanding of your market and that starts with asking questions.
In my humble opinion, the best way to get people to want to pay for a forum is:
Give them enough good useful tools, where they would comeback to use the tools as well as your forum.
I have to say this and not to offend anybody, I would not make the tools ebooks, for they are available Everywhere.
Good software that will make things easier & therefore, you would want to make sure to bookmark your site.
Possibly, pay a commission for those bringing in members, that way you would have the help of others looking to signup others.
One word of caution with last idea:
Make the cost in the $9.95 month range, and pay 50%.
A residual of $5 a month to affiliates doesn't sound like much, but you bring in 50 new members and you have
$250 a month.
Just 2 cents worth
Good luck whatever you chose to do.
That's quite an interesting idea, paying members to bring in new members. Instead of paying people though, I would give them a discount on their subscription. It's just easier than sending money to people. Also, make sure they don't get the discount until after you've collected the money from the new member. That's a great idea to give a or finder's fee or commission for new members. I may just have to try it sometime.