Kickstarter Lesson #17: Treat Your Backers as Individuals, Not Numbers

4 March 2013

I did something for my Viticulture campaign that was a bit crazy, and it may not be for you. But I’d like to bring it up for your consideration as we move past launch day into the meat of your Kickstarter campaign.

I sent each and every one of Viticulture’s backers a personalized thank-you message within 24 hours of their pledge.

Why did I do that? The primary reason is right there in the subject line of this lesson. I wanted to treat my backers as individuals, not numbers. Someday soon, Viticulture will be in game stores everywhere, and I’ll have no idea who buys it. But for the people who chose to trust me with their pledge back in September and October, I knew exactly who they were. They were Julia from Washington and Cliff from Massachusetts, Smoox from Taiwan and Rupert from Ireland. These are real people who connect with your passion and your dream, and they’re pledging to support you in exchange for something cool. Why not thank them for their support?

The really neat thing about Kickstarter is that you know more than your backers’ names. When you get a new backer, within one click you can look at their profile to see where they’re from, other projects they’ve backed, and (if they’ve written it), a personal bio. This is all great information you can use to connect with a new backer and show your appreciation for their pledge.

Now, you’re probably thinking that you’re not going to have time to thank backers individually. To that I say that it’s simply a matter of how you choose to spend your time. Viticulture ran for 44 days and accumulated 942 backers during that time. That’s about 21 backers a day. It takes a few minutes to write a thank-you message, so let’s say that I spent about 42 minutes a day writing thank-you notes. 42 minutes well spent, in my opinion.

I should stop and say here that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not thanking your backers individually. I’ve backed 60 projects, and I’ve received exactly 3 personalized thank-you notes. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means. I think the only time it stands out that I didn’t receive a thank you is when I’m one of fewer than 50 people who have backed a project. If less than 50 people have backed your project, you should be doing everything in your power to spread goodwill about your project. If you’re sitting back, refreshing your project page instead of engaging your existing backers when you’re far from funding, you’re not doing enough as a project creator. On the other hand, if your project is massively successful and you have 2,000 backers by Day 5, it’s going to be impossible to thank everyone individually. Perhaps then you could focus on individual thank yous to the higher-level backers.

It might be your inclination to send a generic cut-and-paste thank-you message to backers, but I put that in the same category as mass e-mails (see my thoughts on those on the Launch Day entry). They’re just so impersonal and insincere when it would literally take you 15 additional seconds to personalize the message.

However, I’d recommend a hybrid solution to make thank-you messages feasible en masse (again, this is similar to my Launch Day mass e-mail solution): Write a few e-mail templates and save them as drafts in your personal e-mail. I had four of these depending on the type of backer, and I updated them once a day so they were topical and relevant. Whenever I received a new pledge, I’d usually wait about an hour before copying and pasting the applicable e-mail template into a message to that backer, and then I’d personalize the e-mail based on any information Kickstarter had about that backer. I usually asked a question to get their feedback about my project or other campaigns. (The question is key–it’s an open door for engagement.)

Not everyone replied, nor did I expect them to. I didn’t keep track, but I would say about 30-50% of backers replied in some form. And I have to say, I never regretted sending one of those messages. The fruits of that labor were tremendous–I made some incredible connections to influential people, I got some great feedback that shaped the Viticulture campaign in a positive way, and I laid a foundation of communication that paid off down the road with many people.

One thing I found that surprised me was that a lot of people asked for things that weren’t clear on the campaign page. For example, one backer wanted several cards with custom images on them, but on Kickstarter you can only choose one reward level once unless you create a separate account. If I hadn’t opened the door for him to ask questions about that, he may have only gotten one copy of the game or even none at all. But because the door was open for him to ask questions, he asked away. I think he ended up with 3 copies of the game.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to thank backers individually, I would highly encourage you to find a way to treat backers as individuals, not numbers. Find the way that feels right to you to connect with them, especially if this is your first Kickstarter project.

Up Next: Kickstarter Lesson #18: Project Updates

21 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #17: Treat Your Backers as Individuals, Not Numbers

  1. Jamey, Your project was the first (and only) project where the creator thanked their backers. When you did it, I was touched, and I thought it showed a real attention to detail. Afterwards, I also thought it was terribly effective.

    That I did the same in my campaign was a direct result of your attentiveness. Also, good post.

  2. Late to the party in reading this series of articles, but I wanted to chime in as well: I was very impressed by the personal email after I backed Viticulture. I liked Viticulture enough to back it from the campaign page, but that little email was what cemented it in my mind as one of the best run campaigns around.

  3. […] Jamey Stegmaier, who used Kickstarter to fund his game Viticulture, kept drafts of emails for varying supporters at the ready. “Whenever I received a new pledge, I’d usually wait about an hour before copying and pasting the applicable email template into a message to that backer, and then I’d personalize the email based on any information Kickstarter had about that backer.” This can be applied to all supporters. […]

  4. Hey Jamey that was a great article about the way creator should engage with their backers. I think treating each backer individually will also reduce the end-of-campaign-back-out rate. A backer when treated well will never want to leave the community in which he felt so special and welcomed upon joining.

    Have you measured this effect in any of your campaigns?

    1. Ahmed: That’s a good question. In general, I try to always treat each of my backers as individuals, not numbers, in the way that I interact with them. I no longer send individual thank-you messages to each backer, though–I would have to hire someone just to do that on a campaign like Scythe.

      That said, for a first-time or smaller campaign, I think it can make a huge difference, partially in the retention effect you mentioned.

  5. Only 4 days into my first KS…but for me messaging backers directly to thank them for their pledge (or increased pledge) is without question the most rewarding part of running the campaign. For a start it’s only polite, and for seconds, it’s led to great conversations, suggestions, criticism, feedback, or just a motivational boost from the enthusiasm!

    I just wish I’d read this lesson properly, since it’s only around Backer #200 I thought to start asking a question in the email to help open a conversation. I’m now asking where people learned about the project, which is something I found myself really interested in in any case. Not many people reply, which is fine, but it’s great to exchange a message or two when they do.

  6. Jamey,

    My second Kickstarter is currently ongoing (“MASHED”), and I’ve been doing as you suggest – messaging all backers with a brief ‘thank you for backing’ message.
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/504288855/mashed-a-korean-war-mash-rpg

    The Comments thread started out really slow, though, and I wonder if that was related to all my private messaging.

    I’ve been getting good backer responses, and quite a few are sharing interesting stories about their personal or family experiences in the military, or how they came to be interested in the theme of the game (Korean War MASH units). I’ve continued to respond to them via backer messages, but these are really interesting messages that I think the general backer community for the game would enjoy reading in the Comments thread.

    I was unsure if asking these backers to post or repost their thoughts publicly in the Comments thread would be appropriate, but I’ve tested the waters with a comment or two urging people to post, and I’ve started also mentioning it in my ‘thanks for backing’ messages. It seems to be going okay from what I can tell.

    What suggestions do you have for spurring interactivity between backers in the Comments thread and elsewhere? Do you think it’s okay to urge people to post, and what sorts of benefits or pitfalls might there be?

    Thanks,
    Mark Plemmons
    Brabblemark Press

    1. Mark: Thanks for posting your question here! I think it’s great you’re taking the time to thank backers, and it’s interesting that you’ve connected that to a slow comments section. This actually reminds me a little bit of another post I wrote more recently (https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-189-cant-we-have-this-conversation-in-public/), though it may not apply as much here if people are uncomfortable sharing personal stories in the comments.

      I think there are two things you can do (it sounds like you’re already doing one of them):

      1. In the original message, mention that you would enjoy hearing about their military stories or how they found the campaign, and say up front that they can reply to you privately or share their story in the comments if they’re open to sharing it with others.

      2. If someone tells you something via message that you genuinely think would be interesting for others to read in the comments, share that with the person. I think they’ll be able to see through your words that you’re being genuine–you want others to experience the person in the same way you are.

      Hopefully that helps a little bit!

  7. Hi Jamey,
    We’re running a project now, and I wanted to put this here now, while it’s fresh in my mind. We’re following your advice and thanking our backers, but not following your advice to a tee. We have a copy/paste thank you note tailored to each reward level. When we can find something interesting to personalize the note, we do, but when we can’t we simply send the generic note. Nonetheless, it has the effect of making the backers individuals *from our perspective.* From backers’ perspective, it’s obvious they don’t want to be treated as numbers. But for us, even when we’re sending rather generic thank-you notes, we see their profile pictures, how many projects they’ve backed, where they’re backing from, and this has the effect of giving us a look at each individual backer in a way we wouldn’t have seen them without sending each one a quick thank-you. Thanks for the advice. It’s turned out to be more beneficial than we expected.

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