Some observations about running a successful Kickstarter campaign
As of 8:15PM yesterday, our Kickstarter campaign ended successfully, having reached far beyond our original funding goal (163%, woot!). The campaign was live for 32 days — meaning 32 days of restless tweeting, Facebooking, emailing and experiencing alternating feelings of extreme confidence and utter despair. Luckily for us, the campaign ended on a high note, and we can continue on our micro-manufacturing journey with our heads held high.
We learned a whole lot along the way about running a crowdfunding campaign as well as a few things that may pertain to starting a general media presence. Following tonight’s participation in a twitter chat about social media, I felt compelled to get it all off my chest here and now. The two main things I commented on during the chat were based solely on my experience using video as a promotional tool and the use of paid “boosts” for Facebook page posts. These topics might seem simple enough, but I’d like to share my first hand observations more thoroughly because these can’t easily be conveyed in 140 characters or less without sounding like a total downer. It’s a lot easier to complain in that allowed window of thought than it is to elaborate on a solution without sounding totally cocky.
Please note that I’m no authority on any of this and speak mostly from my own observations and personal experiences, the rest is opinion. Here goes!
Using Video to promote your brand and ultimately drive a crowdfunding campaign
Lots of people think that if it’s flashy, people will like it. But I can come up with lots of examples of that not being the case, especially pertaining to video. Nowadays with all the filmmaking gadgets flooding the industry, it’s easier to create a slider shot than it is to tell viewers why they’re watching the video in the first place. Often when people think about making a video for their product or service, the first visions that come to mind are probably inspired by the latest GoPro commercial. But more realistically, when approaching a need for video on a small budget or even scarier, taking it on all by yourself, you just can’t expect it to hold up to the same quality.
As a freelance video producer, views have been at the forefront of my research for quite a while now. It’s a sad admission that poorly shot video of a cat swinging from a ceiling fan will almost always get more views than a video you or someone you’ve hired slaved over for weeks and cost thousands of dollars. But if you’re merely counting views, there might be a combination of two things happening: 1.) your video’s storytelling tactics might be flawed or it might be poorly produced and/or 2.) you might be looking at the wrong statistics.
Thumbcat Media has produced a wide gamut of video from award-winning short films to commercial video — enough to pick up on some patterns as to what gets actual views — meaning, people who actually watch the entire video and participate in some kind of conversation in comments threads or at the origin of a share. After all, the point is to get people talking, right? I mean, you can just BUY views if that’s what you really want, but you can’t buy customers who are going to care about you or your brand.
With this, over the years I’ve noticed one indisputable thing about the content my company’s produced: the most minimal, un-flashy videos we made, primarily for friends with products that people genuinely care about (chocolate and coffee), continue to get the most views and instigate the most meaningful conversations. These are people with relatively small brands that are centered on niche products that people gravitate towards organically. The videos are basically honest conversations and demonstrations of people doing what they love. And it gets a GREAT response.
This might not seem immediately relevant to our Kickstarter, but it totally is. Video is a giant part of a campaign, so when approaching our own campaign video, we wanted to come by it honestly and just tell our story. Was it effective?
I personally consider 23.67% of 16,504 plays being watched start to finish to be a fair success. That means nearly a quarter of the viewers were hooked. The customer conversion was just what we needed to get by, but many people might not look at this amount of actual views in a positive light. Naturally, everyone wants to get the attention of 100% of the viewers, but at some point we have to be realistic about what we’re selling and who our target audience actually is. Our campaign was basically for a high-dollar boutique item that forces a wide demographic of easily-threatened people with angry buyer’s remorse to rethink their camera gear addiction. I venture to think that if we were selling innovative kitchen gadgets to housewives, the numbers might have worked out differently, but that just wasn’t our audience.
But really, how effective was the video to our campaign? For starters, there was a TON of information written in the body of the Kickstarter that we didn’t have room for in the video, and people asked questions that would have been easily answered if they had read through it all. That shows me that the video drove most of our pledges, which proves its importance. And I truly believe that our taking an honest and human approach to making it was a giant factor. Why? Because we had more people thanking us than gear-heads asking us for specs. And those are exactly the customers we set out to gain.
“I love you guys! The videos, the energy, the integration with the community… Do you want to marry me? 😉“
–A comment from Chris, one of our proudest backers
When you don’t have an established brand and at least a small audience, it seems that you have to completely start from scratch, which gives you a mere 3o days to earn the trust of your backers. I found this particularly stressful. To win their hearts, I think you have to have a story or a product that your target audience genuinely responds to in a positive way, and you have to do it in a way that appeals to them as humans, not just as customers. And that very much includes the video. If you’ve poured your heart and soul into what you’re selling and the video shows that, everyone else will automatically take care of you. Back to the example of the people I was referring to earlier who we produced video for, their biggest marketing tool is just being awesome.
Now that we’re at the end of our campaign, we have a small gathering of Twitter followers who we interact with, we have a bunch of conversations going on with Kickstarter backers and we have a small but still significant number of Facebook “Likes.” None of these things are huge–we’re just starting our business, after all–but considering that everything started at zero, it’s a notable beginning.
As a more general last word on freelance videomaking before I fully get into my experiences with promotion, I just want to say that regardless of whether you’re making a video yourself or looking for a freelancer to do the work for you, I truly believe that as little people making little videos about other little people, we have a secret superpower called “freedom from the machine.” Because we have small crews (or no crew to speak of in some cases), we spend a lot of time getting to know our clients personally. They invite us into their homes and businesses to share something intimate about themselves. When a personal connection to that person or process comes through in the video, that’s the part that grabs the biggest audience. The more the camera man is tinkering with gadgets behind the scenes, the farther viewers get from the story because it puts an item between them and the subject. Gadgets can certainly be useful during a shoot, but its important to be mindful of peoples patience. The second you lose them, you lose your video. If you don’t gain a new drinking buddy at the end of the day, you didn’t get that video gold.
The “P” Word . . . promotion
The video production side of business has been around for a while, and we operate comfortably on return customers and referrals. There hasn’t been much need for a large presence or really any kind of promotion. Quite frankly, we stay busy enough without it. When we launched Logger’s Lunchbox, all that changed. We suddenly have a tangible product that we have to promote. I mentioned earlier that we had to establish a social media presence on the spot and completely from scratch. The only people who knew about it before the Kickstarter campaign were friends and family. We had an inkling of an idea that it would fly, but as with any new venture, there’s always that tinge of uncertainty. It’s just hard to tell whether or not you have a hit. Luckily for us, it appears to have been a hit.
But it was only a hit at the scale we built it upon. We looked around on Kickstarter quite a bit and realized that there are two kinds of successful campaigns; smaller ones for around $5-10k run by individuals and super small startups and then larger ones that use advanced marketing to push their products, which reach hundreds of thousands if not millions in pledges. Some of the most successful ones get amazing press in notable print and internet magazines and tech blogs.
When you’re just starting out and barely have enough money to buy yourself a sandwich, the thought of hiring someone to handle marketing might be out of the question. But the down side of that is if you’re just some dude, it’s incredibly hard to break through the noise of everything that’s happening on the web. Throughout our Kickstarter, we found some things that worked and some things that didn’t really work that we were told would work.
One of those things was promoting on Facebook. The mere suggestion got an eye roll from yours truly, but towards the end of the campaign (after we had reached our funding goal, FYI) I decided to give it a try for a day or two. The total expenditure was $15. I made an ad for the page that would be live for 48 hours, and I also boosted one post. What ended up happening was the post got 1,500 impressions compared to the previous average of 50. But all of them came from foreign countries. We gained 7 new followers, 4 of whom un-followed right after the promotion period ended. None of them became customers.
The other thing we tried was using one of those crowdfunding promotion services. It cost $9.99, and they promised to make so many tweets about the campaign and add it to their page of featured campaigns. They boasted a 50% success rate, which I still can’t figure out what that means exactly. What actually happened was they re-tweeted a few of my posts, made 2 unique posts and that’s pretty much it. The only “statistic” they can offer me is how many users were converted to followers based on the keyword #DSLR. But there’s no actual way of telling who was responsible for the conversion, me or them. My assessment? Not worth the money.
It seems like promoting yourself subjects you to every sort of snake oil marketing scam out there. You really have to be careful.
The thing that worked the best for me was starting conversations on Twitter using relevant keywords as well as personally writing some big camera blogs about what we were up to. We got 4 great features out of it, providing the direct traffic that accounted for 30% of our total pledges. The largest number of backers came from Facebook but were mostly made up of friends and family who made smaller pledges that amounted to 8% of our funding. The rest came from the Kickstarter community itself and people organically stumbling across it.
The other BIG thing I figured out is that there are certain times to post that are more effective than others. We used an app called Buffer to link all of our social media accounts and created a schedule of all the times we determined would be best to make posts. We noticed spikes in communication between 8:30-10AM, 12-1PM, and 5-8PM, so we scheduled tweets and Facebook posts within those time frames. The app allows you to chock it full of posts and will then tweet/post on your behalf at the scheduled times. That way you can spend only about 5 minutes creating content and not be a complete slave to social media. We found the times incredibly important because it seemed like any information shared outside of that time frame just didn’t get any kind of reaction.
Keeping interactivity limited to these known peaks in activity led to more followers, I noticed.
We also figured out that spikes in pledges happened Friday-Sunday, so we made sure to be the most active during those times.
However, I think all of this ultimately depends on what you’re promoting and who the target audience is. Some things are going to go farther in certain communities that might operate on different schedules and through different outlets. Also, it seems like the more universal the appeal is and the more useful the product is to the larger audience, the more traction you’ll be able to gain and the more outlets you’ll be able to use.
For us, it was ultimately the community that told us that what we were doing was working. The other thing we figured out was that the MORE we said and the broader the variety of things we posted about on social media, the more people started to interact. So once again, it boils down to being a people person.
This all just scratches the surface of things I have yet to learn about promotion, but I hope these observations might be helpful to others who are about to go down a similar road. My biggest take-aways? Be wary of anything that appears to be a time and energy waster, but don’t write off the importance of community engagement and interaction. And most importantly, try to use your voice through others who might have more influence — news media, podcasters, bloggers, etc. If you have an amazing product, they’ll be happy to talk about it and help you drive your campaign, and ultimately your brand.
If you have anything to add or share, please do comment, we’d love to hear your all about your own experiences.