Kickstarter Lesson #18: Project Updates

6 March 2013

Once you’ve launched your Kickstarter project, you can post updates to all backers (unless they unsubscribe), and those updates will be delivered directly to their e-mail inboxes. Thus it’s a great way to communicate with your backers during and after the project.

I have four simple guidelines I would recommend when making choices about timing and content for project updates:

  1. Don’t be annoying.
  2. No news is worse than bad news.
  3. Content should be relevant, insightful, important, and/or urgent.
  4. Show your passion for the project.

Most of those are self-explanatory, but I’m going to delve deeper into #2. This is a lesson I learned the hard way about 10 years ago when I accepted a freelance writing gig to ghost-write a book for someone. The client asked for the first few chapters by a certain date, but I was struggling to find my rhythm, and the deadline came and went. I figured (incorrectly) that the client only wanted to hear from me if I had the chapters ready, so although I continued to write, I didn’t relay the message to the client. I think I knew deep-down that I should communicate the bad news to the client, but I was embarrassed by my struggles with the client. Finally the client reached out to me and asked what was happening…if the client has to reach out to you, you know it’s too late.

Although the client moved on, he imparted to me the advice that no news is worse than bad news. That advice applies to pretty much everything in life, and it’s particularly applicable to Kickstarter projects. You have to communicate in clear and transparent ways with your backers before and during the project. They should not have to come to you to ask if the project is on schedule. That information should be expressed in your project updates, even if you’re running behind.

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Another way to look at it is this: You have the opportunity to give Kickstarter backers a behind-the-scene look into how your project becomes a reality. A sneak peek behind the curtain. They understand that you’re learning about the manufacturing and distribution process, but many of them want to learn about those processes as well. It’s like the scene in Iron Man where he’s learning how to fly in his suit for the first time. Favreau could have cut that scene and jumped to Tony Stark flying around like a pro. But he didn’t. He included the audience in Stark’s learning process, and we’re more engaged in the movie as a result.

So be transparent with backers. Share the good news, but also share the bad news and what you’re learning from it.

How often should you post updates?

This falls into the “don’t be annoying” category. You probably won’t lose backers if you post updates too often, but you will lose subscribers. And when you lose a subscriber, you’re not getting them back. Thus I would suggest the following, keeping in mind that you should only update if you have something relevant, insightful, important, or urgent to share with your backers:

  • During the project: post at the end of Launch Day, 2-3 times a week after that, including every time you hit a stretch goal (consolidate if you hit multiple stretch goals the same day), and up to once a day during the final week (that can be a lot, but that’s typically a time when you have a lot of stuff to share about stretch goals and things you’re doing to reach or exceed your goal)
  • After the project: post at the end of the final day or the following morning, then once a week after that for a few weeks, then once a month until you deliver, then a few times a year after that

Other tips:

  • As noted in Lesson #2, back other Kickstarter projects well before your project begins so you can learn firsthand what makes a good (or bad) project update.
  • Write each update as if you’re talking to one person, not a group of people. This is a better way to communicate to each individual backer.
  • Use at least one image or video in each update, just to add a little color. You may not mind reading a long update, but some people are more visual.
  • Public vs. Private: Keep in mind that non-backers might read your updates as they decide to back your project, so make the majority of your posts public. Every once in a while you might need a private post to share an exclusive with your backers, but those should be very rare.
  • Put all relevant content on the update that you possibly can, but feel free to link to ancillary material like designer diaries and polls on your blog. I also found it helpful to remind people on updates that they can get smaller doses of information by Liking our Facebook page.
  • It’s okay to mention other projects that you’re backing or launching in your updates, but keep in mind that that’s not why people subscribe to your updates. Thus they should be small mentions at the end of your update.

Also see Kickstarter Lesson #90: What You Should Do for 30 Minutes After Posting a Project Update

8 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #18: Project Updates

  1. I would even say less than what you suggest. I backed Sunless Sea, a spooky sailing game by Failbetter Games – a company I love because of their game Fallen London.

    There were a *lot* of updates, especially after the project ended. I like their writing + read their blog, but however many it was it was so many that I stopped reading them, and more importantly, I missed the one where I got a download link to the game.

    It’s in my inbox somewhere, I just need to find the time to root around – but now I’m a whole embarrassment cycle where I don’t want to look in case my link has expired, and so on.

    Anyway. my tl;dr is that less is more. In my experience, at least. Twice a week absolute maximum.

    I only launched my Kickstarter today, and the urge to constantly make with the updates is irresistible. But I’m trying to play it cool. It’s probably time to get off the internet and go for a walk, like I’d promised I’d do two hours ago!

    Anyway. Thank you for this post series, it’s been invaluable and I will certainly be buying your book by way of a thanks – even though I don’t expect to be running another Kickstarter for the forseeable future. It’s good knowledge :)

    1. Emily: Thanks for your comment, and congrats on launching your project. It’s great that you can speak to this as both a backer and creator.

      The key thing to remember, I think, is that there is a difference between a backer deciding not to read every update and a backer unsubscribing to updates altogether because they’re too numerous and/or annoying. 2-3 updates a week (posted only if they’re relevant, time-sensitive, and interesting) hits that sweet spot where backers who WANT to read them will do so, but most backers won’t unsubscribe. You might be surprised at how many backers really want more updates, but it’s great to hear that you have the restraint not to update too much.

      Good luck with your project!

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