Kickstarter Lesson #140: The Kickstarter Staff Pick

2 March 2015 | 47 Comments

At 11:50 am last Wednesday, in the middle of Kickstarter’s 2-hour downtime on Between Two Cities’ launch day, I got the following e-mail from Kickstarter:

2015-03-02_1017

“Cool,” I thought. Then I immediately archived it and didn’t give it a second thought.

Becoming a Kickstarter staff pick is universally considered a good thing. It means extra exposure for your project, because it appears at the top of this page.

However, Kickstarter’s website was down at the time, so no one could see that page.

kickstarter-staff-pick-b00a65d2A few backers noticed the project in the staff picks section a few days later, and they asked why my project image didn’t have the “Kickstarter Staff Pick” badge on it. I explained that the badge isn’t put there by Kickstarter–if you want it there, you have to put it there. Which I hadn’t done.

This resulted in an interesting discussion about the badge, which is why I’m sharing this story here.

My stance was that the badge is largely meaningless and even a little misleading. It looks like your project has received some kind of official Kickstarter award, right? Like the staff gets together every day to talk about every project and vote on the “best” ones in some prolonged process.

But that’s not the case–you can see that from the staff pick message. “Someone on the Kickstarter team loves your project and now it’s a staff pick!” In other words, “A person likes your project.”

So for me, the staff pick means nothing. I don’t care what Kickstarter thinks about my project. I care what backers (and potential backers) think. The extra publicity is the one nice aspect about the staff pick, but the badge itself doesn’t mean anything.

However, when I expressed this to my backers, they presented a different side to the story. Even if the badge meant nothing to me, it meant something to them. They felt good knowing that Kickstarter picked the same project they picked. It reinforced their decision. And it made the project more appealing to potential backers–the more backers, the more stretch goals are met, and everyone wins.

This was really interesting for me to hear. Despite my explanation of the misleading nature of the badge–that it represented the opinions of one Kickstarter employee–it was meaningful to them.

So I decided to give it a try, just to see how it felt:

3D Box

 

It’s been that way for a few days, and it hasn’t bothered me. As backers predicted, a few people have mentioned it with a sense of pride–“Hey, that’s awesome we got a staff pick!” So perhaps this is one of those things where doing the right thing for backers is letting them feel good about the project, even if the true meaning behind the badge is negligible.

What do you think? Given what the Kickstarter staff pick really is, do you think it’s worth sharing as part of the project image?

UPDATE: Kickstarter wrote a blog post about how to be a staff pick, and they actually recommend not putting a staff pick logo on your project image.

47 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #140: The Kickstarter Staff Pick

  1. Insightful post. I too thought there was more to the Kickstarter Staff Pick than “someone at Kickstarter likes your project.” I’ve always thought the badge meant the project owner was vetted in some way by the Kickstarter staff, which would suggest that the project is more dependable than projects which did not get selected. It would be interesting to see if Kickstarter Staff Picks historically delivered with less issues than other projects.

    1. Marc: Yep, that’s exactly why I think the staff pick badge is a little misleading. That’s a good question (if KS staff picked project deliver with fewer issues than other projects).

  2. I think that a kickstarter staff member would be able to recognise a project that will succeed better then the ‘average’ person, it’s part of their work environment so their insight is more likely to be better.

    Saying ‘it’s just one person’ as silly here as saying Total Biscuit is ‘just’ one person. When that person has influence, however hidden they may be, then they are of note.

  3. It’s good to be a Kickstarter pick and you should use it to boost up your campaign even if it doesn’t actually mean something.
    The bad thing about it is that since there is nothing you can do to earn it, there can’t also be some advice towards this.

    1. Evangelos: That’s true, because there’s no process, it’s not something that can be earned. I think that’s a good reminder to creators that you can’t rely on Kickstarter to generate interest in your project.

  4. I put no stock on Staff Pick. I’ve seen games that have been Staff Picks that I thought weren’t “worthy”. I’ve also seen ones that I would have thought would be more “deserving” of a staff pick that weren’t. Honestly, I completely ignore all the KS emails with suggested projects and such. Although I guess for the more casual backer it’s good, since any exposure that isn’t bad is good exposure.

    1. @Ahzile: Yeah, I think it’s because projects aren’t selected on any sort of “worthiness” metric. They’re just based on what individual Kickstarter staff members like and notice.

  5. The metrics are pretty clear that I’ve seen from past project creators who have shared their information, James Mathe among them: the staff pick makes no discernible difference in the backer numbers trend around the time it is “awarded”. Whether it converts into some extra backs at the end of the campaign there’s really no way of knowing. That said it definitely doesn’t hurt, and if you get it you might as well throw the logo up into main project image on the off chance you get an extra back or two out of it.

    1. bduerksen30: Could you share those numbers? I’d like to link to them here. I’ve definitely seen an uptick in previous projects when Kickstarter featured my campaigns (Viticulture and Euphoria).

      1. The heavy discussion on the topic happened 6+ months ago on the Facebook group for board game Kickstarter advice, so I’ll try and track it down along with the articles that trickled in after the fact with more data. The article from James was from their Dead Men Tell no Tales campaign, and actually dealt w being a featured project rather than staff pick now that I look back at that particular article.

        1. I think that being a featured project might be even better, as usually that involves being mentioned in Kickstarter’s daily e-mail. I’d be curious to see the data if you see it. I can say for sure that it helped Viticulture, but that was back in the ancient days of 2012.

          1. James’s article on that campaign is here: https://www.jamesmathe.com/dead-men-tell-no-tales/

            The paragraph on the feature is short, but he concluded it netted them 13 backers (out of the campaign’s total of nearly 1,800) and the funding curve itself was unaffected. He points out the specific weekend they got on the list probably mattered, and he’s likely right, but that’s still not a huge return for being something people normally think is a huge deal. But hey, for a smaller project I suppose 13 extra backers could mean the difference between a print run and no game.

          2. Thanks! That’s a good point, 13 backers could mean a lot for a smaller campaign, or it could mean a stretch goal for a bigger campaign. Thanks for digging up that link.

  6. Since Kickstarter makes their money as a percentage of successful funding goals, I would assume (perhaps a bit cynically) that the purpose of a staff pick is to increase the “take” on projects that are going to succeed anyway. I’d rather see them used to bring attention to projects that are genuinely good, but suffering from a lack of exposure.

    1. @Ryan: I don’t know the true purpose of it–that’s a good question. My guess is that it’s just about what individual staff members like, regardless of how projects are doing.

  7. I used to browse Kickstarter, but at this point I have to stay away for fear of sinking too much money into projects. The Kickstarter staff picks are something I’ll check when I receive the email from them, if a project jumps out at me I’ll click into the project page. I view their picks as unique or special in some way, or of a higher caliber than the average project, since they see so many projects over the course of their day.

  8. In a situation where I like the product/campaign but the person/company running the campaign is unknown and unproven, then a KS Staff Pick lends an air of authority and security to something I was unsure about. However in your case I’ve backed you before (treasure chest) and you delivered more than I hoped sooner than expected. I know who you are, I trust you as a campaign runner so the KS Staff Pick doesn’t convince me any more than I needed to be to back you.

    In the grand scheme of things, the KS Staff Pick doesn’t actually make a project any more legit, but it *feels* more legit and that’s enough for a lot of people.

    1. Gino: Yeah, it’s that air of authority and security that I think might be a little misleading–that’s why I was hesitant to put the badge on my project. Kickstarter staff members are people just like you and I. I’m sure they know the site better than most people, but it doesn’t mean that a staff member making their pick of the day really goes into any detail when they review candidates. I suspect they just pick a project they think looks cool.

      1. Taking a data driven approach here, there are 8415 live projects on KS now and 570 total staff picks. That’s only 6.8% of live projects that are staff picks. With these ratios, the staff pick could easily be viewed as a reliability metric in a sea of unknown. Wearing the badge could help you meet somebody extremely valuable to your backer community. If it carries a sense of reliability, then that should not be a bad thing. In the end, all project backers should be held to the same project delivery rulebook.

  9. Do you know how many staff picks are chosen daily?
    If that amount is severely limited, it might mean something after all…

  10. My project (Lost Woods) got Staff Picked 2 days before the end, then we doubled our funding. I’m sure it’s not the only reason, but it really seemed to help. For right or for wrong.

  11. I certainly don’t find it important….and more importantly, if a project over announces it, then it is a sign that something does not go well with me. Someone that mentions it once and puts the logo is fine. Going overboard (mentioning it an update, making it a large add on BGG, etc…) would turn on red flags for me

  12. The benefit of the staff pick (at least from what I understand) is that it gets you higher in the browsing list when people search “by magic,” which is the default setting. Putting the sticker on your project image does absolutely nothing for me personally. Actually, it might have a negative impact since it visually clutters up the image. I don’t know what the numbers are, but there are A LOT of staff picks and a lot of them don’t even look like very good projects, so seeing the sticker doesn’t help at all to differentiate quality projects in my mind.

  13. Really interesting idea. I had only ever thought of it as a great thing. I see where you were originally coming from now too, Jamey, but as a backer of projects, I do feel a sense of pride in my decision to back when KS calls out how cool the project is. “Reinforces my decision” is a perfect way to put it.

  14. The Badge is one thing. I’m certain the Badge offers an extra thing to catch an eye, and for whatever reason it generates extra pledges.
    What I’m interested in is WHY things become a staff pick.
    Forgive my cynicism but when I saw your project get staff picked after 2 hours of being live, I said: “Oh that’s crap.” Not because you or B2C didn’t deserve it, but because Kickstarter choose you, to draw more backers to you, because you’re on the list of people that make them a fortune.

    So I think there are many reasons that the award is given. I just can’t figure em all out.
    AKO dice got the award. Why? The dice were generally impossible to read d6s. Albeit a clever and pretty design… but ok. I guess… they were slashy.
    Ghostbusters? Ok, Sony’s backing it. That’s good press.
    But I’ve seen horribly failing campaigns with no hope get it, which gave me hope that KS doesn’t just money grub with it – but some of them were terrible projects with terrible pages that were doomed to fail. So I had trouble figuring out these puzzles.
    I’ve also heard that if enough backers email stories@kickstarter.com you can get it. I tried asking my backers today to do so. We’ll see if it works, and if so I’ll be back to report.

    So originality, high end producers, slashiness… all reasons you might get that badge.

    But I would say: If you get it… use it!

    Best to all.

    1. John: That’s kind of my point: There is no rhyme or reason to it. As the message from Kickstarter says, someone at Kickstarter likes your project. That’s it. It’s just one person’s opinion, which is largely meaningless other than they happen to work at Kickstarter. I don’t think that some projects earn the staff pick and others don’t–it’s the equivalent of a random person clicking “like” on a Facebook post. That’s why I was very hesitant to put the badge on the project image, as it’s misleading and gives people the impression that the project went through some sort of special selection process.

  15. I got staff pick but never used the badge. Where did you get that graphic from?

    At the time, I went to the KS twitter and was a little disappointed to see that there are multiple staff picks each hour. But if – as Andrew above states – 6.8% of projects get the ‘award’, that’s still a small test of quality and I almost certainly missed a trick by not displaying that fact.

    I believe that being staff pick got me 0 backers but maybe if I had added it to my KS main graphic, I would have attracted a couple more backers.

    1. Bez: I searched on Google Images for “Kickstarter staff pick”.

      Oh yeah, there are staff picks made all the time. I see them on well-run and poorly-run projects alike.

  16. I have a different perspective to offer about this.

    Symbols, regardless of what they are, are powerless by themselves. They are given power by people. Think of a badge for a police officer. This person receives a piece of metal that is also issued by just one person. Worthless really. But we all recognize it as a symbol of authority.

    We all give power to symbols based on the environment we desire. For most of us we want a society of laws and morals, so we give a high amount of authority to police badges and respect them.

    Now that same concept applies here, backers have a positive connection with the people who run kickstarter. But there is no way to directly apply that connection without their authority.

    The badge bridges this connection. The backers desire to be a part of kickstarter itself and their desire to be a part of you as a creator is facilitated by this “conduit” if you will.

    When a staff member behind the scenes of this place we’ve come to love also likes the project you do, the project creator gets the opportunity to use this symbol to bridge the positive emotions associated with kickstarter itself. meaning the badge has power. This is applied as an approval of the project which connects with the backers on an emotional level, not a rational one.

    The net result is the project creator receives the positive association the backer has with kickstarter, and kickstarter employees get to seem involved in the projects their site facilitates. increasing the power of the brand.

    While you’re right to say it’s just one person saying “i like this” its more than that because you’re increasing the positive notions of it by allowing KS to involve themselves with the community, backers see it and like that, and give credit for it on the projects where those connections are made. Its a positive psychological and emotional bridge, so I think we should support it

    I know this is long, but it was hard to get this thought down coherently. hope that’s ok :) What do you guys think?

    1. William: Very well said. I like the idea of the badge being a way to bridge the gap between the behind-the-scenes folks at Kickstarter and the backers–as you say, it’s all about connections, even if they’re symbolic.

  17. Hey Jamey,

    Thanks for all of your help with my current Kickstarter for Gamut magazine.

    We got a STAFF PICK notice on our first day (yesterday!) and that little purple button is sweet. It does seem to help, being at the top of those headers for NEW & NOTEWORTHY and POPULAR PICKS. We’ve had 144 backers so far, and 6 (for $180) came from N&N or POPULAR. Not huge, but it was a nice excuse to toss out a Tweet and post on Facebook. Anything else I can do to build on that?

    Thanks,
    Richard

    GAMUT: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/richardthomas/gamut-magazine-neo-noir-speculative-literary-ficti

  18. Richard: Congrats on getting Kickstarter’s new “Projects We Love” label! That’s their new version of the “Staff Pick.” It’s a nice reason to tweet/FB, as you already did, but I don’t think people care all that much beyond that. For your project, you have so many great authors involved–I think your best shot is to get those authors to share their enthusiasm for the project with their fanbases in a way that feels right to them.

  19. Thanks, yeah, working on that. Some are more motivated than others. LOL. But we’re trying to do it in a variety of ways—interviews, videos, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, newsletters, etc. It’s like a built in street team!

  20. We just got selected as the daily FEATURED PUBLISHING PROJECT for this Saturday. That means we’ll be the main selection in the publishing category, up top, across that whole space, like triple the normal size. I’ll let you know if it does anything for backers!

  21. Just random. I assume it’s because we were already a STAFF PICK and they liked us. There are currently 541 live publishing projects, wow, more than I thought. So, they do a new one every day, but still, that’s only 30 a month. I’ll track the analytics and let you know if turns into backers. So far 14 have come from STAFF PICKS, NEW & NOTE, POPULAR etc. $560 in total. Not bad. (Out of $9,000 raised so far.)

  22. I think that if you are lucky enough for your project to earn a staff pick then it makes good sense to share the logo as part of your project image. It is good promotion and good business for you. Personally, the Kickstarter Staff Pick has always made me feel that there is an air of unfairness about it. Like you said above the projects are not really vetted. Someone at Kickstarter just thinks it is cool. It is a very random “award” and has little do with how any individual backer may feel about the project. I have seen some fantastic projects that were not staff picks and some I thought were not all that whoopy get chosen. I really wish Kickstarter would cancel the practice as it seems unfair to creators. I really think it is self serving of Kickstarter and is aimed at getting Kickstarter more attention. When I back a project myself I pay zero attention to if is is a staff pick. But, still good business for a creator who gets chosen to advertise.

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