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Ready to join the sub club?

Paid-subscription platforms like Patreon and Substack are booming, so how can membership organisations use these platforms to reach a new audience? Mel Stewart investigates

Social media offers powerful platforms where brands can market their products and services, but a new spin-off in the digital space is emerging in paid subscription sites such as Patreon and Substack that are providing another route to customers.

The sites enable content creators to build and connect with a loyal band of followers, who are willing to pay to access their content because they believe in what the creator is doing.

New route to the Shetland Isles

Tour guide and travel writer Laurie Goodlad lives in the Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland. When her tour business was shut down during the pandemic she looked to new ways to supplement her income. As a keen writer and social media user, she set up a Patreon page called Shetland with Laurie which offers exclusive content to paid subscribers interested in making a trip.

‘Patreon was a happy accident,’ she says. ‘During the pandemic, I had to think about fresh ways to reach my audience, add value and earn an income. Since then, I have kept the platform and continue to grow it. It feels like a sustainable arm of my business an helps create a largely passive income.’

For Laurie, a key benefit of the Patreon platform is that it gives her the chance to connect with her target audience on a personal level:

‘It feels like a safe space for me as a creator. The people are there because they want to hear from me, and I feel I can really be myself without having to worry about appealing to a wide audience.’

Laurie Goodlad

In terms of creating this content, Laurie reckons it’s important to mix things up to keep her audience interested. She shares tour inspiration, travel itineraries and exclusive video content, and hosts quarterly Zoom parties where she invites subscribers to join her for live Q&A sessions and chat. Subscribers who travel to Shetland also receive tour discounts and a free walking tour.

Laurie offers three levels of subscription, starting from £3 and capping at £15. The more people pay, the more access they have to exclusive content.

While Laurie’s Patreon page helps top up her monthly income, for others, paid-subscription sites have become their main revenue stream. Substackers like writer Emma Gannon earn up to six figures each year. Their secret? Building an engaged community. By connecting people who share the same interests, values and experiences – and providing them with regular, quality content – they build a large audience.

How to harness the power of paid subscription sites for your brand

1. Know your niche

The most successful subscription sites have a distinct focus and know their demographic. Clearly define the purpose and goals of your community.

2. Be transparent

Paid-subscription creators communicate clearly the value that subscribers receive in exchange for their subscription fee. Show your members how they’ll get their money’s worth.

3. Provide added value

Engage with your community beyond the content. Offer exclusive offers and discounts, or organise live Q&As and invite your members to interact.

4. Personalise your approach

Substack offers personalised content recommendations, which enhances user engagement. Employ data-driven strategies to personalise your member communications.

5. Experiment and adapt

Don’t be afraid to try new ways to engage with members. If something doesn’t work, ditch it. The beauty of content creation is that it’s incredibly flexible.