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How MCrider Uses Discourse to Facilitate an Active Community of 2,000+ Patrons

As a motorcycle riding instructor, Kevin Morris always had trouble finding enough people to fill his advanced riding classes. But the material he taught — with safety skills taking priority — was something he cared about deeply.

Kevin Morris, the creator of MCrider.

Kevin Morris, the creator behind MCrider.  

So, he took to the internet. After a brief stint blogging, he started an instructional channel on YouTube in October 2016. And a few months after that, he launched a Patreon campaign at the urging of his supporters.

The campaign grew slowly at first, but experienced rapid growth after the launch of two features:

  1. The MCrider "Field Guide," a collection of instructional information and activities (examples to follow)

  2. The MCrider forum (powered by Discourse).

MCrider's Patron Count Over Time - surges in patronage after new offerings.

Surges in patronage roughly correspond to two important rewards MCrider offers on Patreon: the Field Guide and a Discourse-powered forum. 

Today, MCrider has more than 2,000 patrons who use the forum. In our conversation, he shared details regarding how he uses the Patreon Discourse integration and which features he finds most useful for creators.

The Field Guide: From Webpage to Discourse Forum

Kevin made a significant improvement to his Patreon rewards in early 2017: the MCrider Field Guide.

MCrider's Field Guide Training Document provides tips.

The field guide is a training document with exercises and tips that riders can use while they’re out riding or practicing. It contains practical demonstrations and instructions for new riders, along with info on control, cornering exercises, and braking exercises.

Initially, he had the field guide formatted as a webpage. "The way I controlled access to it was to create a post on Patreon. Everybody used the same username and password," he explained.

It wasn’t an ideal system because there was no way to control access to the information. That’s when he got the idea to move the field guide to Discourse. He chose the full hosting package, which means that Discourse installed and hosts the forum while Kevin remains the admin. "They have been very responsive to help with any issues I have had with the forum," he said.

Thanks to the Patreon-Discourse integration, new patrons get unique forum login information automatically. And if they stop paying their monthly pledge, they’re unable to continue accessing the forum (and with it, the field guide).

Kevin listed three major benefits to moving the field guide over to Discourse (not in order of importance):

  1. Access to his content was more secure: Only current patrons can use the field guide.

  2. The field guide is much easier to navigate now than before, even on mobile devices — which is how the guide is most often accessed.

  3. He can maintain a dedicated Q&A thread for the field guide.

Let’s dive into how he uses the forum for his patrons.

To demonstrate how he’s able to set up the field guide, Kevin walked through his module on emergency braking.

First, users click on the field guide from the homepage. That brings them to this page, which includes all the topics they can choose from.

A screenshot of MCrider's Field Guide.

Users can select a topic from that screen, or they can sort by category:

  • Braking Exercises
  • Control
  • Cornering Exercises
  • New Rider

Users can select a topic or sort by different categories within the guide.

Once they choose a topic (like Emergency Braking), they can scroll through the material Kevin provided.

A sample of an exercise to provide coaching tips and directions.

The post is broken down into sections, like "Directions" and “Coaching Tips.” It begins with a diagram of the exercise, followed by instructions and commentary on common mistakes and how to correct them. At the end of the post, Kevin embedded a YouTube video that is set to start at the 6:36 min mark — which is when he demonstrates the exercise — whenever you press play.

There is a Q&A Section after the exercises in the Field Guide, if needed.

If patrons have questions after going through the exercise (or if they’re having technical difficulties), they proceed to the Q&A section of the field guide.

How to Stay on Top of Posts

Kevin has never had trouble keeping track of new posts and queries. He gets notifications three different ways:

  • Through the homepage
  • Through an email digest
  • Through browser notifications.

The home page has a summary of the latest posts on the right side of the screen. But unread posts have their own navigation link.

The homepage has an "unread" posts section so you can easily keep track of unseen messages.

At the top of the homepage navigation bar, there is a button for unread posts (circled above). Clicking on that link takes you to a page that displays only messages you haven’t seen yet.

You can click through to look at a topic directly.

If it’s a post you’re interested in following or responding to, you can click through to look at the topic directly. Discourse also sends an email digest like the one below:

You can decide to receive push notifications to know about new posts.

If you prefer, you can even push notifications to your mobile phone or desktop. It’s up to you how frequently you want to know about new posts.

Getting Busy? Get Yourself Some Admins

Over time, Kevin enabled admin access to a handful of riding instructors who stepped up to help him answer questions. Since they — and the community itself — are so active, he doesn’t have to participate in every single discussion. Instead, he’s able to focus on creating better content for his followers.

If you want to grant admin privileges to a user, you can do so from your account settings tab, which looks like this:

You can grant admin privileges to certain users when you need an extra hand.

Tier-based Access to Forum Categories

One aspect of the Patreon Discourse integration that Kevin loves is the ability not only to gate access to the forum itself but to grant access to specific categories based on tier.

All $3+/mo patrons get access to the forum’s general discussion category and the field guide. But only $5+/mo patrons get access to the "Suggest a Training Video" category.

Users can suggest new ideas for video topics.

Those patrons post new ideas in a new thread so that Kevin can easily find them and use them when he’s planning video topics.

The 'Suggest a Training Video' category is helpful in several aspects.

"The ‘Suggest a Training Video’ category provides two things. One, it allows patrons to tell me what they're struggling with and what they need to work on. And I can see people responding to those questions, which tells me where the greatest needs are. And secondly, it gives me video ideas so I'm not constantly having to figure out what I'm going to do in next week's video," Kevin explained.

Final Thoughts

Setting up the Discourse forum helped Kevin’s community gel in a way he hadn’t realized was possible. "It's helped connect people because prior to that, their main connection was to me," he said.

Now, he’s even using the forum to promote in-person events.

A few weeks ago, he invited patrons to meet up in Dallas, Texas to hear a former motorcycle gang enforcer talk about how he turned his life around. Over twenty people went with him to the talk, including one rider who came all the way from New Mexico just to meet Kevin and the other patrons who attended.

In addition, he’s noticed significant time savings because the members of his community support each other better.

"When you have 2,700 supporters on Patreon and 120,000 subscribers on YouTube, you start getting questions from every direction. And I found I was spending a lot of time just to answer one-off questions instead of being able to develop videos. Now I've got other members who are jumping on the board and helping new riders out. A lot of times, I don't even have to answer the question anymore, and it's taken a big load off of me," Kevin explained.