I would like to talk about what it would look like if Patreon communicated well with its creators because it seems to me that Patreon itself and most creators have no idea what it looks like for a company to communicate well with its users.
I consider the gold standard for customer relations around feature requests to be CPanel, so I would like to bring it to your attention and describe what they’re doing right.
First of all, you can look at their site for doing so yourself: it’s completely public, and that, right there, is an important element. Absolutely anybody can check it out, whether or not they have a relationship with CPanel yet (or ever), and without needing an invite or an account. This may not be the most important demonstration of a commitment to transparency and openness, but it is a demonstration of their commitment to transparency and opennness.
Here it is: https://features.cpanel.net.
One of the first things to notice is that it superficially looks like what we have here: users can submit suggestions and requests, and other users can comment on them. But look closer:
Absolutely every. single. suggestion get flaired by the admins as to how it’s being regarded by the product team: whether it’s something that is under consideration, or rejected, or planned. The default is “open discussion” (no admin intervention needed). Here’s some of the other flairs on the top level right now: “already exists”, “planned”, “needs more information”, “needs feedback”.
Just look at what that implies: first of all, people with authority within the org are paying attention to what is being suggested. Second, it’s a two-way dialog, rather than users just throwing suggestions over a wall and never hearing back: the team there reaches back out to the community to hear more about the suggestions that are submitted to learn more about what they are hoping for and how they might use it. Third, CPanel is reporting back to users what its collective thoughts and plans for proposed features are. It’s actually communicating to anybody who wants to know, “yes, we’re doing this” or “no, we’re not doing this”, or “we haven’t made up our minds”, and through it all, where they are in their process of evaluating.
Something else you can see is that users can, and do, vote on features. In a weak sense, we can “vote” on features here to by “hearting” them. But the user interface here buries that information, while the CPanel features interface makes it some of the most prominent info on the site. For example here, on the top level, you are shown how many comments a suggestion got, which is at best merely a measure of how controversial it is, but not how many people want the feature:
In contrast, the CPanel forum list of posts most prominently shows the number of votes for a suggestion:
So even though in some sense this forum system Patreon is using lets users “vote” on suggestions, it does so in a much weaker way than CPanel does. And this communicates something to the users. Patreon signals through how this forum works that they don’t really care about “votes” on suggestions, while CPanel communicates through how they have their forum working that they find having users vote on suggestions to be a very significant and important source of information about what their users want – and that implies they think that what their users wants is important to know. Patreon really fails to do the same.
And I want to make something really clear, because I anticipate an objection: CPanel allowing users to vote on features doesn’t mean that CPanel simply lets users vote features into existence. For those of you who don’t know what CPanel is, it’s the industry standard automation/UI software for shared hosting companies to provide their account holders; so like Patreon, it has two levels (actually three, b/c resellers) of users: the business people using it in their business (like creators) and the end users those business people are selling services through that are accessed through the CPanel product (like patrons). You’ll never have heard of CPanel if you don’t know anything about the shared hosting market; if you have, you can’t have helped but heard of them. They are a very big company serving a very large number of users in a very complex use case.
So CPanel doesn’t simply let forum participants – accounts are free, by the way, and you don’t need to be a customer at any level to participate – vote features into existence. CPanel, as an org, continues to control the road map and make the decisions as to where they’ll invest their developer resources. CPanel is still in charge of what CPanel does.
What CPanel does is let its users inform it, and engages in dialog with its userbase, so that when CPanel makes those decisions, it does so with the benefit of all the useful information its users care to share with it. CPanel sees its users as informative – in a way that Patreon (for all its boasts about caring about creators) in comparison so very clearly doesn’t.
Set next to the example of how CPanel behaves, Patreon sure looks like it solicits information in only the most trivial ways, in only the most constrained ways, as if it were afraid of its users, and tries to avoid hearing from them; certainly it never follows up or feels the need to report back to individuals or the community. Patreon, next to the example of CPanel, doesn’t look like a company that thinks its users have anything useful to tell it, and it doesn’t look like a company interesting in finding out what its users needs are so that it cold meet them better.
Finally, the thing you can’t see from a casual glance at https://features.cpanel.net is that when one does create an account and participate in a discussion or vote on a feature, you get subscribed to that ticket – and CPanel staff will update the ticket in the discussion if there’s any progress on it.
So, literally, for CPanel feature requests I’d advocated for, I have gotten notification emails several years later notifying me of staff commenting, “Yeah, we’re doing this one for the next release” or “We’re considering doing this, and have some questions”. I don’t have to hang out on their forum, trying to figure out if they’ve made any progress on a thing I care about: they’ll let me know.
To the best of my knowledge, CPanel doesn’t do the vast majority of what is suggested to it. But the users who care enough about features to show up at the forum feel listened to, because they demonstrably are listened to. Consequently, despite being basically a forum that filters hard for geeks with strong enough opinions about how a linux system administration UI should function to get on a soap-boax about it, features.cpanel.net is super polite and non-hostile. Folks don’t lash out at CPanel. They may be critical, but about the software, not the company. Even though they are regularly disappointed by CPanel not choosing to do what they want.
Though it is also the case that CPanel more often (than Patreon) winds up doing what its users want because it finds out what its users want, better and more consistently, in the first place.
This is the win-win I propose Patreon should use as its model for improvement. Patreon gets a healthier relationship with its userbase, where they’re less angry and confrontational, and gets the benefit of its very creative userbase’s creative ideas, and the creators stop being disrespected and disregarded and maybe even see things improve.
It is possible to have this cake and eat it too. And https://features.cpanel.net shows how.