Running a community does require some resources - people, time, technology. One way you can cover some of these costs but still keep your community open and free or low-cost to members is through sponsorship.
Perhaps you've not considered sponsorship as a way to monetize your community. Or maybe you're not sure it's right for your community. Here we answer some of the common questions - what are the advantages, what precautions do you need to take, and where to start if you do want to seek sponsorship for your community.
Why allow your communities to be sponsored?
You can either add value to existing commercial partners - for example, as part of a year-round sponsorship relationship, or you can generate incremental revenue.
Most membership associations and media businesses have commercial partners, like sponsors and advertisers, who pay them to increase their awareness and generate leads. This includes advertising around content, sponsorship of events and awards, sponsored research and content, and various custom solutions.
As more media and membership organizations build online communities there is a great opportunity not just to add value to members, readers, learners and subscribers, but also to generate additional income via sponsorship.
Won't introducing sponsors 'spoil' a community?
In short, no, not if done properly.
For some communities, it might be necessary to keep access tightly controlled because of the content matter, and some B2B communities might be buy-side only.
But suppliers and sponsors usually have great expertise to contribute, and they have a vested interest in doing it well, to help build their credibility and authority in the market.
So the key thing is to clearly manage expectations, and closely moderate behaviours, so that sponsors actually add value to a community rather than risk detracting value.
You need to be clear with sponsors about what is acceptable and what isn't - for example you might specify no overt selling unless asked, and no direct soliciting of business from members.
What can you offer in terms of community sponsorship?
Ways to raise brand awareness for a sponsor in your community:
- Co-branding (even naming rights) of the community, e.g. 'in partnership with' as you would for events/awards sponsorship.
- Acknowledgement (with links) in the community description for all to see.
- Thanking them before and after any online event you might host in the community, e.g. a networking session ('thanks to our sponsors XYZ').
- Pinned/featured information about the sponsor(s), e.g. easy to see/access information about the sponsors, which community members can find when relevant and make contact with the sponsor.
- Call out sponsors for their expertise - for example you can @ mention a sponsor or ask them to contribute an answer to a member's question that plays to their areas of expertise and thought leadership.
- Announcements - as the community host, you likely have the ability to 'announce' things to all your community members, not just those active in the community, and you can use these announcements to promote your sponsors (though you'd want to do this sparingly).
- Cross-promote sponsor content - for example, you can agree to link out to a sponsor's article, socials, podcast etc.
- Cross-promote your sponsor's events - if your community platform has a way to promote events, like Guild's events calendar, you can list relevant events that your sponsor is running (whether in-person or virtual).
- Run polls for sponsors - you could have sponsored polls to get data insights from your community that a sponsor can publish as valuable industry trends, thought leadership etc.
- Sponsor representatives can be part of the community - you might decide that individuals from the sponsor organisations cannot themselves be part of the community. However, as part of premium packages, you might allow an appropriate and restricted number of individuals to be part of the community itself. This can allow them to listen in on industry trends, pain points, opportunities etc. and also contribute/showcase their expertise when relevant. You can decide how senior these individuals need to be (typically it's better to have senior, knowledgeable, well-connected industry participants).
- Sponsors could be allowed to invite members to your community - you can also allow your sponsors the right to invite an agreed number of new members to your community as long as they meet your eligibility criteria. Not only does this give sponsors something of value to offer prospects or customers, but it helps grow your own community with relevant/high-quality new members.
- In-community adverts - it is actually quite rare for community platforms to have any ad-tech features to serve display ads within the community interface, but it is something to consider (arguably this is not very effective for smaller, high-value, B2B communities).
Ways to generate leads for a sponsor in your community:
- 'Showcase' shoutouts for sponsors in your community, e.g. 'Supplier Showcase Friday' where you profile a supplier, give contact info etc., and promote them in a fixed slot once a week in your community
- Link out to sponsor data capture - for example, you can promote a sponsor's webinar, white paper, event, market research etc., which is registration access and therefore, the sponsor can collect data and leads that they own.
- Make direct introductions - some community platforms, like Guild, allow not only direct messages between members but have features to make introductions between members. You can make these direct introductions between members and your sponsors where you know them to be relevant and useful to both parties. This is quite 'manual' but extremely valuable.
- Video panels/conversations/AMAs/interviews - many community platforms, including Guild, allow video meetups and group video conversations similar to Zoom, Google Meet, Teams etc. You can use these sessions to showcase sponsors in a range of different formats, e.g. as part of an expert panel, participants in an online roundtable, as hosts of breakout rooms on topics they have expertise in, or in Ask-Me-Anything sessions which play to their expertise etc.
- Community insight thought leadership content - you can use the conversations in your community to create bespoke content on the hot topics, which you allow sponsors to then host and promote (and they can choose to make this registration access to generate data/leads).
Custom community solutions for sponsors:
- Bespoke groups, networks and communities - just like creating custom events, or content, for sponsors, you can create very focused groups as subsets of your audience/community, which you create and run especially for sponsors.
- Exclusivity - no competing sponsors - for a premium you could agree not to have other competing sponsors in your community. This can actually be good for community members too, as they have a range of sponsor suppliers rather than just a single category.
How much can you charge for community sponsorship?
Of course, it depends on the length of sponsorship, the extent of the package (see options above), and how valuable/exclusive your community is.
But, for year-round community sponsorship, in the B2B/professional market, you might expect to charge $10k-$50k+
You could also have multiple sponsors at different package levels, e.g. Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze. It means that each community of yours could generate $100k+/yr and you may have many communities across different markets, geographies, seniority levels, specialisms etc.
Examples of sponsored communities
Here are links to some real examples of communities that have sponsor offerings:
- Lima's playbook of community sponsorship propositions: https://three-fish-c94.notion.site/Case-Studies-3be5abcc87c7435f9ffaa58008a6c11c
- Finite - https://finite.community/
- Agency Growth Events - https://www.agencygrowth.events/become-a-sponsor
- Foundrs - https://www.foundrs.co/
- Delegate Wranglers - https://thedelegatewranglers.com/suppliers-work-with-us
- Serial Marketers - https://www.passionfroot.me/serial-marketers
What have we missed?
We will keep updating this article with additional ideas, add examples, and are happy to link to other useful, relevant content. So do contact us with anything you'd like to suggest.
Discuss with community peers
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