Our Patreon Growth Experiment, Part 10

Coming to terms with our first major plateau in giving

Sean Howard
Dec 26, 2019 · 9 min read
Screenshot of Pledge Growth showing levelling off from June to November

Our Patreon support entered a six month plateau where the total amount pledged was mostly static from June to November of 2019.

December is picking back up due to a special offer we are running, and while I will speak to this, I first want to focus on the plateau that appears to be exacerbated by the deleted and decreased pledges in September and October.

The red bars show deleted/decreased pledges that increased strongly in Sep and Oct 2019

Data tells us what happened, but often not why it is happening.

  • Is it because we hadn’t put out a show on our main Alba Salix feed in a long time?
  • Could it be because most of the bonus episodes we managed to put out in this period were for Other Bothers and not our other shows on the Alba feed?
  • Are we seeing a weakening of the economy and people are having to cut back their spending?

When people cancel their pledge they are offered an exit survey by Patreon. It’s important to note that this exit survey is a single multiple-choice list with only a single option where they can write in an answer under “other”. Most of the time, people choose “My financial situation changed” even if this isn’t the full reason. We’ve done the same. Saying that our financial situation changed is easier than saying something hurtful or challenging to a creator.

In reviewing the exit survey data that Patreon provides, almost all of the decreased pledges were listed as “My financial situation changed.” As just stated, this is likely not the full reason for their change in support. We did see an increase in people also selecting “Some other reason” (super helpful, Patreon) and one person on Aug 20 chose “Eli McIlveen and Sean Howard wasn’t as active as I expected”.

Grammar aside, this last data point gives me pause. If one person felt like we weren’t putting out as much content as expected, it’s entirely possible more people also felt that way. But I wanted a better way to gather information from those who were leaving us as supporters. So I launched a new exit survey.

A New Exit Survey

I wanted to better understand what we can improve or do differently when people choose to leave us as supporters. This would be in addition to our annual supporter survey, only this survey would be sent to those people who had chosen to stop supporting us on Patreon.

This seemed like the perfect time to try out a free account with: https://www.integromat.com/.

A screenshot from Integromat

Integromat is like Zapier on steroids. We can build trigger-based-automations using visual diagrams with logic and filters. In this case, I just needed a simple two step automation.

Every time someone deletes their pledge in our Patreon, it now triggers an email from my Gmail account. This email thanks them for their support and asks them if they will fill out a simple, three question exit survey using Google Forms.

I’m using a more qualitative approach from customer research where we ask what we could improve and also what we did really well. And I also want to check in on how in love with our shows they are. Some people fall out of love with a show. It happens and that would also drive a drop in support.

All of this is done using free tools and I launched it on Christmas day. We haven’t had any deleted pledges yet, so stay tuned as we test and optimize this to see if we can learn something valuable or help to understand what are the real drivers for losing supporters.

Note: In the past, we have sent personal emails to people who had left and while this generated good data, it was difficult to do as it felt emotionally intrusive. This feels more socially acceptable to implement. We shall see.

While we wait for data from the new exit survey, I wanted to see what we could learn from the data we have now. A review of our published episodes shows that we stopped putting out as many bonus episodes for our $5 and up supporters during this plateau period. We were all-hands-on-deck working on releasing Season 2 of The Axe and Crown.

We also hadn’t released a full episode on the Alba Salix, Royal Physician feed from December 2018 to November 2019.

This last one is big.

Working with other creators has shown me that nearing the one year mark with no episodes released is dangerous and can precipitate a significant drop in support. We had gone 11 months.

The third show in our Patreon, but with its own feed, is The End of Time and Other Bothers and it was in a planned period of no releases from October 10 to December 22. This seems less of an issue as it’s a small break.

The only other factor I can think of is that we also missed some of our weekly Farlorian Friday bonuses. These are for all patrons of every level and are supposed to go out every Friday. But our recent findings around visibility of Patreon posts suggests that many people aren’t even aware of these in the best of times.

So out of all this, we have to return to no major episodes released for 11 months on our Alba Salix feed.

It’s indeed likely that the spike in lost support was driven by simply going so long without a major episode released for our largest show.

I’m not 100% convinced that bonus episodes or other bonus content couldn’t have removed some of the impact, but this is where my bias comes into the picture.

Does anyone see what we post on Patreon?

On Dec 22nd, I released a pretty disheartening report on how the strong majority of our Patreon supporters are not viewing our content or seeing our communications.

And the response was a little heated within the community. Because Internet.

We all suffer from bias.

For those who have chosen to not create gated content for their supporters, the above findings are likely seen as proof that Patreon supporters don’t give a damn about all these notifications or bonus content; they just want to help out a creator they like. “I don’t want perks and neither do my fans.”

For people like us at Fable and Folly Productions who have invested an insane amount of time and resources every week into creating content and engaging with, this is instead seen as a communication challenge that we have to fix ASAP. “Clearly some of our community must want this content and they just aren’t seeing these notices!”

The answer is likely a mixture of the two: there are definitely people that just want to support the creators they enjoy and there are those who love getting access to more content, seeing behind the scenes and even hanging out with their favourite creators.

So this led to us switching almost all patron communications to Aweber, our newsletter and email partner and our social media channels. We will continue to release content on Patreon, but will now look to tell people about it via a monthly email, Discord promotions and across social channels.

Our Annual Special Offer

We haven’t talked about December yet. You may have noticed on the opening chart a big uptick in December and the month isn’t even over yet. This is due to a special offer we are running and this is the second year in a row where we have done a special offer in December.

A Special Offer is a marketing and business tool you can use to boost fan engagement, and increase your earnings on Patreon. With a Special Offer, you can create and promote a benefit — a digital reward, insider access, merch — that is only available for a limited time.

Our special offer launched on December 2, and this time we wanted to try a tiered offer. The idea was simple: for every five supporters (new or upgrading) at the $5 level, we add another item to the reward we are sending out.

So far, it has been highly successful as it brought us out of our plateau and over the $600 a month gross for the first time, ever. As always, the success of a special offer is lots of promotion. And be sure to plan drops on your podcast feed that promote it strongly as well.

The advantage of the tiered offer is we can go out with a new video and announcement every five supporters. We all want to know what the new item is and we can share our gratitude and excitement as well as a push to hit the next tier.

Here is one of my videos announcing the next tier items.

Don’t feel left out! You can also participate by visiting: patreon.com/albasalix

Takeaways

Okay. This was a lot. What are our outstanding questions? What are the concrete actions and learnings we are carrying forward?

Here are the actionable takeaways for us at this time:

  1. We are no longer using Patreon’s Message feature to communicate with new patrons as our experience strongly suggests they just don’t tend to see them.
  2. We have switched to doing our monthly production updates via our Aweber newsletter where we can better reach our supporters and call out new content (exclusive and public).
  3. We have deployed our own exit survey using a free account with Integromat and Google Forms. You could also use Zapier or another automation service. More to follow on this.
  4. We have done more work on our production processes to ensure our production schedule includes bonus episodes and weekly team meetings.
  5. We can not go more than 9 months without a major release on the Alba Salix feed.
  6. Our onboarding of new supporters is being completely overhauled. We are keeping Bonjoro (as people see those) but will now send a personal email to every new supporter with their list of initial perks.

But we have a lot more questions than answers:

  • Will growth continue after our special offer?
  • Will our growth be driven by the $5 bonus scenes we have back in our production calendar? Assuming people know about them?
  • What can we learn from the new exit survey? Will people fill it out?
  • Will shifting to using email to communicate with our supporters help to drive better engagement with posts? And help overcome churn (pledge decrease/deletions)?
  • We are hard at work on answering as many of these questions as we can. We look forward to your input and questions, as well. What changes are you considering?

Looking for the next part in the series where Sean shares a FREE supplemental dashboard for Patreon?

***

Sean Howard is the co-creator with Eli McIlveen of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and you can can see all of their shows at Fable and Folly Productions. He can be reached via Twitter or email.

Sean is also looking for his next full-time gig in 2020. Looking for a digital strategist with a love of numbers, podcasts and customer-first research? Hit him up on his website.

Sean Howard

Written by

Sean writes and produces 3 audio dramas in the world of Alba Salix at http://www.albasalix.com including The End of Time and Other Bothers at otherbothers.com

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