Lessons from Kickstarter Part 4: Promotion

by Suw on March 1, 2012

This is Part 4 in my series of blog posts looking at the lessons I learnt doing a Kickstarter project. See also Part 1: Don’t Go Off Half-CockedPart 2: Rewards, Part 3: Budgeting.

Whilst there is, for me at least, some pleasure to be derived from working out reward levels and toying with Excel spreadsheets in working out my budget, the idea of promoting my own project makes my blood run cold. I never have been one of the world’s natural bigmouths, and in all honesty, I dread the promotional work i’m going to have to do for Queen of the May.

I would love it if the world automatically rewarded hard work and quality, but it doesn’t. You have to get out there and tell the world that you’ve done something worth looking at. Here are few thoughts about promoting your Kickstarter project.

1. You have to do your own promo
Much as it would be lovely to just put stuff up on Kickstarter and let the community organically find you, that is just not how it works. There are lots and lots of projects on Kickstarter and, whilst a few people might trawl through the site looking for interesting stuff to back, you can’t assume that will result in enough people to fund your project.

You have to have a plan to promote your project and be willing to go outside of the Kickstarter community to do so. If you simply put up a project and cross your fingers, you will almost certainly fail.

2. Build your community before you crowdfund
By the time you’re ready to launch your project, it’s too late to build a fanbase around your work. You have to start collecting fans early. Whatever tools you favour, start now, because it takes a long time to build up a following and when your project starts you simply don’t have that time spare. Even social tools like Twitter and Facebook, often erroneously billed as a silver bullet, are not instantaneous and it takes time to connect with those people who are interested in your work.

3. You need a big, big fanbase
A rule of thumb for direct marketing is that between 0.1% and 1% of people that you contact will be interested in what you’re selling them. My mum teaches exercise and no matter what advertising or marketing we try to increase her class sizes, it comes in at around 1%. That means you should aim to reach about 100 or even 1000 times the number of people you need to fund your project.

So, if I think I need 200 people to fund Queen of the May, I need to reach between 20,000 and 200,000 people to find enough who are actually interested in what I’m proposing. That’s a lot of people.

4. Run an opt-In newsletter
One way to reduce the number of people you need to reach is to run an opt-in newsletter that people choose to receive. The idea is that if people are already interested in you and your work, then they’ll be more likely to act when you tell them about your new project. Giving them the ability to get regular news from you is a good way to keep in touch, but don’t expect everyone on your mailing list to read your emails. It’s common for even opt-in lists to have an open rate of less than 20% so if you have 100 people on your list, only 20 will actually read your emails. But, and it’s a big but, those people will be more likely to back your project than random Joes off the street.

5. Engage with social media
The amazing thing about Twitter is not that it’s an easy way to talk to people but that it’s a network of networks. If I send a tweet, someone in my network can send it on to their network, and someone in their network can send it even further. We’re out of the hub-and-spoke model of a newsletter and into the network-of-networks model of social media. That can really help news of your project spread outside of your immediate circle of friends and into the wider community.

Of course, you have to invest time in social media, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or something else, prior to launch. It does take a long time to build up a Twitter following, for example, so get going, get following and be talkative. I’m not going to write a full-on guide to social media in this post, but just remember to give more than you take.

6. Assess your channels
Do you know how many people you can reach, roughly speaking, through each of your promo channels? How many people follow you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus? Do you know what level of overlap there is? Spend some time working out how many people you can reach directly, and then ask if it’s enough. If you only have a small network, that might have an impact on what makes a sensible crowdfunding target.

7. Time your announcements
Research has shown that there are four key times in the day when people are most active in email: on arrival at work, just before lunch, just after lunch, and just before they go home. Sending an email at one of these times increases the chances it will be opened and read. Equally, sending a Tweet in the UK morning will mean that Americans don’t see it as they will be asleep at the time.

So think about when you’re sending out emails and Tweets and Facebook updates, and try to make sure that you send at a time when your message is most likely to be received. If you have a blog, pay attention to what time people visit by installing a traffic monitoring package like Statcounter or Google Analytics. My blog seems to peak each day around lunchtime, so that’s a good time to post something new.

8. Co-ordinate across your channels
If you have several places you can promote your project, make sure that you think about how they work together.  If you’re writing blog posts about your project, make sure you post them on Twitter and Facebook, for example. Don’t just link to your crowdfunding page, but to discussion about it.

9. Don’t overdo it
I probably underdo it, but really, seriously, don’t overdo the self-promotion. Nothing puts people off a project more than someone who does nothing else but whitter on about it all the time.

10. Make it easy for people to help
When I’ve been promoting Ada Lovelace Day in the past, I’ve noticed that people really do like it when you give them a pre-written tweet to copy and paste, or write an email that they can forward. People are generally willing to help you get the word out, but the easier you can make it for them the more likely they are to take action.

11. Ask friends, but don’t impose
It’s well worth tapping friends up for help, especially if they have bigger networks than you. But if you do, make sure that you don’t impose on them. Give them a heads-up on what you’re doing and the opportunity to help if they want to, but don’t put them in a position where they feel obliged – it might backfire.

Self-promotion for most people is really hard. It’s well worth thinking ahead about how you’re going to promote stuff in a way that you’re comfortable with, and how you can co-ordinate it to make the most of every bit of activity. Whatever you decide, you can’t escape the fact that a good promotion plan could make or break your project.

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