15 September 2016 | 22 Comments
A few days ago I received an e-mail from a reader who had a really great question, something I haven’t discussed on the blog. He mentions a project that’s rooting for and wants to back, but as an experienced backer, he sees a number of red flags on the campaign. Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail, which I’m using with the reader’s permission:
Having seen (repeatedly) Kickstarters fail miserably due to creator’s underestimating the difficulty of bringing products to fruition, I’m worried. I really want this to work, but…It’s almost coming across as vaporware, and I don’t want myself, or other backers to watch this go down in flames.
How should I (as a superbacker, or even a regular backer) bring up concerns like this to a creator? Should I put something in the comments, use Kickstarter’s messaging functions, email the creators, or if I’m really concerned, should I report the project to Kickstarter?
I’ll say first that if you think a project creator is intentionally misleading backers or that it’s a scam, definitely report it to Kickstarter so they can investigate. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about instances where you think a project simply has room to improve.
I’m going to take a meta-approach in attempting to answer this question: How can backers effectively coach creators?
- Think about your intent. This is something to consider whenever you’re giving unsolicited advice. Why do you want to do it? Let’s face it–giving advice feels good. It makes us feel smart, powerful. Are you trying to raise yourself up or put someone else down? If so, I wouldn’t recommend continuing to step 2. However, if you genuinely care about the project and want it to succeed, please carry on.
- Become a backer. Crowdfunders get a lot of comment and messages while the campaign is live. From my experience, unsolicited advice carries a lot more weight if the person is invested in the project. I know just as well as they do that they can cancel at any time. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is that they made the effort to become a backer before offering constructive criticism.
- Be public. Private advice is fine, but public advice has the advantage of becoming a collaboration, which is the whole point of crowdfunding.
- Start with the positive. Tell the creator why you’re passionate about their project, even if it’s just 1-2 sentences. I know, this might seem like you’re babying the creator, but really the key here is that your advice doesn’t matter if the creator doesn’t hear it. Starting any message of unsolicited advice with something positive will significantly increase your chances of the creator taking the constructive criticism to heart. Don’t go in with guns blazing, basically.
- State it as an opinion. Okay, now it’s time to share your opinion with the creator. I think the most effective way to not come across as a know-it-all (which might put the creator on the defensive) is to frame the advice as an opinion rather than a hard, undeniable fact.
- Back it up with evidence. This is where you have to be really careful. Evidence does NOT mean that you link to another project and say, “X project did it this way, so you should too!” Rather, it’s just an example–an example, not proof–from another project, some data, or an article written by someone who studies crowdfunding.
- Be succinct. Keep it short. If you have multiple threads of advice to start, don’t post them all at once–spread them out over several days.
- Open the conversation. You’re posting this advice in public, so end it by opening a dialogue with other backers and the creator. This shows that you’re looking out for the greater good, not just your own personal desires.
Here’s an example. I’ll act as if I’m a backer of my own project for the sake of this example:
Let’s contrast that with a different approach:
Obviously that’s an over-the-top, extreme example for the point of comparison. Though I’ve certainly received messages to that effect! I’m human, and it’s really hard to listen to someone when their approach is so aggressive.
I should also note here that I’ve heard of many backers citing my blog in the comments of other campaigns. On one hand, that’s great–I write this blog to help my fellow creators, so I’m glad when people share it. On the other, almost everything on this blog is subjective. It’s my opinion. So please don’t present a Kickstarter Lesson as the only way to run a campaign. It’s just one of many ways.
If you’re a creator who has been coached by backers, what would you add to this list? Also, what topic that I haven’t already covered would you like to see as the big 200th Kickstarter Lesson?
- Kickstarter Lesson #123: How to Give and Take Tough-Love Feedback
- Kickstarter Lesson #189: Can’t We Have This Conversation in Public?