6 Ideas for Patreon after 6 Years on the Platformimage
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6 Ideas for Patreon after 6 Years on the Platform

I spend a lot of time thinking about the tools that help creators run their businesses. And sometimes, that leads me to ideas on how these tools of the trade can be improved. I’ve been on Patreon since 2014, and I’ve been a creator on Patreon since 2016. So, in honor of those 6 years, I’m going to outline 6 product ideas I think could help the platform achieve its mission of, “funding the creative class”.

Quick disclaimer that I’m a user of the platform operating on imperfect information mostly biased by my own experiences. I don’t work at Patreon nor have access to the user-data they do. There are probably reasons why these ideas don’t exist - I’m just having fun. If you work at Patreon and you like any of these ideas, hit me up.

1. Tips / One-Time Purchases

The Problem

Creators are missing out on cash money because there are people in their audience who want to support them, but don’t want to commit to a monthly membership.

Small creators I think especially miss out. While going through the process of building an audience and developing their content style, small creators might have breakout hits that reach a large audience that they could convert to make a one time purchase (a la BuyMeACoffee). However, because these breakout videos are usually the first touchpoint they have with a new audience, they don’t have the relationship yet to convert these supporters to full-fledged memberships.

I’m speaking from personal experience here. I’ve gotten multiple messages from patrons that said their reason for canceling their membership was that they only wanted to “donate” a certain amount of money. That’s also why I changed my tiers and benefits to basically recreate BuyMeACoffee’s format. People just wanted to give me money for my work - they didn’t care about accessing the patron’s only feed which was what my base-tier benefit was before.

Larger creators miss out because identifying, engaging, and activating your biggest supporters is vital to growing your business. By lowering the barrier to be a supporter, creators then have more customer data that they can use to reengage these supporters and even convert them to monthly members in the future.

A lot of creators already setup something like this by being on Patreon AND BuyMeACoffee. They use it as a way for their audience to make one-time purchases. Feli From Germany sums it up well in her profile description.

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She’s had 478 people support her on BuyMeACoffee and she has 259 patrons on Patreon.

The Solution

Obviously, Patreon could pretty quickly just copy BuyMeACoffee, but I think there’s an opportunity to be a little more innovative. An interesting play could be to actually allow creators to sell a digital download or a personalized message to these one-time supporters.

I’m always weary about using the word “Donation” in terms of creator business because creators aren’t non-profits. These are people providing real value that should be supported with real monetary transactions. So, I think the idea of making this a one-time purchase feature makes more sense.

At the end of the day, it’s all about providing a solution that gets more people through that top of funnel - and one-time purchases I think would expand the funnel drastically for creators.

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns...

Obviously...I’m pretty passionate about this one 😆. Patreon does have a stance on one-time-payments, and it seems like the only reason they haven’t done it is out of principle:

Screen Shot 2022-02-10 at 9.07.23 AM.png

I’d be interested to know how they concluded adding one-time payments for creators is contrary to the mission of “funding the creative class” 🧐?

From a technical perspective, I wonder how this would affect / integrate with batching transactions and how payments are currently processed for memberships?

Another consideration I’d say is how to design this new feature in a way that doesn’t take away from the user experience that drives conversions to full patrons? We don’t want any audience member going to Patreon with the intent of becoming a monthly subscriber, realizing they could just make a one-time purchase, and choosing that instead.

But that’s also a really hard case to test for because it’s similar to someone coming to the platform with that same intent, and then not converting and dropping out of the funnel. Hard to differentiate the causality in that case.

2. Upgrade Membership Email Campaigns

The Problem

Right now, there isn’t a great way for creators with large communities to target patrons at certain tiers and convince them to upgrade their subscriptions. Messages allows you to batch send a message to all patrons at a certain tier, but that medium is almost too intimate and personalized a place to ask for more money. More sophisticated creators use Mailchimp or another marketing newsletter system to do this kind of target advertising, but I think there’s room here for an on-platform solution.

The Solution

One idea would be to allow creators to enable and customize targeted email campaigns for patrons at different tiers. Every month or so, these simple, templated emails could go out with some auto-generated or custom copy and a reminder of what’s awaiting the patron at the next tier.

These types of emails are used a ton in SaaS products and normal subscription sales. I think making it really easy for creators who might not have the tools, time, or team to maintain drip campaigns like this could be a huge boon for their businesses.

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns...

My concern about this one is that it would add to an already scattered and disorganized creator dashboard - and therefore would be hidden and never get used. There is also a concern that patrons get annoyed by these marketing emails from creators and then end up having a negative association with their membership on the platform.

These are all testable concerns, though. This feature would probably be an easy thing to prototype in a Concierge style with a few creators and their patrons.

3. Discount Codes / Exclusive Offers / Free Trial

The Problem

In sales, there are generally two types of pricing offers: additive and subtractive. Additive offers give the customer more value at the same price. Subtractive offers give the customer the same value for a discounted price. In most cases, subtractive offers are more effective than additive offers. People love feeling like they got a sweet deal more than getting something they didn’t want for free.

Currently on Patreon, creators have tools to perform additive, limited-time offers: free-stickers, live-stream tickets, etc. However, they don’t have a way to give subtractive offers to their fans and communities. I think that if they did, it would be a game-changer for driving conversion of their supporters and growing their businesses.

The Solution

There are a few new product offerings that could solve this problem for creators. The first is a simple discount codes feature. Like in Shopify, Square Space, or Stripe, creators could generate codes that give their supporters a discount when they become a patron on Patreon. They could have expirations or could be indefinitely usable and shared with specific parts of their community (i.e. by joining a creator’s Discord, fans get access to a 10% discount code).

This discounts feature could also be extended and used to generate exclusive, time-bound offers. So, if a streamer on Twitch for example was really proud of their community’s engagement on a stream, they could reward the chat with a discount code only valid until the stream ends.

Another idea to drive conversion would be to take a page out of the SaaS playbook and enable creators to offer free trials of certain tiers. Creators could choose how long to time-box the trial (i.e. 7, 14, 30 days) and at the end of the trial period, the Patron’s card would start being charged the regular membership amount for that tier. This system works extremely well in SaaS as a way of giving customers value up front so they can see the benefit, get hooked on the product, and then want to continue their membership.

I think the same process could apply really well to a creator’s Patreon benefits.

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns...

From an implementation perspective, I can’t imagine this would be too heavy of a lift. However, as an MVP, you could get permission from a group of creators to run fake discount offerings on their pages. You’d just have the price the creator set be the discounted price and have the “normal” price be something a few dollars higher and A/B test to see how it affects supporter conversion.

This is definitely something I think would have to be co-created and tested with a diverse group of creators on the platform to see how it affects conversions and how creators choose to integrate the discounts into their content and marketing.

I think there could be a lot of neat ideas creators come up with because of this feature and could lead to something even more interesting down the line.

4. Private Instagram Integration

The Problem

By far one of the best integrations Patreon has on the platform is their Discord bot. This bot allows creators to automatically add their patrons to private channels in their Discord communities. This enables creators to give their patrons access to private content and build more personal relationships with their greatest fans.

However, not all creators run their private communities on Discord. A lot of beauty and lifestyle influencers use private Instagrams for this purpose.

The Solution

I think a good way to help these creators build membership businesses is by creating an Instagram integration that automatically approves follow requests from Patrons on their private Instagrams.

Super simple - also could probably be built in a day depending on how strict the Meta/Instagram API is.

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns...

I’m not sure how needle moving this feature would be. To my knowledge, there aren’t a ton of creators on Patreon who primarily do Instagram content, and these creators usually build their businesses on the backs of brand deals rather than membership.

Also, as I think through implementation details from a technical perspective, it might be a heavier lift than I initially thought due to the authentication system Facebook uses.

Might be a dud, but still an idea to explore. Moving on.

5. A la carte Benefits

The Problem

Since the dawn of Patreon, creators have had a problem identifying which benefits are actually valuable to their communities. This is big problem for creators. Providing a benefit to patrons when they couldn’t care less about receiving it is a waste of a creator’s time and money.

To get around this, creators hack together solutions to get feedback from their patrons by running polls, sending surveys, or piloting different benefit structures every 6 months and hoping their patrons are happy with the change and not angry with it.

The greater issue here, I think, is that benefits on Patreon compound as patrons upgrade to higher tiers. So, creators never really know which benefits are actually being used by their patrons and which ones excite new members to join.

The Solution

One idea to solve this would be to restructure the way tiers and benefits work. Rather than having tiers be the only thing with prices - benefits could have prices as well. Creators could have a base-tier for instance that gets a member access to:

  1. The Patrons-Only Feed (a given).
  2. A free sticker shipped to their house.

But the creator has calculated the that the cost of sending out those stickers to free members is worth at least a third of that membership price - printing shipping labels, stuffing the envelope, writing a personal note, etc.

The creator then could list the Patron Feed as a 2/monthbenefitandthestickerasa2/month benefit and the sticker as a 1/month benefit. Then, when a new patron goes to checkout, they could pay the full 3forallofthebenefitsoruncheckthestickerbenefitandonlypay3 for all of the benefits - or **uncheck** the sticker benefit and only pay 2/month.

Then, over time, creators could look at their benefits analytics and see what benefits their patrons actually care about and will pay for. This enables them to iterate their benefits with real data and not just guess and check with qualitative answers from their patrons. They also don’t have to waste time fulfilling benefits that their patrons don’t care about - letting them dedicate more time to building their business.

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns...

I identified this as one possible solution to this problem, but I’m not sure it’s the most elegant. It would take a serious lift to make this happen because it touches so many aspects of the platform - from the creator dashboard all the way to the checkout screen.

So, this would definitely be a feature that would require some some serious stakeholder buy-in and a ton of prototypes, creator-interviews, and work with business development to see if it’s even worth implementing.

This problem needs to be solved in some way though - because I think a lot of creators burnout on Patreon from fulfilling obscene benefit tiers when, if they had the data, they might see that 80% of their patrons just want to give them money for their regular content.

6. Pinned TikTok Comment

The Problem

Right now, it’s very hard to build a business as a creator on TikTok. Hank Green’s exposé on TikTok’s Creator Fund sums it up well. Also, by nature of content length and cultural practices on the platform, it’d be weird and hard to put in a plug for your merch, online store, or Patreon page. Like many IG creators, TikTokers end up putting a link in their bio and hoping their super fans visit their profile page (very unlikely on TikTok) and click the link to support them.

However, there are TikTok creators building communities, sharing knowledge, and providing value that deserves to be funded.

The Solution

One tool available to TikTok creators is the ability to pin a comment at the top of the comments section. TikTok comments are a huge space for a creator’s community to interact and come alive. So, I propose a simple tool that automatically pins a default comment to all of a creators videos that lets them link their Patreon page.

This is a simple integration that could probably be built in a day through the TikTok API.

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns...

This is by no means a game-changing feature to Patreon as a platform. The value of building this I think would be to show a large and growing community of primarily young, new creators that Patreon cares about helping them build a business. It’s early relationship building so that when/if any of these creators do successfully move their communities to a more established platform like YouTube or Twitch, they already have a relationship with Patreon.

It’s a long-game play with a really short technical lift. Good, helpful, PR stunt. Honestly, I might just do this 😆.

Wrap Up

What do you think of the ideas on this list? DM me on Twitter! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, if you work in product at Patreon - hit me up! I’d love to hear where my thinking aligns with Patreon’s goals and where it doesn’t.

Until next time.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Friday, February 11, 2022

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


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