Monetize This…

As our economic downturn continues, it’s become very apparent that the buzzword for the year is going to be Monetize.  That means just about anything we’re doing (as web developers, designers, community managers, etc.) is going to be expected to pick up the yoke and plow the fields from the start.  That’s a lot to ask in a field like social media and social networking where the 800 lb. gorilla, Facebook, has just entered it’s 5th year, with 110 million registered users, but has yet to produce a net profit.

110 million users, no net profit – that’s right.  

Esteban Glas shares my concerns on this in his post “Train Wreck: Social Media to meet Commerce in 2009.

I’m prepared to witness a ton of experiments that will make me want to go and live as a hermit in some obscure and inaccessible cave with no internet access. Dire situations require desperate measures. This can be the recipe for:

  1.  unprecedented originality or, much more frequently:
  2.  nasty efforts that smell, look and taste like desperation.

That is exactly the smell I am picking up around the web right now: desperation.  

The other day I saw a post on twitter that astounded me from Mack Collier (via Tony Santos):

“Communities do not come together around the idea of being monetized.”

My comment to that was very simple:

“Smart onliine communities realize they risk becoming unsupported or orphan communities if they can’t be monetized. “

I’ve seen it in several situations where an absentee owners community was purchased and the community was generally thankful to know that someone was placing some value on them, and at the very least, would continue to pay the server bills.  Notably, the Reel-Time.com was generally quite positive during the Namemedia.com acquistion of the site last May for exactly that reason.  I don’t know how many realized how close they came to becoming digital orphans, had that deal not gone through.

The problem is that not all our actions can (or should) be subject to monetization.  Sometimes our actions are simply for the betterment of the community, and that, in the end will have an affect on our bottom line, but we’ll have a hard time tying that action into a concrete line item on a balance sheet.  

The other problem we end up with is that ideas get rushed through to market before they’re even half baked.  Again, I’m seeing some initiatives online that I can tell were never specified properly, or even run through a few rudimentary use cases, because if they had, they never would have seen the light of day.  

Yes, we should be able to monetize the sites and services we provide.  This isn’t public radio, it’s commerce and we have every right to make money of our creations.  That said, the question of who really owns a community comes into play.  I’ve often heard cries of “free speech” while I moderate my forums, and my answer is almost universal: it is not free, and I have the hosting bills to prove it.

We’re going to be seeing a lot of new “monetization” experiments this year.  We need to stand firm, shine a light into the dark places, and call out the efforts that are wrong.  Social media is still an experiment, and if we don’t take ownership of it, we’re in danger of someone creating a mutant virus that will infect the lab and kill us all.


2 Replies to “Monetize This…”

  1. Mark — Absolutely dead on. I bristle when I hear reporters and friends refer to the internet as “free”. If it’s free, why do I pay a $50 broadband bill every month?

    The real issue is that publishers get paid for their content on cable TV, but not the internet.

    ESPN, for example, gets a portion of my cable tv payment. Why shouldn’t Espn.com get a portion of my broadband payment?

  2. Great point…the only caveat being that if you make the site look like a Nascar stock car with a bazillion ads, the community members will start to move on.

    The right mix is utterly important. And many community site owners have conditioned users to expect few ads, simply because they had no one to sell ads, hence were limited to Adsense or the like.

    You want a community that isn’t on life support. I’ve done my years of nights and weekends managing communities while my doing the bill paying day job at night. There is value and we deserve to be paid for that value.

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