The panel on Forum Monetization was particularly noteworthy. This panel was led by Raymond Lyle of Topify and featured Crista Bailey of Texture Media, Vlad Dusil of Purse Blog, Joey DeTomaso of Plum Krazy Media, Ted Gill of Huddler, and Jerry Orban of Vertical Scope. Much of the discussion focused on the increasing trend among users to access forum communities from mobile devices. Monetizing forum traffic is a challenge in and of itself but mobile traffic creates a new and unique set of challenges.
First, panelists noted that mobile traffic is especially difficult to monetize. Even Facebook, Twitter, and other social media titans have not cracked the code to generate revenue from mobile users in the same way that Google Adsense disrupted the advertising landscape in the early 2000s.
Secondly, a small keyboard, screen, and user interface controls make it difficult for mobile users to contribute since forum software is primarily a text-based medium. Nowadays, users are more primed to post photos than long-winded manifestos. Forums are desktop applications in a mobile age.
These two challenges—monetizing mobile forum traffic and optimizing forum software for mobile—promise to be formidable obstacles for forum software developers and forum owners. Despite the changing landscape, panelists suggested revenue can still be generated using well-proven techniques no matter how users access the forum. For example:
- Building communities focused on high margin items (fashion, electronics, etc.).
- Instituting a three-tiered membership hierarchy: user is not logged in, user is logged in, and user is a “gold” member. Show ads to users if they’re not logged in.
- Reselling aggregate user data to other companies.
Likewise, newsletter sponsorships, classified ads, sponsored threads, and other tried-and-true monetization strategies remain applicable. That being said, changing habits among users (i.e., the shift to mobile) could cause forum users to become less engaged. A smaller, less active user base could threaten revenue for forum owners. Therefore, we believe forum owners should focus on providing users with an outstanding mobile experience to ensure revenue does not decline.