I was just reminded of a dilemma a friend was having. For years he has had a very successful email discussion list. This list has thousands of members, vibrant and intelligent discussion, and has been a major success. All apart from he makes no income from it. Sound familiar? While we were in San Diego Nick and I gave him some advice, perhaps it could be a handy idea for you also.
It should come as no surprise to you that Nick and I recommended he start blogging. I know it might seem like we think blogs are the solution to everything but actually don’t really believe that, it is just in this case it really would be a great solution.
We recommended he start a blog that would be the public face of his community. This blog would be used to report any news, could be a central repository for all the admin trivia, can store real world meeting details etc. On one community I help moderate we tried a wiki for a while but found with no one person responsible for it the wiki fell into disrepair. Our blog on the other hand was far more succesful and less prone to vandalism.
Blogs can be communities in their own right but are also effective as a
web front end to an existing non-web community. While the email
discussion will flow and mutate, most email discussion lists if they
have an archive at all will be very basically structured. In some cases
there might be a search, if you are lucky but most are just dated
archives. Good blogging software comes with a simple search but also allow you to organise your information in categories or maybe tags plus they naturally get indexed well by major search engines. No more emailing the list for an old piece of info, if you keep on top of it your good stuff could be right at your finger tips.
A really good use for a community front end blog is to highlight really great discussions. All it needs is a little commentary and a quote (with a link to the discussion if you have the facility). This serves to attract attention where it is deserved for the community itself but also for the wider internet population. While not SEO as such blogs tend to naturally perform well in search engines. These highlight posts would attract links, other blogs might give you a mention, sending more new members and traffic.
Lots of content will be hidden from the web or even dissapear because of lack of archives. With you pulling out content to display publicly, without opening up the whole archive to spammer spiders, you can publish all your killer content without causing spam and admin headaches.
All this content can of course display ads. Income potential is greatly enhanced without too much offence to your members, unlike sticking ads in the email signatures etc. Your discussion list is kept clean and non commercial and your blog advertising doesn’t need to be intrusive.
I think the best part of all is many communities from the outside show no visible signs of being alive. There is a signup form and some about us information but no way of guaging if this is the community for you. With an actively managed blog it will be obvious you have a vibrant community that is worth joining. You get some income to support your hosting costs and the community gets an injection of new blood – everyone wins!