As we close in on March, #Blogchat will have its 4th birthday, having started on March 22nd, 2009. And over the past 2 years I don’t think any chat other than probably Jessica Northey’s #CMChat has done a better job of bringing on sponsors and monetizing. (As a sidenote, that’s exactly why we wanted to bring Jessica to BlogHot in March to talk about some of the innovative ways she’s connecting with brands via #CMChat.)
And over the past year or so, I’ve had more and more current and potential Twitter chat hosts ask me for advice on getting sponsors for their chats, and other ways to monetize. I hesitate to give advice because I can only talk about what worked for me, it’s not a guaranteed formula that anyone can replicate.
Having said that, the one thing that has always driven any attempt at monetizing #blogchat has been answering this question: If I do this, how will the #Blogchat community benefit? If I was trying to monetize via sponsorships, I would ask how the sponsorship would benefit BOTH the sponsor and #Blogchat.
But if I had ever started trying to monetize #Blogchat because I simply wanted a new source of income, then that would have changed the dynamic completely. Then the end goal becomes making more money, and it’s a very slippery slope to go down, because if making more money is your top goal, the benefit to your Twitter chat community can easily take a backseat. Which can lead to the community resenting your efforts to monetize, and the whole ball of wax quickly backfires and you lose what allowed you the chance to monetize in the first place: Your community.
So my advice is if you want to monetize, make sure there’s a clear benefit to your community from doing so. I have turned down several sponsorship opportunities simply because I didn’t see how the sponsor’s involvement would benefit #blogchat and make it worth the community’s time. Likewise, I have turned down some brands that wanted to sponsor #Blogchat simply because I didn’t think it was the most effective way that brand could use its money. There’s a potential short-term loss from doing this, but in the long-run it benefits you. I’ve had very little pushback over the last couple of years as I started selectively bringing on sponsors to #Blogchat. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive to having sponsors and I hope that’s because the people that show up to #Blogchat every week understand that I’m not going to bring on a sponsor unless I think it’s a good fit for us.
For example, there’s no sponsor for #Blogchat this month. Why? Because I couldn’t find a sponsor that I thought was a good fit for us. There’s no need to monetize just for the sake of monetizing. If it works for both the sponsor and #Blogchat then awesome. But if not, then I walk away. BTW I could not be happier with the recent sponsorship that #Blogchat had with Paper.Li and I’ve roped Paper.Li’s Community Manager Kelly Hungerford into writing a post here soon that will go into more detail about that, and Paper.Li itself.
So if you are running a Twitter chat and want to bring on sponsors, here’s the steps I would follow:
1 – Always start the monetization/sponsorship discussion by asking yourself this question: How is this going to benefit this community and help me take the chat to the next level? It is FAR too easy to think that you need to start making some money from your Twitter chat in order to justify the time you spend with it. On this issue I will side with Twitter chat organizers because I don’t think a lot of the people that participate in Twitter chats really understand the amount of work that the organizers put into them. It can easily become a part-time job. But as an organizer, I think you will ultimately make MORE money from your chat if you focus those efforts around how that money can help you grow the chat itself.
2 – Make sure that people know that you are wanting and accepting sponsors. In 2011 I did 7 Live #Blogchats, and these events were my main source of income that year. Here’s how they got started: In early January 2011 I was crunching the numbers to see if I could afford to attend SXSW. I realized that it was going to cost well over $2,000 for my flight, badge, hotel and food. There was just no way I could justify spending that much money. I was pissed, but I refused to give up on going to SXSW. So I started brainstorming ways to come up with the money for the trip. Completely on a whim, I threw up this post here asking if anyone wanted to sponsor a Live #Blogchat at SXSW. Amazingly, within 15 minutes I started getting offers from potential sponsors, and within an hour the main sponsor was on board. I. Was. Stunned. But it goes to show that you can’t assume that sponsors will come to you, you have to let them know that you are interested. BTW if you are interested in sponsoring #Blogchat next month, now’s a great time to email me for details. I would advise you to create a page on your blog with sponsorship details like the one I have here for #Blogchat sponsorships.
3 – When you find a sponsor that is interested, make sure you structure their involvement so that it enhances the chat experience, instead of detracting from it. One way I do this is by being extremely picky about the topics of the chats during a sponsor’s involvement. Whenever I flesh out the topics for a month that a sponsor is involved in #Blogchat, we work to find a happy medium between covering topics that benefit the sponsor, but that are also interesting and valuable to the community. The last thing you want to do is bring on a sponsor, and suddenly change the topics to subjects that benefit the sponsor, but have little to no value for your community. That’s a big signal to the community that bringing on the sponsor changed things, and not for the better.
4 – Make sure the sponsor will get their money’s worth. When the sponsor is interested, have a frank discussion with them about what they want to see happen as a result of the sponsorship. And don’t settle for ‘oh we just want more exposure’. Figure out what positive change you want to happen for the sponsor as a result of being associated with your chat. Maybe it could be signups, maybe it could be a trial of the sponsor’s service (like Paper.Li did last month), but there needs to be something that the sponsor can measure and when their sponsorship ends, they can look at and easily decide if the sponsorship is worth their time and money.
Here’s an example of a sponsor I turned down. They provided hosting for bloggers, and although their service is very highly-rated, I felt the price-point would be too expensive for many #blogchat members. I told them that a sponsorship would likely get them few if any new signups, and wouldn’t be worth their money. Even though they were ready to pay, I turned down the money. You have to look out for the best interests of potential sponsors as well as your chat community.
5 – Always strive for a win-win-win solution. When the smoke clears, you should be able to look at see how you benefited as the chat host, how the chat members benefited, and how the sponsor benefited. If all three parties don’t benefit, then it doesn’t work. Always strive for a solution where everyone wins. Oh and if someone has to take a slightly shorter stick, make sure it’s you. It will benefit you in the long-term.
So there’s some thoughts and tips on getting sponsors for your Twitter chat based on what’s worked for me. Your mileage may definitely vary, but I hope this is helpful.