With built-in audiences in the billions, the major social networks present the obvious venue for building and monetising online communities. After all, some 44% of businesses use social media to raise brand awareness, while a marginally lower percentage use it to drive revenue. That leaves a whole lot of organisations that aren’t doing social media monetisation, or at least not to its fullest potential.

The value of using social media to drive brand awareness is without question. But, the very fact that businesses don’t own these platforms or even have much control over them means there are some significant limitations. There’s also the common misconception among many marketers who seem to think that all they need to do is post a status update asking people to buy something.

There are still many ways to monetise social media. We’ve all heard of the major influencers on Instagram and YouTube who make millions by advertising third-party products and services on their profile pages. Others, including both businesses and solopreneurs, develop and sell their own products through social media, with informational resources being one of the most popular niches.

For everyone who’s making a fortune on social media, there are thousands who aren’t getting anywhere. That’s because they don’t know their target audience, they’re trying to advertise to everyone rather than a niche demographic, and they’re not speaking to their pain points. With the vast reach of the mainstream social networks, it’s easy to get seduced by numbers alone. But, having a thousand Facebook followers doesn’t mean you’ll get even one paying customer.

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Choose your own niche

When it comes to social media monetisation, there’s a fine line between spam and legitimate advertising. All too often do would-be entrepreneurs think of an idea or join an affiliate program of questionable repute, set up profile pages on Twitter and Facebook, and get down to work peddling their products to the masses. And then nothing happens. So, they decide to invest in paid advertising. Again, nothing happens. As the tumbleweed rolls across their profile pages, some may even be tempted to buy followers, despite the fact that’s against the rules of just about every social network.

The fact is social media monetisation is hard work. Before you even think about monetisation, you should think about your target audience. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, you need to shift your thinking to a community-centric approach. This is based on the simple reality that trying to reach as many people as possible is akin to a stab in the dark. You can have millions of followers, but it counts for nothing if none of them are engaged. It’s far better to have a few dozen engaged users as part of a close-knit community than have any number of fake or irrelevant followers.

To build your community, you need to choose your niche wisely. Every brand needs a purpose and an opinion and to choose a target demographic that aligns with those factors. It doesn’t matter how small or specialised your niche is – there will be people out there who want to be a part of it, and social media provides the means to reach them. Once you’ve chosen your niche and defined your ideal customer, you’ll be able to create content that speaks directly to their desires and pain points. By understanding your target audience, you’ll be able to build meaningful relationships with them, and therein lies the foundations of an online community of engaged members.

How to monetise your social media profiles?

Before we begin, let’s establish one essential rule of social media monetisation – the 60/30/10 rule. 60% of the content you post should be of interest to your target audience, and not sales-oriented. This is content that inspires conversation, educates, nurtures, or entertains. It may also include content that poses questions to your target audience. It’s content that gets people talking, sharing and upvoting posts. A further 30% of your content should be shared from other sources, such as non-competing businesses, industry-specific resources and even posts from members of your community. If you see something that’s relevant to your target audience, you should share it. There’s also a chance they’ll return the favour, further increasing your reach. Finally, only 10% of what you post should be sales-oriented. This will help get people into buying mode without bombarding them with advertisements.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s explore some of the most popular ways you can monetise your following:

1. Sell online courses

Knowledge is power, and the internet has made knowledge more accessible than ever before. If you’re an expert in a field, and have something to teach others, social media is a great venue for selling e-learning materials, such as self-published e-books and online courses. By posting content that educates your community members, people will be far more willing to invest their money into learning more. (Find out more on how to  sell your online courses here)

2. Advertise affiliate products

Affiliate marketing used to be all the rage back in the days when it was easier to launch spam campaigns at massive scale. However, despite the negative image of affiliate marketing, there are legitimate, ethical, and effective ways to do it. When you’re selling products or services for someone else, having a thorough understanding and belief in what you’re selling is imperative. Whatever you do, don’t try to sell things purely because they’re supposedly profitable.

3. Try influencer marketing

Brands love influencer marketing because it gives them a level of visibility and credibility that they often can’t hope to achieve by themselves. Although attracting the advertising pounds of big brand isn’t easy, building a large community of engaged followers around a clearly defined niche will go a long way. Once you can build up a reputation as an authority in your niche, it’s quite likely that companies will start coming to you to advertise their products and services.

4. Sell products with Facebook shops and direct sales.

Social media is also a popular venue for selling physical products. Facebook, for example, lets users set up online stores where you can add an unlimited number of products, organise them into categories and track sales through an analytics dashboard. To get started, all you need is a Facebook account and business page. Another option is to display products from Shopify on your Facebook page.

These are some of the most effective and proven social media monetisation tactics but selling is just the easy part. Almost all the work involves building your community in the first place.

5. Lead generation

Making money directly on social media isn’t the only way to go. For many people, growing their social media accounts with a number of targeted followers is only the first step. Social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even Instagram, lend themselves to monetisation.

But it doesn’t have to happen directly on the social network platforms. You can actually use your social reach as a lead generation tool for your business outside of the app. If you’re planning to sell software, cookbooks or even a fitness programme, use your social network accounts to provide value and create new potential leads for your business.

6. Events

Just because your social media is online doesn’t mean your monetisation strategies have to stay online too. Growing your social following online and then offering in-person (or even online) events at a cost is a great way to make money from all the people who follow you.

Build a private community to increase engagement

By far the biggest challenge of social media monetisation is being heard through all the noise. You’re also entirely at the mercy of the platform. Many businesses learned this the hard way when Facebook changed its newsfeed algorithm last year in favour of paid advertisements. There’s also the matter of poor engagement rates on the mainstream social networks which, while growing in terms of numbers alone, are seeing less engagement between brands and their customers.

Having a private community can help you overcome the limitations and uncertainties of social media and the monetisation opportunities that come with them. With a private and, preferably, mobile-centric online community, you have complete control over your own social space, and that means higher engagement too. In times when mainstream social media is fast becoming synonymous with fake accounts, spam, privacy scandals and apathy, there’s no denying that private brand communities are the way of the future.

Disciple community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Choose from subscriptions, sponsorship and in-app purchases to monetise your content and expertise. Create your own community space today.