If you run a forum and are thinking of how to monetise it then it might be worth popping along to Moneysavingexpert.com later today. They’re teaming up with the award winning Skimlinks for a one month trial to see if they can get their massive vBulletin forum generating revenue. Skimlinks have developed a plugin for vBulletin that rewrites selected words and phrases into affiliate links.

It’s not surprising that MSE are running this trial. Forums aren’t the easiest thing to monetise! Users tend to dislike intrusive adverts and subscriptions cause additional work and headaches. If you’re thinking of adding a forum to your site then stop and think carefully about it. On one hand they can be brilliant, usually when all is running well and the users are lovely. However, they can be very time consuming and a huge drain on resources.

If you’re not earning money from managing the forum, spending hours dealing with admin issues can be very frustrating on a lot of levels.

According to an announcement on MSE they’re hoping Skimlinks will “allow the forum to cover some of its costs – if so we may be able to use it to expand resources”. They also say “It has no adverts (no one can pay to be on the site) and does not generate any income.” These comments do make you wonder whether the MSE forum is becoming a bit of a drain on their resources?

So, it’ll be interesting to see how this trial progresses!

Firstly will forum users embrace the presence of Skimlinks? Forum users tend to be quite vocal on new technology or interference in their activity. Will they ignore the links? Will they see them as an intrusion? Or will they take to them like a duck to water and start earning MSE commission? If the latter then expect a few more forum users trialling Skimlinks in the coming months.

From an affiliate point of view there are also things to consider. In one addition of a bit of code there’s suddenly a new affiliate in town. OK, not quite a new affiliate as MSE has always been one, but they’ve just expanded their reach quite a bit. A whole bunch of affiliate links dropped on to a top 10 UK social network can only mean some extra added competition for that last click!

Slightly deeper than that though is will it open up user eyes into the world of affiliates? Will it make them more wary of links – “don’t click on that it’s an affiliate link”? Or perhaps it might make them more aware that sites and forums can’t run on fresh air forever and that they need to support them by shopping via affiliate links?

Then of course there’s the “what if it doesn’t work” element of the equation. I’d be surprised if MSE was poor in terms of income, but can it sustain a continually evolving forum that “does not generate any income”? Skimlinks seems to be a good idea to try and address that issue, especially if MSE maintain their “no paid advertising” stance.

As a siteowner who also has a number of “does not generate any income” elements on site (adsense, affiliates, banners = doesn’t work) I’m particularly interested in seeing how this trial pans out. I’m sceptical simply because whilst I think the technology is lovely, I’m not sure if it’ll be lovingly embraced by the most important element of a site – the user.

But, if Skimlinks works for MSE then it’ll be kudos to them for turning a moneysaving forum into a moneymaker.