Profit From an Online Community
What if you could setup a website, then lay back and collect money while web users build your website for you? Surprisingly, there are many ways to do just that. Examples are websites that let users post classified ads, articles, links to ebooks, and message forums. This article focuses on starting and profiting from your own online community.
You could start a general topic online community, but it’s better to focus on a specific topic. Some popular forum topics are: celebrity gossip, child rearing, relationships, free lancing, and home businesses. Having a specific topic gives website purpose, and attracts people interested in that topic.
Users like an online community because they can communicate even though they may be geographically separated, and they don’t have to be online at the same time. Newcomers can read past messages to catch up on the conversation, and join in when they’re ready.
An online forum is profitable to the owner because they start out with a targeted audience and by monitoring message threads, the owner can fine tune the website’s advertising to the very specific interests of the Community.
The most challenging part of starting an online forum is to attract people to the community. you’ll need to set up some threads and have some friends start discussions. People are attracted to a community that has a large number of active discussion threads.
After joining and participating for a while, members will tend to stay because they make acquaintances with other members. After the community reaches a certain number of members, it will become self-sustaining without much effort on your part.
One decision you need to make is whether to provide synchronous or asynchronous communication. Synchronous communications, for example a “chat room”, allows members to communicate in real-time. Of course, the members have to be online simultaneously, and users with slow dial-up Internet connections will not be able to keep up with the conversation.
Asynchronous communications, for example a “message board”, means members leave messages that others can respond to later. With asynchronous communications, users will be able to put more thought into their messages before responding.
Some online communities provide both message boards and chat rooms. This allows individuals to break away from a message board thread and engage in their own real-time conversation.
Your online community can be moderated or unmoderated. In a moderated forum, before messages are posted they must be approved by a moderator to make sure that they conform with the community’s rules and policies. In an unmoderated forum, messages are posted directly by the users without filtering.
There are several options between fully moderated and free-for-all totally unmoderated. For example, a new member’s messages could be moderated for a short trial period, after which they would be allowed to post directly to the forum.
The chat room or message forum could be left basically unmoderated, with occasional spot checks to make sure that everyone is conforming with the rules and policies. Or they could be left unmoderated with no action taken against members who violate the rules unless someone sends a complaint to the website’s operator.
You will need to establish clear rules and policies as to what is acceptable by the community, and the sanctions that will be imposed on those who violate the rules. What kind of things are unacceptable for users to post? Personal attacks, bigotry, and profanity should not be allowed. Will you allow off-topic messages? How far off-topic?
Get all new members to agree on the rules and put a link to the rules on all pages. Also provide a form that makes it easy for members to report violators.
Have clear polices for what the penalty will be for violating the rules and deal with the violator as quickly as possible. Start by emailing the individual and politely request that they review community’s rules and policies pages. If that doesn’t stop the violations, enforce the penalty.
Many web users conceal their true identity and use a pseudonym instead. They pretend to be who they’re not and this is prone to abuse. Sometimes this results in the exploitation of minors. There is not much you can do to learn members true identities, but you should verify the email address of new members by sending a message to which they must respond.
Enforcement of the rules could involve subjecting their messages to approval before posting, suspending their posting rights, or banning their membership in the community. Email them, letting them know that they are being penalized and why. Let them know what they need to do to get the penalty lifted.
You should maintain a topic about the website itself where members can talk about bugs, rules they would like to see, or features they wish for. Here, new members can post questions about how to use their computer, the web, or the community website, and receive help from more experienced users. Visit that topic regularly yourself.
One decision you need to make is whether messages be archived and for how long? Will you archive all messages, including ones that are just frivolous chat or gossip and are not worth saving? Will you allow members access to the archives? Will you be the only one who can delete messages or will members have the authority to delete their own messages?
You can start your message forum on a site that offers free message boards and as your community grows move to your own Web site. Below is a list of some websites that offer free message boards or free message forum code.
Boards2Go (www.boards2go.com) provides free message boards hosted on their servers. There is nothing for you to set up. Boards2Go’s message boards can easily integrate to your website’s layout. Your visitors will never know they left your website. All configurations may be made via our web interface administrator area.
Web Wiz Guide (www.webwizguide.info) provides free ASP forum code, and The Free Country (www.thefreecountry.com) Provides Free PHP Forum Code.
Copyright(C) 2005 Bucaro TecHelp.
Permission is granted for the below article to forward, reprint, distribute, use for ezine, newsletter, website, offer as free bonus or part of a product for sale as long as no changes are made and the byline, copyright, and the resource box below is included.