Top benefit types proven to keep members engaged — and how to use them

By Brian Keller

Photo by Jeremy Cohen, featuring Zoe Hong

In this comprehensive guide, explore strategies for offering benefits that will attract new members — and keep them coming back.

Offering benefits that are meaningful and valuable to the people who most love your work is a key to keeping your current members onboard — and getting even more fans to join your membership. But as a creator, time is an ever-precious resource. So, as you refine your membership offering, it pays to have a strategy that draws on what your fans value, as well as what you can realistically produce every month.

Here, we lay out nine next-level strategies, backed by Patreon’s in-house research and data, for delivering meaningful benefits, designed to help you grow your business, boost membership retention rates, and maximize your precious time and energy.

Set up surprise content drops

Your members are signing up based on the benefits you promise them and deliver consistently. But to really lock in high new member retention rates, it can be impactful to occasionally drop surprise content exclusively on Patreon. This approach can be a good fit for the type of creative work that you can’t commit to producing on a regular schedule, but that’s fun, energizing, and appeals to your community of super fans.

Legendary podcaster Joe Budden has embraced this concept to surprise and delight his members. His team aims to under-promise and over-deliver on the member experience. They commit to a regular content schedule in each membership tier, and they occasionally drop unexpected bonus content that their fans love, including, for example, interviews with music and culture superstars that are hard to plan for on a regular basis. Joe Budden’s team uses these buzz-worthy moments to solidify the value of membership for their existing base — and as compelling inspiration for new member sign-ups.

Reuse content from your archive

It’s tough to continually do new creative work to provide regular touch points with your members. In our research, Patreon members told us that they want content that’s consistently delivered. 80% said that in an ideal world, they would want content at least once a week. As an established creator, you probably have an untapped resource that can be a big driver of member retention: your past Patreon posts and your back catalog of episodes, videos, songs, blogs, or other content.

When a new member is joining you, they get access not just to the new posts you make on Patreon, but also all of your past posts. And while some members will explore this on their own and see the value, it also represents a way for you to add to the ongoing experience for new and established members by resurfacing or repackaging classic content.

A simple way to connect your back catalog to the new member experience? Highlight some of your favorite posts in the welcome note that you can customize to auto-send to new members. A similar tactic is to pin a post to your Patreon page, making the post always accessible to existing members, as a helpful way to orient them to key content or answers common questions.

You can also refresh your back catalog to give it new life. Savvy creators pull from their archives as a source of exclusive content to share with their members. Think back to your past episodes, videos, and posts. Do you have some favorites that your super fans would be excited to revisit? If you've shared the content with your members before, it's fair game to repost or include it in a new post. Regardless, give your members a reason to re-engage. Add the story of why it was meaningful to you or an update about the topic that’s occurred since you recorded it. Or, encourage your members to ask you questions about the piece and foster a discussion. Whether it’s your members’ first time or hundredth time watching or listening, the chance to ask questions and hear about it from you on Patreon gives your creative work a whole new dimension and another reason for members to stick around.

Musician, composer, and arranger Jherek Bischoff really taps into his back catalog well. He has a list of his major releases on Patreon that he pastes into the bottom of every new post so that members can access the brand new music and anything from the past that’s accessible through his Patreon page.

Share behind-the-scenes content

Members want to get something unique and exclusive for their monthly pledge, something that goes above and beyond the creative work they may already be able to access for free. That can feel impossible to deliver on top of your already-demanding production schedule. But it’s actually your production process itself that can be a win-win for retaining your members.

Getting a window into how you make what you make, and even to see your creative work in raw, unpolished forms can be compelling to members. So, try turning the camera on yourself, let members into the practice session, and share the draft that will never see the light of day on social media. In fact, Patreon’s data shows that creators who provide bonus content are more likely to have a growing membership base (versus a shrinking one).

Think about what you’re already producing along your way — the sort of stuff you might think of as in-progress material or what you make when you have short bits of down time. If posting this type of peek into your creative process on social media would make you slightly uncomfortable, that can be a sign that it’s the kind of “a peek behind the curtain” content your members might value. For example, the sisters behind the rock band The Warning are masters of this sort of behind-the-scenes content. They host weekly Q&A sessions with their members and film regular vlogs from the studio and while on tour. These approaches generate the feeling of a family among their passionate fanbase.

A nice thing with this approach is that you can dip your toe in without an ongoing commitment. Try posting a super quick video of you in the studio. Or post the unedited version of an episode or interview, rather than just the ad-free version for members. See how it goes both in terms of the reaction you get from your members, and the time required to post it. If members respond well and it feels like a good use of your time, keep going with it and make it a regular part of your benefits for members.

Incorporate member submissions in your content

You can think of your members as your focus group and informal contributors to your creative work. If you put out a call for feedback or input, you can count on them to participate. In some cases, you might want to make a request to your widest audience on social media. But in other scenarios, it might be better to ask your members for input, since having a deeper connection with you, the creator, in this way can help strengthen your members’ ties and add value to the benefits they get each month.

To invite member participation, consider what sort of creative work you have ahead. Maybe you need people to help contribute quotes, images, or ideas to flesh out a project or episode. Members can be your best source of input like this. Or, host Q&A sessions with your members. To get the best of both worlds, make question submission available to members only, and then publish the recording of the session in your public content. That way it’s a retention perk for members (they can ask all their burning questions), and a great way to promote your membership offerings to your wider audience.

For example, the folks behind the Limited Resources podcast regularly turn their weekly episode over to members for questions. On their Patreon, they simply post a request for questions, which yields plenty of material for them to talk about. It makes for a varied and easy episode to put together, and it’s a great perk for their members.

Host flash merch sales

Offering member-only merch promotions can be a great retention and growth strategy. Pick an approach that works for you, such as giving your members early access to new merch before it’s available to the general public, providing a discount code just for members, and saving select items just for members — or any combination of these tactics.

The duo behind the Crime Junkie podcast has made a habit of doing flash sales or opening their merch store to their fans a few days ahead of a general merch drop. By committing to this approach as a reliable benefit for members, they’re creating a reinforcing cycle that attracts new members and helps retain existing members who are excited for the next unique merch item coming in the near future.

Use Patreon’s Merch for Membership

One way to offer exclusive benefits to your members? Offer custom swag that fans will love. Merch for Membership allows you to add merch to your tiers as a benefit that is fulfilled automatically by Patreon after a member has pledged for three consecutive months. A 3% monthly fee, in addition to the Patreon base fee, covers the costs of the program, including shipping and support. You also pay for the actual cost of the merch items. Lots of creators ask, “Is it worth it?” In short: yes. Looking at launches from a six-month period and controlling for page traffic, Patreon’s data shows that, on average, creators who launch with at least one published exclusive merch item earn 15% more than those who don’t.

You can choose a one-time item that members receive after three months, or a year-long loyalty program that will send an item of your choice every three months for a year. Both options incentivize members to stick around longer — without any additional work for you. Just design your merch, and then get back to creating, while Patreon handles the rest.

The team behind the Try Guys, an independent digital production company, creatively uses Patreon loyalty merch to deliver a series of items themed around the hosts of their show. Similarly, your merch strategy can fit seamlessly into your creative business and projects. The most effective merch will make members feel special.

Revamp your membership tiers periodically

Running a creative business and a membership program involves an ongoing process of experimenting, learning, and tweaking. So, make a point to revisit and reassess what’s working (and what isn’t) — and that includes your tiers. Patreon’s research shows that creators who use two to five membership tiers earn more, on average, than creators with more tiers.

If you’re thinking about revamping your tiers, follow these steps to map out a plan:

  • Outline personal goals. Define where you’re trying to go. Do a little math to see how close you are: How many members do you have on which tier? How many more do you need to reach your goal?

  • Consolidate similar tiers. If you have tiers that are similar in price and benefits, consider combining them into one tier.

  • Retire low-performing tiers. If you have a lot of high-maintenance tiers that aren’t performing well, consider retiring them to streamline your membership or creating new tiers that provide more value. This includes tiers with very few members, ones that are time-consuming to deliver benefits for, and tiers bringing little value to your community.

The a capella group Pentatonix did a major revamp of their tiers based on a survey of their current members. Responding to what they heard from their members, the musicians introduced new tiers at the lower and higher ends of their previous range, with benefits that they knew their community would embrace. They also had a smart relaunch strategy, which included a video about the changes, opening up slots in exclusive tiers to existing members before the general public got access, and turning on annual memberships, all at the same time.

Once you’re ready to move forward with your revamp, follow these steps:

  • Poll fans and tease the change early. If you want to make sure you’ll have happy members, ask for their ideas and find out what they want. This helps introduce the change early, and it involves your community in the process. If you already know what you want to change and don’t want their feedback, then at least let them know that changes are coming and what they’ll look like.

  • Unpublish the tier you’re retiring. New members won’t be able to join an unpublished tier, but those active on that tier will still be able to access all benefits and posts until it’s been deleted. (For detailed instructions, follow the steps on how to unpublish tiers in Patreon’s help center.)

  • Inform your members about the unpublished tier. Once your tier has been unpublished, it’s important to notify your members about the change and what it means for them. Your members can stay on the retired tier, or they have the option to move to another tier.

  • Phase out benefits and tiers you no longer offer. If you choose to completely phase out benefits for your unpublished tier, or you’d like to delete the tier all together, provide members with a timeline of when they’ll need to move to an ongoing tier. Giving your members plenty of time will make the transition smoother all around. (For detailed instructions, follow the steps on how to delete tiers in Patreon’s help center.)

  • Offer something new and enticing. To encourage members to change tiers and new fans to pledge, consider running a special offer or incentivizing them with merch. Patreon’s Merch for Membership program makes it simple to offer physical rewards to your members.

By trying out these benefits strategies, you have the chance to build a stronger, more resilient membership program that keeps members involved for the long-haul. For more about membership-retention techniques, read 4 strategies for getting new members to stick around.

Want to keep the conversation going? Brainstorm about the best benefits and other membership retention strategies with fellow creators in the Official Patreon Creator Community Discord server.

Related articles