Patreon’s CEO breaks down the company’s ‘next chapter’ and why he’s all in on community tools like group chats

  • Patreon launched its first major community-focused tools: group chats and profiles.
  • Now a decade old, the creator-economy company is eyeing its “next chapter.”
  • Patreon CEO and cofounder Jack Conte broke down what the company’s new priorities are.

Subscriptions to your favorite creators or podcasts, according to Patreon, are insufficient. Fans and creators alike want connections that go beyond content consumption.

Patreon, a pioneering subscription service founded in 2013 to assist creators in making money, launched its first major community-focused features earlier this month: group chats and profiles.

Creators can now use the platform’s in-app group chat tools to communicate with their most devoted Patreon supporters. Currently, creators can launch up to four separate chats and control which tiers of members have access to these chats. Fans can now create custom profiles within the Patreon app, which include information such as how long they have been a patron of the creator.

“We often say that creators have never felt further from their fans, and fans have never felt further from each other,” said Sam Haveson, community product lead at Patreon. “A lot of the work we’ve been doing with community is getting back to the heart of niche communities, the heart of creator fandoms.”

The decision to launch these features marks the start of what Patreon cofounder and CEO Jack Conte has dubbed the company’s “next chapter.”

“We’re a decade old,” Conte said to Insider. “We’re expanding beyond membership, and we’re thinking of ourselves more as a creator company, a fandom company, a company that helps creators and fandoms build energized communities and be successful.”

Patreon has introduced several other features in the last year that have expanded its in-app offerings, such as video content native to Patreon and commerce tools that allow creators to sell digital goods.

According to Conte, Patreon plans to solve three problems for creators in the future.

Patreon is focused on three key areas:

  • Offering creators an algorithm-free platform for content sharing. To put it another way, “creative freedom,” as Conte put it. “For a creator, there’s this huge pressure now to make what you think is going to ride the algo,” Conte added. “Instead of making what you want to make and what you feel is self-expressive from your heart, there’s this feeling that in order to get distribution, I have to follow the rules of XYZ’s ranking algorithms.” And that is a very destructive force in terms of creativity.”
  • Increasing the number of ways for creators to communicate directly with fans. “It is impossible to run a business without being able to communicate with your employees,” Conte said. Fans of creators are the ones who buy tickets to shows or subscribe to new courses, and they frequently promote the work of creators because they enjoy it. “If you can’t reach them, you can’t build a business, you can’t build a community, and you can’t have a thriving fandom,” Conte explained.
  • Giving creators more stability in the midst of social-media change. “This third problem that we’re setting out to solve is really how to have a more stable foundation and business as a creator when you post your work online,” Conte explained. Many social media platforms were not built or designed with creators in mind, according to Conte.

Why launch community tools now?

As reported in August, social media is experiencing an existential crisis, with many users abandoning Instagram feeds in favor of a more community-focused online experience in group chats or on platforms like Discord.

Conte sees TikTok as a social-media bear in sheep’s clothing: “At the time, it was clear something big was happening, but it wasn’t really clear the scale or depth of the impact that TikTok was going to have on the entire internet and the social-media landscape.”

With hyper-curated algorithms and recommendations in every feed, creators’ online communities, which they had worked hard to build, became “diluted,” according to Conte. “Followers were not receiving messages from their favorite creators, they were not seeing posts, and they were not seeing media.” “Recommendations were clogging up their feeds.”

Mega-creators on TikTok, in particular, struggled to convert their massive followings and record-breaking views into true communities and fanbases. Patreon, which attempted to recruit several of these internet celebrities, discovered this firsthand — Insider’s Geoff Weiss reported in 2022 that the platform’s TikTokers deals fell short of expectations.

Conte wrote in a September memo to Patreon staff announcing its new community tools, which the company shared with Insider, “A ‘follow’ on TikTok means almost nothing.”

Patreon may be back in the right place at the right time after an uncertain year (it, like many other companies, had layoffs and a valuation drop).

“I’m not sure we could have approached this particular problem three years ago,” Conte said, referring to the current shift in the social-media landscape and the need for more community tools. “It wouldn’t have been needed.”

Patreon sees its outlier status as a social platform as a benefit as other platforms grapple with this new quandary, from Instagram testing more “Close Friends” options to TikTok developing social-networking tools.

“We are not trying to get 2 billion people on Patreon,” Conte explained. “You need volume when you have an ad model.” It’s all about quantity and time spent… That, however, is not our business model, nor is it how we approach the problem. We don’t even track things like time spent — if you ask me what time spent is, I literally have no idea.”

Patreon, on the other hand, is aiming to capture the die-hard fanbase of creators.

“It’s the five to 15% of your true fans,” Conte explained. “We’re not trying to get creators to migrate their entire audience to Patreon, which is what a lot of these other apps’ strategy is, because they need it.”

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