Kickstarter Lesson #58: How to Manage Toxic Backers

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Sep 22, 2013 Kickstarter 18 Comments

Toxic backers: every project has them.

Toxic backers are those who fill the boards with negative comments. They’re not constructive–they’re mean. Elsewhere on the internet they would be known as “trolls,” but on Kickstarter, they only have the ability to comment if they’re a backer. So it puts them in the unique position of caring about your project and deriding it at the same time.

To me, Kickstarter is all about building a community and an ongoing conversation about the project. While I love my backers, toxic backers directly get in the way of that goal.

So I’ve developed a few ways to deal with toxic backers so that toxicity doesn’t spread. Here’s are those ideas:

  1. Report them to Kickstarter. If someone is truly trolling or spamming the comments, it’s completely fair game to report them to Kickstarter. Kickstarter makes it very easy to do this. However, I rarely recommend this as a solution, as I think there are better ways to convert a backer’s negative passion to positive passion.
  2. Let other backers deal with them. The crowd is a powerful entity. If 5 backers respond to 1 negative backer in defense of a project or project creator, the toxic backer will often change their tone or not speak up again.
  3. Respond non-defensively. Particularly when it comes to online interactions, we almost expect people to get defensive to pretty much anything. So when someone replies with grace and poise instead of a defensive stance, it’s so refreshing that it can often cause the instigator to change their tone. I try to use this approach as much as possible.
  4. Privatize them. Sometimes I encounter a toxic backer who I realize could be a true asset to the project. Typically these are highly intelligent people who maybe just don’t have the best social skills. So what I try to do with these people is privately message them to turn a toxic public conversation into a productive, insightful private one. I use this technique selectively, but it has a 100% success rate so far, and I’ve learned SO much from these people after we “go private.”

There is one other type of toxic backer I want to address here: The toxic non-backer.

You see, only backers can comment on your project, but anyone can message you on Kickstarter. So you’re going to hear from quite a few people who aren’t backers.

Usually those people aren’t toxic in terms of negativity–there will be a few, of course, but not too many. Rather, the non-backer toxicity is that sometimes people will take up a lot of your time even though they’re not backers. That’s toxic for you as the creator, because they’re taking you away from the project itself.

Now, part of your job as a creator is to engage more people and bring them into the fold. So replying to a message or two from any non-backer is really important. It’s when you notice that the person really has no intent to become a backer and they’re just talking to you about stuff that you need to draw the line. Your main focus should be on creating the best experience for your backers, not your non-backers.

Unfortunately, the most common occurrence of this for me during the Euphoria campaign was with other project creators. Now, I love interacting with other project creators, and I love helping people with Kickstarter (hence this blog). But I realized midway through the campaign that I was spending a LOT of time answering questions from other project creators that weren’t Euphoria backers–not even for $1! It continues to baffle me that those people thought that was okay. But part of it is on me too–it’s my responsibility as the project creator to draw a line with people so that I can give the majority of my attention to my backers.

Other than those four ideas I mentioned, how else would you recommend that project creators deal with toxic backers?

You can also listen to Kickstarter expert Richard Bliss’ insights on this topic (he specifically talks about this post) on his podcast here. This blog entry is also quote in an article on Intuit.com.


Comments

  • jewelyaz
    Sep 23, 2013 at 12:56 am Reply

    I’ll admit it; by some of your criteria, I have been a “toxic” backer a few times, though not with malicious intent. I do not like it when I can see that project creators are misleading backers, nor does it sit well with me when creators speak ill of other game designers, project backers, or really, nearly anyone. I know I can have a sharp tongue, too, and I read fast, so…. I think the four things you mentioned would work on me, particularly messaging me privately, though usually, if I go public with something negative in comments, it’s AFTER messaging the project creator, and either not getting an answer at all (not cool after 48 hours) or being lied to (also not OK).
    I know that Michael Mindes probably sometimes doesn’t like me… I’ve pushed him HARD to get him to include more female characters in his games where it “doesn’t matter” and doesn’t cause theme or other problems — many of TMG’s games would have 100% male characters or ridiculously stereotypical art of any females represented if backers had not pushed so hard, and I was among those folks, particularly for Dungeon Roll. At the same time, I’ve organized group purchases of many of the games they’ve put on Kickstarter (sometimes even begging for creation of multi-pack levels which have gone on to be very popular — again, see Dungeon Roll, where the $75 6-pack was created for me and ended up attracting 276 backers), I’ve volunteered as a rules editor on several games, and I’ve written positive blog posts about TMG’s projects while they’re live on Kickstarter. I’m not going to let up on that pressure… women and girls need to be better represented in board games, and I think it’s all publishers’ responsibility to make that happen. If that makes me “toxic” — well, I just have to disagree there, even if it seems a little disruptive sometimes. That doesn’t mean I don’t like and respect Michael and TMG, because I very much do.
    Jamey, want to tackle that issue, women and girls in board games, at all? Your games have had a nice balance, and art that is totally family-appropriate, so it must be important to you and your artists.
    Thanks for tackling the issue of “bad” backers. Sadly, it’s just a fact of the Internet that there are always going to be trolls and angry people, no matter what you do. It’s good for project creators to be prepared for it so they can keep it from ruining a great campaign for all the rest of their backers.

    1. Jamey Stegmaier
      Sep 23, 2013 at 11:00 am Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think there is a big difference between a constructive backer and a toxic backer–which side do you think you fall on?

      Also, I think it’s perfectly reasonable (and not toxic) to call out creators if they’re misleading backers or if the creators are being toxic themselves. Unfortunately that does happen. If it’s an anomaly–i.e., the first time a creator has done something like that–it might be worth messaging them first. It’s possible they didn’t even realize they were doing/saying the wrong thing. But after that, we need to be held accountable.

      1. jewelyaz
        Sep 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm Reply

        I know that my heart falls on the constructive side, clearly, but sometimes my fingers end up saying things that sound harsher than I mean. The lack of an edit button is a drag.
        Agreed on creators… and you know, I do message them, but sometimes they do need to be called out so that other backers can decide whether or not they want to be sucked in. “Eyes wide open” and “buyer beware” are both important in the Kickstarter environment.

    2. Nolto (@Nolto45)
      Oct 1, 2013 at 11:22 am Reply

      Trying to change the sexism and misogyny that has embedded itself into nerd culture (including tabletop gaming) will often sound like trolling or toxicity. However, if successful, it will eventually be unnecessary. I hope that you continue your efforts.

      1. jewelyaz
        Oct 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm Reply

        Thanks for your encouragement. It is easy to feel like it’s a hopeless cause, but I don’t “sit by silently” too well. LOL What encourages me the most in these efforts? Two things: game designers who realize that including EVERYONE on equal footing in their games makes the games stronger and more fun (as Jamey clearly does), and men in the community who stand up and say that they want women/girls included and that they want more reasonable/realistic art. We all have to invest in changing things if we want them to be different.
        Kickstarter has been a mighty platform for this sort of thing because it’s an opportunity to help influence a game before it’s complete AND it’s a chance to vote with our money and give the project creators feedback (I’ve backed a number of campaigns at $1 so that I could voice my concerns, letting the project creator know that they are losing my full backing because of this issue).

    3. A. Mandible
      Oct 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm Reply

      That’s really cool that you’re speaking up about gender balance and presentation in games. I try to do it too, and I wish more people would.

      I also worry about being a jerk around gender issues. It’s easy to get unproductively angry about creators who don’t seem to care, but it’s a topic where *any* feedback makes some people defensive or angry, so it’s hard to know how I’m coming off. And I try to fight the “I backed your game, so I’m entitled to snap at you” feeling.

  • Kyle Hogendyk (@KyleHogendyk)
    Sep 24, 2013 at 11:35 am Reply

    An excellent kick starter lesson. At the end of the article, you mentioned you were spending time answering the questions of those who were not backers. This issue reminded me a bit of Tim Ferriss and his philosophy of utilizing the 80/20 principle.

    “What 20% of sources are causing 80% of your problems and unhappiness?”
    “Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of your desired outcomes and happiness?”

    Eliminate the former and focus on the latter. Weigh benefits of responding to non-backers (or anyone) with the cons of spending your time answering them. It’ll be a case by case basis, but as your time becomes more valuable, it may be better served on those that give back.

    1. Jamey Stegmaier
      Sep 24, 2013 at 11:48 am Reply

      Thanks Kyle. I’m a fan of the 80/20 principle. Sometimes it’s hart to implement in practice because you can quickly get caught up in the 20% without realizing how much time you’re spending on it, so your comment is a good reminder of that.

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  • Ryan Scott Dancey
    Sep 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm Reply

    We had a toxic backer in our 2nd Pathfinder Online KS. One backer out of 8,000 was not going to make or break our project and his funding was trivial in comparison to the money raised. I asked him to email me directly, he did, and I told him to exit the project, and not come back. I think he was pretty shocked, but he did, and his absence on our message thread was an immediate improvement.

    I wish KS had a mechanism for a project to involuntarily remove a backer. Frankly, I would have just booted him rather than going through the more lengthy process I had to use. I think that when you decide someone needs to be removed from your community, the less time you spend on the process after that point, the better.

    I also think that if toxic backers knew that the project could involuntarily boot them, they’d be a lot less likely to cause problems in the first place. I think most people back a project (at least initially) because it appeals to them personally, and they want the project to succeed and/or they want to receive the rewards. Knowing that the project can boot them without recourse is a check against “post first, think later” behavior.

    1. Jamey Stegmaier
      Sep 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm Reply

      Hey Ryan–That’s certainly one way to deal with it, and it sounds like it was effective for you. Personally, I would have e-mailed him after a few toxic statements and asked him why he was being so negative. Sure, that’s a lot to do for one backer out of 8000, but backer engagement is what Kickstarter is all about to me.

      I can see situations where it would be helpful for a creator to simply boot a backer–I wonder how fast the reporting function works on Kickstarter.

    2. jewelyaz
      Sep 24, 2013 at 10:35 pm Reply

      Ryan, I know you’re not “that guy,” but having seen some extremely childish, vindictive behavior from a few project creators, that power seems a bit much. I could see it blowing up on a project creator if there was a misunderstanding, too. And really, it won’t stop someone who is determined… Kickstarter allows and even somewhat encourages people to create a second account if they want to bid on a project multiple times… how many times will you recognize/whack each mole?
      On the whole, I think Kickstarter suffers from a lack of a feedback system. It helps on eBay (mostly), it helps on Amazon (more), and it would be a good thing on Kickstarter, both for backers AND project creators. The best project creators deserve their theoretical five stars, and the worst deserve one star, and it would help backers know who is who out there…
      I realize this will never happen. Kickstarter claims to not be “a store” and giving buyer/seller feedback would make it more like a retail operation or pre-ordering system. Oh well… at least on BGG, we can honestly speak about tabletop game project creators (for the most part). That doesn’t help people new to the platform though.

      1. Val Teixeira
        Sep 25, 2013 at 10:08 am Reply

        The problem with a feedback system on Kickstarter is that, unlike ebay or amazon, a project creator will very rarely have more than a handful of projects. There is simply not enough of a data set to really make such a system viable on KS.

        Kickstarter is intended for, and predominantly used by, start-ups, not established companies with established products. Such a system would fly in the face of the sense of entrepreneurship that KS is trying to develop.

        That’s also why other signals of quality are used – such as videos, rules, reviews, social networks, current level of backing etc. Successful project creators do whatever they can to improve those signals of quality and it often shows.

  • k40342
    Oct 1, 2013 at 11:24 am Reply

    This is the first time I feel like I need to voice my opinions ;-)

    1) I am a “silent” backer on Jamey’s Euphoria Kickstarter project. That means I like his project, etc. I have not been actively involved in any of his “community” but I enjoy his updates and progresses. So my idea of what kickstarter represents is different than Jamey’s.

    2) The idea of letting project creator kicking out “toxic” backers is a terrible, terrible idea. I have backed one “scam” project on kickstarter and several projects that have extensive delays without “reasonable” updates. Having the “aggressive/well-meaning” backers kicked out by the creator would scare off most backers. Jamey’s ideaes are much more reasonable.

    3) There is a “feedback” system within kickstarter. You just have to do some works. When I checked out Jamey’s project, I also checked out his previous projects, comments left by previous backers. A simple due-diligence before “investing” in an idea. Given Jamey’s history with his previous projects, I would back another one of his without reservation if I like the project. So, all backers should followup and comment after the project is funded and after they received their perks. For creators on their “first” kickstarter project, give them a little more slack and follow Val’s advice.

    1. Jamey Stegmaier
      Oct 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm Reply

      k40342–Thanks so much for chiming in! I always like to hear from my “silent” backers. :)

      That’s a great call to backers to chime in on the main comments section after they receive the product to show at the very least that they actually received the project and that it was high quality (if that’s the case). That makes it easy for potential backers of future projects from that creator to vet that creator’s previous work on Kickstarter.

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  • MB
    Jan 25, 2014 at 12:42 am Reply

    I’m really, really surprised that you can’t yet “un-pledge” people from your project. Black-list, if you will.

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