When we left off last time, I had just setup my project on the Kickstarter website and pressed the launch button. That meant it was time for the next and longest phase of the Kickstarter campaign: promoting it. Also known as “30 days of obsessive compulsive disorder and stress.” You get an email every time someone pledges so every time you get a new email, you’ll be jumping to open your mail app and see if it’s money.
As I said in the opening chapter of the diary, I don’t have a huge social media presence, so I approached the promotions section a little differently than most people. I pursued a strategy of widening circles and PR. I started where I’d have the most name recognition and then built outward.
If you’re starting some kind of crowdfunding campaign, there’s something you need to come to grips with before you start promoting: a crowdfunding campaign is no longer a novelty. Everyone who’s a reporter or has a blog has seen a Kickstarter and probably gets emails from too many Kickstarter projects to cover them all. There can also be reluctance in some circles to cover crowdfunding when there are a number of projects that have either fallen apart or are dragging on and on, unfulfilled long past their estimated delivery dates. Hey, accidents happen, but too many of them and everybody starts to look bad.
That’s the cold, hard reality of the situation. It’s oversaturated and it’s on you to make your project stand out. To do this, I used three things: a personal mailing list, a media list and a social media list.
Personal Mailing List
Everyone should have a list of friends and contacts who can be counted on to help spread the word about your Kickstarter. Either people who will do a social media mention of the campaign, pass on the information to interested third parties or are interested in the campaign themselves. You drop them a note at the beginning and end of the project to get the ball rolling and dial up the heat for the finish. (You could drop a note in the middle, but be careful not to overdo it.)
Another essential: contact information for media outlets that cover your project. If you’re writing a romance novel, this could be a blog about romance novels, your local newspaper or even the local TV station if you’re in a very small market. The idea is to get coverage about your project where people read news about similar books. Start with where you get your news and then expand the search. Google to see where news about similar books turns up and get contact information for those sites. Online media is better because ideally you want a link to your Kickstarter page. Try to get the email for a reporter, if you can find it.
Social Media List
Come up with a list, similar to the personal mailing list, of people you can ask to spread the word about your campaign on social media. Also come up with a list of established figures (generally speaking, authors) around your genre who might be amenable to a retweet/repost request. Most of this tends to be done on Twitter, but the principles apply to all the social networks.
So how did I go about my campaign?
After the project went live, I hit the personal mailing list (some of it by instant messaging) and started posting on my social media network immediately. The general principle of social media amplification means you don’t need to personally have a huge number of followers (although it works a whole lot better that way). If you have 5 friends and your 5 friends each retweet , then their 5 friends all see a tweet linking to your Kickstarter and your circle of 5 turns into a circle of 30.
If you have a really large social media following, that can be your primary marketing force. I wouldn’t recommend limiting yourself to social media promotions, but it’s been done before. Instead of spending a lot of time tweeting, I started contacting the online media for the comic book industry. Specifically, I started what I like to call a “widening circles” PR strategy. Starting with the comics (my genre topics) websites where the staff either already had interactions with me or were more likely to know my name, I sent a personal email asking for coverage. With a small Twitter following and a private Facebook page, I was going to need some serious PR exposure.
As I was doing this, an email came in stating that I’d been selected as a Kickstarter Staff Pick. I’m attributing that to leading with my credentials when I set up the “Story” of the project on the Kickstarter site. We’ll come back to the internal functions of Kickstarter as they relate to marketing in a little bit.
I’d hit the launch button at 3pm in the afternoon and by mid-morning the next day, I had my $500 minimum and the project was funded. It didn’t appear that anything about the project had appeared on any of the news sites. This was the audience amplification effect… and the side effect of having a really low goal. There was a certain amount of surprise expressed that someone was doing a Kickstarter for such a “reasonable” amount. People have been conditioned, especially in the comics sector, to see goals of several thousand dollars and that modest goal seemed to help the launch and the initial pledges.
I spent the rest of the week alternating between doing interviews, usually stopping everything to spend between 30 and 90 minutes replying to a list of email questions and continuing to send out more emails to the major comics websites. When an article ran, I’d post it to social media, but that didn’t seem to be getting the same traction as the launch.
They say the first week and last week are when most of the money comes in. That was certainly true for me and pledges slowed way down after the first week.
The second week dragged along. I finished off emailing the comics sites, expanded the mailing to comics-friendly mainstream sites (science fiction sites, “geek news,” io9, BoingBoing, etc.). I wanted to let some of the comics sites run their stories first, since the comics-friendly sites usually have staff that read other comics sites.I also started waiting for articles to run—it can take a week or two and that’s part of the game. I also explored some Facebook and LinkedIn groups that were comics-related.
The third week was about following up with people who were doing articles and interviews and going fishing in the mainstream, which wasn’t terribly productive. It’s a niche product: a business book about digital comics. I also had to contend with the 4th of July holiday, which seemingly put a damper on an article that ran just before it.
One of the interesting things to come out of the slow period was that I was getting a near-steady trickle of pledges that were referred from the Kickstarter site itself, via .people browsing and finding my book. I’d get 1-3 pledges almost every day.
They say the last week is where you get your pledge money. At almost precisely 7 days until my campaign was over, on a Friday afternoon, an io9 article ran and the final week surge began. Io9 generated over twice as many pledges as any other news site, including ones I had multiple mentions on. The internal Kickstarter referrals seemed to pick up a bit over the weekend to accompany them and seemed to be at elevated levels the whole last week.
Sunday night, I sent out an email blast to the sites that hadn’t picked up coverage, mostly smaller comics sites and comics-friendly sites. I also hit the technology press with the added leverage of the io9 article. (The technology press did not care about a Kickstarter for a book. Not one little bit.)
On Monday, as the io9 surge was starting to taper off, I started hitting Twitter heavily. From roughly noon to 4pm central time (trying to hit times when both coasts would be in the office), I’d request retweets from comics-related people. I made up a list of influencers and went through the list requesting a retweet for the Kickstarter project. I had around a 28% retweet rate. As you might expect, the success rate was higher with people I’d had more interaction with. Could I have started the retweet requests earlier? Yes, but I really wanted the mainstream mention at io9 floating around first. I also was going for exposure repetition by way of social media, so I wanted to concentrate that in the last 5 days, when there would be more sense of urgency that the campaign was near the end and any pledges need to be done more quickly. Monday through Thursday were my heavy tweeting days
On Tuesday, another interview I’d been waiting on ran that was a bit more “nuts and bolts” for the subject matter. That would be the last article and it produced a good bump and a fair amount of social media mentions on its own.
With the project ending Friday afternoon, I sent out an email to the my personal list late Thursday evening requesting retweets and reminding people that the project was ending in roughly half a day. The final day, I did social media posts counting down the final four hours.
The last week’s gross pledges were $47 more than the previous 23 days combined.
Kickstarter’s dashboard is not a professional marketing analysis tool. You have a “Referrers” section on the dashboard that consists of a breakdown of dollars pledged via Kickstarter, dollars pledged via “external referrers” and average pledge amount. You also have a 25 item list of domains (not pages, just the entire domain) giving you the number of pledges from said domain, percentage of gross dollars pledged overall, and the total dollar amount pledged by refers from said domain.
There is no data on the number of page views on your project, let alone page views from specific articles about your project. That means you have no idea what your conversion rates are and no way of telling how effectively your message is being conveyed. Kickstarter gives you an extremely limited ability to make data driven decisions.
Additionally, on the final dashboard, 9 of the 25 referral slots are taken up by various flavors of Kickstarter internal refers. I ran a very niche campaign for a very niche product. It was never going to get extremely wide coverage and yet I still have 13 pledges unaccounted for on the final dashboard display. If I were keeping track of all the sites that generated pledges for me, especially if I was going to do another similar project and wanted to go back to the sites that produced pledges, I’d be missing several sites.
For those with a background in online marketing, Kickstarter’s dashboard is not terribly informative. Tracking where your money is coming from is seldom perfect in the online world, but there’s a lot of data you just don’t have access to, with the tools Kickstarter provides. And I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who funded at the 734% level.