How To Monetize an Online Community

Running an online discussion forum is challenging work - you’re contributing to posts, flagging spam, writing rules, engaging with others, and so much more. And if your forum has gotten particularly big, then you’re likely up to your knees in work. Not to mention the additional stressors of your full-time job.

So, how do you make your online discussion forum worthwhile? How do you get paid for your contribution, your blood, sweat, tears, and late nights working?

Income forum monetization - the best way to start earning money from your side-hustle. Or, perhaps now your full-time hustle, depending on how big your community is. This blog post will discuss what forum monetization is, followed up with several methods for you to generate a healthy income.

What is forum monetization?

Forum monetization is a method of making money from your online forum community. There are many monetization methods, but some work better than others, especially for discussion forums.

Thinking outside the box will earn you more money without sacrificing the user experience. For example, you may choose to add a donation button, organize offline events to get members involved, or even publish sponsored content. The options are virtually endless.

What are the best monetization methods?

Okay, now that we’ve discussed what forum monetization is, let’s highlight the best methods for you to start making money.

The best forum monetization methods are as follows:

  • Run paid ads
  • Do affiliate marketing
  • Offer paid subscriptions to access exclusive content
  • Organize offline events
  • Sell forum merchandise and other products
  • Ask for donations, similar to Patreon
  • Publish sponsored content

We will now explain each of these in more detail below.

Run paid ads

One of the most popular and easiest ways to monetize your discussion forum is by running paid ads. There are many popular advertisement sites and options out there, including Google AdSense,, and Monumetric. But these are just three of the most well-known.

While Google AdSense is the most popular, it doesn’t pay the most pay per click. Therefore, you may wish to consider other options. But do so at your own risk.

Do affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is an excellent way to monetize your community forum. For those that don’t know, affiliate marketing is where you promote someone else’s product in exchange for a sales commission. For example, on a discussion forum, this could be a product review or round-up of your favorite gadgets or other tech. If a user makes a purchase, then you’ll receive a commission.

You could also send users to a free software trial, purchase a video game, or other sales. There are hundreds of affiliate programs out there - you just need to find the best one for your discussion forum.

Top tip: we’d recommend signing up for multiple programs. Therefore, if one is to collapse, you don’t lose all of your income.

Offer paid subscriptions to access exclusive content

If you already have a loyal fanbase of readers and community members, then adding subscription-based content is the natural progression. For example, you can have an entire subforum for members with access to exclusive content and other benefits. This subforum will be what is known as “gated content.” In other words: you need to pay to see it.

While not everyone will pay for a subscription, it’s a great way to provide more value to existing members while creating an allure to those looking for a discussion on a specific topic. Just ensure not to charge too much; think anywhere between $4.99 to $14.99 a month, depending on the size of your forum.

Organize offline events

Who says you have to keep your forum online? If you’re looking to build relationships with your community, why not arrange to host offline events? These could be meet-ups with fees for activities, perhaps an activity similar to what your discussion forum is about. For instance, if you have a forum about running, why not arrange a 5k race where all runners pay a small fee?

Sell forum merchandise and other products

If your community is asking for it, then why not supply them with the goods. Of course, we’re talking about merchandise. You can get custom t-shirts, sweatshirts, notebooks, and any other gear you can think of.

And guess what? You don’t have to create it yourself. There are plenty of websites that will put your branding on goods and ship once an order is placed. This means you don’t have to make, post, or be involved with the process whatsoever. You can easily use services like Fiverr to create professional looking logos and images to be printed on your merchandise.

Ask for donations, similar to Patreon

If you have active forum members who post regularly, interact with others, and spend hours in forum chats, then chances are they’d be more than happy to make a donation. This is similar to Patreon, where many creatives, especially YouTube creators, ask for donations to support their work. So, adding a link to donate via PayPal or other methods is a great way to keep your forum afloat.

Don’t expect to make a ton of money via this method. However, subtly asking for donations paired with other monetization methods can work well.

Publish sponsored content

Finally, we have sponsored content. Sponsored content is an excellent way to generate a consistent flow of income while working with various brands. For example, if you have a decent size readership, brands may ask to post on your forum for a fee.

To encourage brands to reach out, you can create a “sponsored forum contribution” page. Alternatively, you can outreach to brands you’d like to work with/want to promote. If this is going to be your main form of monetization for your forum, then we’d recommend going for both options.

The bottom line

Setting up and managing an online discussion forum is difficult work. And often, you won’t get paid, at least for a long time.

For additional support and new ways to monetize your forum, check out the WoltLab Suite forum software plans.