Have you ever wondered how other creators are using data to inform the content they create, the engagement of their their audience, and their future success? Read on to hear rich data insights from Patreon creator Steve Thorne from Flight Chops!
I recently interviewed Steve Thorne, filmmaker and aviator who makes immersive flying videos over on his content-packed Patreon page. Steve was originally a cinematographer working in industry, but with the age of goPro, he started experimenting with filming his flights and using his expert editing skills to craft context-filled flying videos. Initially using these videos to improve his own skills as a pilot and to show to a few friends, Steve eventually shared his videos with a wider audience, and — let's just say, his videos really took off within the flying community.
I was interested in how Steve uses data and analytics to inform his business. Especially for new creators, it can be overwhelming to think of the data at your fingertips, whether you’re scrolling through your own Patreon creator dashboard, or diving into your YouTube or Google analytics for your content or website. Steve had a ton of advice to share, especially about the existing wealth of data resources and how to tweak content based on data insights.
When Steve got started on Patreon, one of the first things he looked at was conversion. He compared subscriber counts on YouTube to patron numbers, to get a sense of his expected success before launching his page. “In the niche that I’m in, I didn’t expect it to go as well as it went, just because of the numbers,” Steve says.
“The people that make popular videos on YouTube are looking for a mainstream audience and they have a giant subscriber base…they can take a tiny fraction of it and get a good Patreon return. So I was looking at those ratios thinking ‘man, if I get the same conversion rate that those guys are getting, it’ll be terrible.’”
But because Steve was hitting a niche audience, his conversion ended up being much better than expected. This is a great example of how numbers can be misleading: despite some creators with lower conversion, Steve was able to find a niche community where more people were willing to support his work.
Steve also uses the creator dashboard to see earnings history over time. Specifically, he studies trends and spikes to understand his business: “I can see when spikes happen, and I can understand what worked and what didn’t work.” He mentioned digging into the numbers when a video goes viral, to understand if those views are converting to pledges:
“It’s interesting when something goes viral…to see whether or not that correlates to an earnings spike, whether it was the content or was it the numbers. In some cases, those giant ones that go viral don’t change the numbers, and in other times I have videos that don’t get big numbers but do get an earnings spike, so I can say ‘ok, it was the content in this case that helped sell my page.’”
Resources off Patreon also provide insights: Steve uses Graphtreon to study his page’s pledge trends over time and YouTube analytics to get insight on his content. For example, Steve changed around his formula for formatting his videos to improve viewer retention based on insights from the YouTube retention tool. Seeing where people clicked off on his videos helped him understand where to make the content more engaging.
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One of the coolest ways Steve has used data is to project future earnings. Looking at his creator dashboard, he was able to estimate how much he would earn in the future based on his current upwards-trending earnings (shown below) and take a risk because of it:
“I took a much bigger risk based on the current revenue at the time, but I used the revenue growth curve to project that I would recoup the production costs over time assuming we gathered enough raw material for at least 5 episodes. It turned out that was a conservative estimate.”
Looking at how your earnings are trending over time can allow you to better budget next month’s spending, and in Steve’s case, can even provide the confidence that you’ll earn enough later to make up for a big expense now.
When I asked Steve about his advice for new creators, he stressed the ol’ adage “build it, and they will come:”
“You don’t have numbers until you have numbers and you can’t have numbers until you build great content. You have to build great content and believe that it will work. And then you look at the numbers to see if it’s working, and then you tweak from there.”
Data is useful, but it’s not useful until you have some content and at least a small community off of which to drive insights. Steve’s recommendation is to “figure out what it is that engages your community...then watch the numbers to see what’s working and tweak.”
I couldn’t agree more.
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