COVID-19 effect: Inside the Patreon pivot

How the membership platform, needing a quick aboutface in the wake of coronavirus restrictions, turned its concert event into a streamathon that was all about community.

Patreon was all set to host its events over three days during the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, but it was cancelled when everything shut down to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The team shifted gears and in its place debuted 'Weird Stream-A-Thon', a virtual bonanza focused heavily on supports the arts and. performance community.

SXSW is an annual film, music and creative festival and conference which usually runs each year in Austin, Texas, in the middle of March. Patreon senior events marketing manager, Jane Kwett, told CMO the membership platform had been planning for its second year at SXSW but about a week ahead of time, it got the message it was to be cancelled completely.

“This had been roughly six months of our team and a lot of resources going into a three-day hosted event. We had 42 artists talk on panels and musical showcases. It was a very large-scale event with a lot of moving parts,” Kwett said.

When the extent of the shutdown started to become clear, the team shifted gears. The result was a three-hour livestream event to help raise funds for artists, performers and creators impacted by COVID-19.

“It was becoming clearer that this was going to hit artists really, really hard. And artists are our community,” Kwett continued.

“So we pulled in a lot of the creators who were supposed to be at our house. They were enthusiastically ready to partake and we had everybody on our team supporting it.”

Patreon has committed the funds raised during the streamathon to a new grant program, What the Fund, and is putting together a diverse committee of creators to review applications and pick recipients of these funds.

Switching to virtual

First was the logistical and workload challenge of creating the virtual event in a week. But Patreon also needed to get the right tone, given the gravity of the crisis brought on by the pandemic and the shutdowns, Kwett explained.

“It was about how you do something fun while also being sensitive to the things that are happening in people's lives and the impact,” she said.

“We’re very heart-forward as a company so we tapped into that authentic sensibility and listened to our creators, listened to what’s happening for them and let them take more of the stage. That was really special.”

Nonetheless, Patreon was still faced with the challenge of getting the reach for its event, even though it has a ready-made platform of creators and fans and supporters. The company used Splash’s enterprise capabilities to help pivot to an online experience and in the end had 7000 fans register and 10,000 viewers attend the streamathon.

Since that first event, Patreon has taken the idea and broken it down into smaller, regular events. It’s now developed a weekly series as an extension, which enables artists to see other artists on a regular basis and be able to connect with each other online. 

“It’s a smaller version where people can show up and take a break from whatever they're going through and learn about a new artist or listen to a new song and also have that inspiration,” Kwett said.

Reflecting on the rapid shift to a completely virtual performance event, Kwett said it’s about working in a way that’s authentic but also appealing by tapping into the community and what it needs and what it wants in the moment. And while it might seem counter-intuitive given the shift in execution, she said it’s not a time to “overthink strategy”.

“It’s about what you need rather than the message,” Kwett said. “As a marketer, sometimes you get so consumed by your own message, you kind of forget about what your community needs to hear.”

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