Kickstarter Lesson #226: When a Backer Threatens You

25 May 2017

Has a Kickstarter backer ever threatened you?

I’ve seen this quite a few times, both on and off of Kickstarter. In fact, just a few weeks ago a creator wrote to me to say that a few backers were threatening to cancel their pledges if he didn’t improve his stretch goals.

Now, let’s be clear about something: Backers have the right to challenge creators in healthy ways. That’s how projects and products improve. Backers also have the power to vet project creators who are trying to scam people.

But there’s a big difference between a backer saying, “I’m interested in some bigger stretch goals” versus “The stretch goals are terrible. I’m canceling my pledge if you don’t improve them today.”

That’s a threat. We simply don’t talk to people like that. These are live Kickstarter projects–the creator doesn’t owe you anything until the project ends, and you’re free to leave at any time. You don’t have to bring your pitchfork and torch to the comments.

***

So what should a creator do when someone threatens them? Here’s my take:

Please don’t spend your time or energy on people who threaten you in any way. Those are the 1% of backers that will make your life miserable for the next year. Let them leave.

The key to remember is that way more than 1% of your backers are going to disagree with you at some point in the process. That’s fine and normal. Most of them will express their disagreements in constructive ways. It’s not fine or normal for a backer to threaten you during a live Kickstarter campaign.

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How should you respond in the moment? My approach is typically to ignore threatening comments unless they’ve asked you a direct question. It’s like trying to have a civil conversation with someone after they break down your front door. The backer had the opportunity to make a civil comment (or just cancel), and they chose to take an aggressive approach. It’s okay for you to not dignify them with a response.

I’ve also tried acknowledging the constructive portion of the threat in an attempt to reframe the discussion. In the example above, I might respond, “These are the stretch goals we’ve carefully planned and budgeted for, but the great thing about Kickstarter is that backers can express their ideas and inspirations. Is there a specific stretch you would like to see?”

***

To the 99% of backers who find civil ways to share constructive feedback, thank you. You’re awesome.

If you’re a creator who has experienced this type of threatening behavior, I’m sorry. Let me know in the comments how you dealt with it.

Also read:

41 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #226: When a Backer Threatens You

  1. An excellent observation that this type of person is the type of person that will continue to make life miserable if they stick around.

    We have similar users on BGG that always crop up with threats to leave, and talk of how the entire community is now destroyed, every time something changes that they don’t like. As someone who always wants to make everyone happy, it’s hard to not want to make that <1% happy, but in the long run, life is so much better, both for yourself and your community, when you stop engaging them and just letting them go.

    Folks that offer constructive criticism, and show an understanding of both your needs along with theirs, are golden though!

      1. Sadly it’s because it’s worked for them before. We get customers like that too and when we were smaller and desperate, we’d play the game. Nowadays, we just politely tell them our rules and regulations and call it a day. As you said, you can’t win with everyone.

  2. I recently saw a comment on a Kickstarter project that was fulfilling telling the creator that “The ENTIRE project was ruined and (poop)” because the fulfillment company hadn’t sent him his tracking number yet and people overseas had started receiving their rewards…. The creator kindly responded saying that they were packaging over 7,000 rewards and they wouldn’t all be able to be sent out at once, but they fulfillment center was working around the clock. I thought that was a good way to response. Honestly, I probably would have found that guy’s order and made sure it was the last one sent out!! Hahahaha! People are so rude, self-centered and impatient sometimes! Thankfully, you’re right, it’s typically only the 1% and they can be ignored, or, hopefully, diffused… Nothing good ever comes from attacking/threatening someone.

  3. Not that long ago I canceled an order and cut off all communication with a customer because he decided to use very very harsh language at every one in the company because he felt he was “wronged.” As soon as I found out about it I told everybody to stop wasting any time on him. That person can’t spend enough money to make it worth while dealing with that attitude.

    1. Nick: That sounds like the approach I talked about in the “firing customers” article. Sometimes you can better serve your other customers and your team by letting a few bad apples go. :)

      1. If you keep those people, you may be being unfair to the reasonable majority. You will have less time and energy for them if you keep on being sidetracked by the persistently bad apples.

  4. Great write up and I totally agree. I don’t know of a business on that planet that is gonna please everyone, there are some you simply can’t win over with sterling service.

    I also tend to apply Derek Weida’s 3 foot rule. If it’s outside of your 3 foot circle, in other words outside of your control, ignore it and move on. Why waste emotional energy on things you can change after all. And it’s clear once some uses that kind of language there’s no reasonable discussion to be had.

  5. For me, the worst part of the board game Kickstarter experience these days is the community itself. I generally try to avoid the comments tab altogether and just read the updates via e-mail. I feel like folks have really jumped the shark with their behavior towards creators. From entitled demands to death threats. It’s just sad. The whole “armchair collaborative project design” thing is where it got started, and while I appreciate what that method of marketing set out to do, I feel like it really opened a nasty can of worms. I will have to be pretty desperate to want to subject myself to that demographic again, or use crowd funding as a way to generate my upfront capital. And that’s a shame.

    1. Michael: I’m sorry to hear that. I really, truly believe that it’s only a small percentage of the board game industry, but I understand that’s enough to make someone not want to be involved. I’m actually in the process of ensuring that the Facebook groups are welcoming to any questions (particularly rules questions), because I’ve seen how easily a few snide comments can really turn people away.

  6. Jamey,

    When I first read the title, I thought, “WHAT?!?” and then realized….oh, that kind of threat.

    Admittedly, I’ve seen a bit of it in the past, but I agree with you wholeheartedly and treat those who threaten to leave with the practically the same disinterest who simply cancel their pledge. In a successful campaign, those who pledge greatly outnumber, by clearly a factor of 100:1 or more, those who cancel, and you can’t expend energy on them. In my first KS project, I genuinely wanted to know why people cancelled…but quickly learned that most folks are not that interested in sharing their thoughts with creators. Leave them be and in the words of the Frozen princess…”Let it Go!”

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. I wouldn’t say its a great idea to ignore all cancellations – i myself have been brought back into a project a few times, when reached out to by the creator – normally im swithering on the fence, but the fact that a creator took the time to message me directly trying to address my concerns convinced me of a few things:

      a) They want / need my support
      b) They are open and fair to deal with
      c) They care about their product / backers
      d) They have time to put into such things – this may be the most important

      Its so important because it really does show a back the level of interest / care that creators do have.

      Now when it comes to people cancelling because they decided to try to spite you – i can understand that but a mass email / in KS mail to those that just dropped it couldn’t hurt (could it?)

      I personally can see the benefits and also the negatives. Maybe you just had a bad experience – whenever i get reached out to, i make sure to explain what i felt was wrong and what that meant to me personally (normally shipping to eu from US not being friendly or the overall cost was high and it just felt like a tight justification to purchase), but at least two projects in the past month with the last reason and i ended up backing them again after the creators contacted me personally, they didnt necessarily offer me anything extra just the mere fact they took the time resonated with me that i did want to help this creator in their project.

      Anyway thats a long comment! Sorry!

      TL:DR I don’t think ignoring cancellations is always bad.

      1. Nicholas: I’ve written about this a few times (I’ll post one such link below), and I totally agree with you that it’s nice to make that connection with backers. However, here’s my advice to creators: If you’re getting 10-20 backers a day, you should be contacting those backers via personal message when they pledge (don’t wait until when they cancel). And if you have tons of backers flooding in every day, it also means you have tons of backers canceling (most projects have a 5-10% cancellation rate), and it’s not good for your mental health to get a constant stream of updates regarding people who have cancelled. So in either instance I recommend not paying attention to cancellations, but still keeping the essence of what you said by establishing personal communication with individual backers as much as possible.

        https://stonemaiergames.com/live-blogging-lesson-1-filtering-cancellations/

  7. Jamey, thanks for writing this post. I see backer threats being made often to other project creators for various reasons. It’s unfortunate to see such lack of social etiquette, but I suppose that’s part of the passive-aggressive nature on the internet. Maybe Kickstarter should incorporate some sort of backer rating system, similar to eBay? This way backers who continually leave threatening comments could be flagged. Just a thought.

    I did have one backer threaten to cancel their pledge in my current campaign, simply because we asked for backer feedback in a project update on adding an “optional expansion” to the campaign. The overwhelming majority were in favor of the expansion according to a survey we posted. Though there were a small group who opposed it and were the most vocal about it. The challenging part is finding a happy medium for everyone. I’ve learned though, that you can’t and won’t please everyone, and you’re absolutely right in that it’s best just to ignore those types of threats in most cases.

      1. If only people were tid to one account that would work, but being kickstarter as it is people would just have a toxic account and dump it when it got problems – anonymity is fine and all but it also has such setbacks.

  8. After running 8 Kickstarter campaigns, my skin has gotten a heck of a lot thicker, but in those earlier projects, it was very hard for me to not take negative comments too personally because I have an overly empathetic personality. Now, the more negative a comment is, the less attention and thought I try to give it (it’s tough sometimes).

    On the other side of the coin, I try to give positive comments and just having fun on the campaign EXTRA attention. It creates an upbeat atmosphere that is contagious, which leads to others jumping in on the fun too. Let’s make those glasses HALF FULL people! =)

  9. Nice post.

    At our last project we specifically stated a whole paragraph about multiple copies, even giving an example for clarification. A backer reached us in private and asked to receive 2x copies with a single shipping price. It was exactly the example we used, so my guess is either he didn’t read the whole campaign through, or he just wanted to cheat. After kindly responded and indicated the section we wrote, he said (don’t remember the exact words) “he is feeling disappointed because he thought he helped us with funding so he deserved it, but oh well he is willing to pay the second shipping cost. ”

    My team agreed to let it go and send both copies, as it was a single event. But I am still afraid of the wave it can become if one tells another and then you’re in a desperate situation were 200 backers ask for the same thing. And it is not your fault, after properly informed in the “Shipping” section of your campaign.

    Toxic people. Avoid as much as possible.

  10. I’m just glad you’re talking threats about “stretch goals”. I’ve seen worse.
    I’ve tried to dialogue, and in a very calming peaceful way, with some of these people on my campaigns (especially after they missed the pledge manager and contact me over a year later) and there’s simply no reasoning with some people.
    I’ve been in a bad place too, so I try not to condemn anyone in my heart, but boy is it rough sometimes.
    #solidarity

  11. You should read the comment section of the Project: Elite Kickstarter. The creators had some poor communication and had made some potentially poor business decisions regarding some of the miniatures which didn’t help their project. Things got really nasty when they ran into Shipping Issues (maybe due to redoing all the miniatures (at the backers insistence) resulting in using a less than stellar shipping company which had its own list of issues). During this whole fiasco, there was an overly vocal group of nasty commenters that went so far as to threaten the creator with bodily harm (i.e. death threats). Hence Project Elite, while making the 2016 top 10 list of some prominent reviewers lists, was essentially dropped as the creator had had enough. I didn’t think people (i.e. the commenters) could reach such a low over a Kickstarter board game. It was really sad.

    1. Darren: Thanks for sharing this unfortunate situation with Project: Elite. Threats can take many forms, and it’s sad to hear that some backers stooped to such a low level.

  12. This article just made me think of the Evergreen State College debacle thats ongoing, where people who claim to be liberal and for free speech corner their “enemy” and refuse to have a civil discussion and instead just want to behave in a manner that is both aggressive and incorrect to something that (in my eyes anyway) seems like a fair extension of ones basic rights. Disagreement is not wrong and can be healthy for anything either growing either side to understand something better and lead to improvements – but the manner in which the disagreement is committed / undertaken is very important to being able to discuss and enhance everybodys experience.

    People who demand change in the wrong ways do not deserve it, imho i think that these people would quickly realise that behaving this way won’t work if they never got anything from it, it’s a shame that we placate people like this so often :(

    1. Well said, Nicholas. That’s the sad thing about the types of threats I described in my post: People can easily convey the same message in a non-threatening way, and doing so is much more likely to result in positive change.

  13. Hi Jamey, very interesting article, and a completely correct attitude. Have you read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and his thoughts on the Pareto principle? He believes that 80% if problems are caused by 20% of clients, and those 20% should be fired.

    As a KS creator do you have the ability to cancel pledges from toxic backers? Do you think KS would benefit from such a feature?

    1. Patrick: Thanks for sharing! I’m familiar with that principle, and I appreciate you noting it here.

      During a project, you cannot cancel pledges from toxic backers, but I think that feature could be useful. Though the backer could just pledge again. After the campaign, a creator can cancel and refund any pledge, and the backer can no longer comment on the campaign.

  14. If you have a campaign that is already well funded, let the backer walk, not worth the angst. Being able to cancel a toxic backer’s pledge is a good idea, though a determined hater would open up another account to continue.

    Jamey’s campaigns were so well run, he was responsive and created a community like atmosphere, with hudreds of backers being supportive, applying peer pressure to the toxic backers.

    I do miss Charterstone not being on KS, but I respect Jamey’s reasoning, his company needed to grow beyond the incubator that is KS.

    While he has created quality games, the wealth of his Kickstarter insights may well be his lasting legacy on the boardgame community.

  15. I umpire as a side gig. A lot of the way you handle this is the way we are taught to handle coaches.

    We have a three part mantra that may be apt for this: answer questions, ignore comments, and reward stupidity (with a ticket to the locker room). Your mileage may vary on the last one.

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