Kickstarter is my new craic, especially for inovative high tech and music gear. So it really pains me to see Kickstarter projects I’d like to succeed whose owners seem to believe all they need to do is create a project and sufficient random strangers will find it interesting enough to pledge and make their goal.
Since I repeatedly find myself wanting to message these owners and tell them things they need to do if they want any chance of succeeding, instead I’ll write that here and send them the link ;-)
Because many people don’t bother following links, I’m going to summarize my basic suggestions, then give links for further reading at the end… and if this is STILL too much information, contact me about my rates to critique your KS project and/or do some of this PR research/setup for you :-)
Frankly, a successful Kickstarter project starts well before the project itself goes live. At root, it’s really more about making it easier for your already-large group of friends/contacts/fans who think you and your project are awesome to make it possible. Amanda Palmer didn’t just raise a million dollars from strangers.
1. Plan your social media PR before your project launch
WHY? The more places you are talking up your project, the more places people can find it and share it with their friends if they find it interesting.
If you don’t already use Facebook and Twitter, please start, and connect with all of your friends who do (there’s a tool for finding them via your email address book)! If you have a reasonable comfort level with the internet, also consider using Tumblr and Pinterest, especially if you have a visually-appealing product. If you are a band, consider using SoundCloud for sharing music in progress. If you have access to impromptu video creation (via your cell phone/iPad/iPod/Flip camera) set up a YouTube account (hint: if you already have a Google account, you have a YouTube account ready to be used).
Facebook: On Facebook you want 1) your personal profile page, and 2) a page for either your project (e.g, this portable standing desk) or for the organization behind it (e.g., your band). Start posting about your preparations for your KS project. ask your FB friends to “like” your project/organization page, and to ask their friends to do so as well. Ask your page fans to give you feedback on the KS rewards you are planning – get them excited and anticipating your launch.
Twitter: Create a Twitter account for your project or organization. Configure your Facebook business page to automatically tweet your Page’s posts (see how here).
Important #1! Anyone you follow will get an email alerting them with a link to your profile so they can decide whether to follow you back. Make sure to include information in your profile that clearly says who/what you are, including setting an icon image (your headshot or a company logo) – spammers typically leave the default icon.
Important #2! Post some tweets about your project/organization before doing the next step of following people, because nothing says “I’m a spammer!” more than an account with no posts that follows you.
NOW – Look for people with interests that might lead them to like your project/business (e.g., Tech blogs if you are building a new iPhone accessory; folk music sites/podcasts/radio stations if you are a folk band) – see this page for tools to help you find these Twitter accounts, then follow them in hopes that they will follow you back. If they tweet something of interest to you, retweet their tweet and/or comment back to them.
Also consider creating a Twitter hashtag for your project – this is a keyword others can use when tweeting about your project. You can then search on the hashtag to see who is talking about you, which allows you to reply, run contests based on giving a prize to people who tweet about the project, etc. Any word with a “#” at the start is a hashtag – choose something that is unique (e.g., not “#ksproject” – search possible ones first to see if they are in use already) and not too long (e.g., “#jsmiithscd” not “#jonathansmithsnewcdproject”).
2. Marshall your friends and local associates to pledge on day one
WHY? The people running Kickstarter use initial interest to judge the “momentum” of your project, which helps them decide whether to promote your project on their “recommended” page, which gets your project in front of more eyeballs. Interest (even at minimum pledge levels) begets more interest.
3. Find other sites/people whose readers would like your project and post there/contact the owners
There are two ways (at least) to do this:
– Do it yourself: look for blogs, review sites, online magazines, Facebook pages that talk about subjects related to your project. If they review products, contact them requesting a review (offer to provide a prototype if relevant and available) or mention. If there has been a recent post about something related and there’s a comments thread, join the conversation and include a link to your project or Facebook page (IMPORTANT! Do NOT gratuitously post a comment that just says “look at my KS project!” – that brands you as a spammer).
– Enlist others: from your Facebook page, website, or pre-existing mailing list (NOT from the KS project itself – contests within the project are prohibited) offer a random prize drawing from among the fans who retweet, repost, repin, etc. links to your project. Keep track of who does this by a) telling tweeters to use the hashtag you created in step 2 so you can search who did it; b) “liking” your Facebook page and then tagging it when they share it on their pages (you can see who does this on your FB page admin tools); have them send you the link to other places they mention it, like their own blog.
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Before the project launches:
Write a press release and send it to every publication that might be interested for whatever reason, including:
– local print newspapers/magazines
– local bloggers/websites (e.g., the nearest Patch Network affiliate)
– organizations whose members might be interested (e.g., environmental groups if your project involves creating environmental awareness, your band writes songs about it, etc)
Offer to participate in interviews with them (via email or Skype if not in person). Followup via phone (if possible, else by email) to check that they received it and offer to answer any questions.
Once your Kickstarter project goes live:
– Remind everyone you know that it’s live, and that a pledge of ANY amount NOW will help you (make sure to have a $1 or so pledge level to encourage cash-strapped well-wishers to participate).
– Send out emails to all of your press release contacts with the URL for your project. Ask again if they’d like to interview you.
– Post the URL to the other websites you’ve identified in step 3 above.
– Create a public Facebook event for the project (include the like to the Kickstarter project!), invite all of your friends and ask them to share it on their FB page and invite their friends.
– Communicate regularly on the Kickstarter project page itself: post updates to backers, answer questions left in the comments section, create a FAQ to answer those questions for the next visitor, etc. Basically create the vibe of a live, interactive project with engaged owners.
5. Help! I didn’t do any of that and my project is going nowhere fast!
If you are already on day 5+ of a 30-day project with only 3 pledges (your spouse, your parents, and your spouse’s parents), you are unlikely to reach your goal – sorry. At this point unless you suddenly get featured by a major website or forgot to tell your 5000 Facebook friends and 50,000 Facebook fans that the project is live, you probably don’t have enough time to create the buzz necessary to reach your goal.
The decision for you now is: soldier on vs. cancel the project and try again. I suggest that you don’t get too hung up on “cancelling means I failed!” Instead, unless you have solid commitments from major evangelists (i.e., big blogs or well-known sites) that they will be featuring your project very soon I suggest that you cancel now and regroup. Do all the necessary pre-launch work above (plus see more detailed checklists in the following links), THEN re-launch knowing you will get a good launch-day level of participation and publicity to move it outside of your immediate circle.
And if you can’t count on your immediate circle of friends and fans to make the project level you need, consider going with a more flexible crowdsourcing site – for instance with IndieGogo you can set a flexible goal and receive however much is actually donated even if the goal is not reached (though please be able to fulfill your pledge rewards if you DON’T reach full funding).
Kickstarter is not a magical money machine – but if you do your homework and have a good idea/product crowdfunding can be an excellent source to bootstrap your business/activity.
[This post was inspired by the latest Kickstarter project I’ve liked but is going nowhere so far due to lack of any apparent PR – so if you think cigar-box instruments are cool got check out Box of Folk: After the Smoke and give them a boost!]