Kickstarter Lesson #41: Etiquette in the Public Eye

28 July 2013 | 27 Comments

Kickstarter has an interesting impact on you as a public person. The second you launch on Kickstarter, you’re in the public eye in a way that you’ve probably never experienced. It’s different than Facebook or blogging–Kickstarter is currently the 810th most visited website on the internet. Your visibility there is many times greater than normal.

It extends well beyond Kickstarter. From now on, you are in the public eye.

What does that mean for those of us who can’t afford PR firms? It means that whoever you were before your Kickstarter campaign–an amalgamation of thoughts, ideas, and opinions–still exists, but now you will be actively judged by a lot of people. Not just backers, but people in your industry who can be great connections for you if you don’t burn those bridges first.

I have two stories to illustrate this concept. Both fit are related to a leadership lesson I wrote on my public blog a while ago: Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately. Because you never know who’s listening.

The first story happened on Friday. I was recently asked to speak on a panel of local crowdfunding/crowdsourcing entrepreneurs in St. Louis at Washington University, my alma mater. The panel was actually held in a classroom where I took several of my business school classes in undergrad. About 100 people were in attendance.

Midway through the panel, I was asked whether there is any reason I wouldn’t use Kickstarter in the future. I explained that while Kickstarter is great for gauging demand and testing the waters with little capital at stake, it may not be necessary for a well-established company with a loyal user base.

To give an example, I expressed my admiration for the philosophy of Greater Than Games, the publisher of Sentinels of the Multiverse.
They ran several incredibly successful Kickstarter campaigns, but they made it clear that for future Sentinels expansion, they were going to use traditional pre-orders instead of Kickstarter. I applauded them and said that I had adapted a similar philosophy for Stonemaier Games.

Little did I know that Paul Bender, one of the founding members of Greater Than Games, was in attendance! He kindly spoke up to confirm what I had said, and we had a nice chat after the panel ended.

The point is that you never know who’s listening when you’re in the public eye. And it’s one thing if you’re physically in public like I was at the speaking engagement. It’s quite another online, where almost anyone can read what you’re saying.

The second story is about an online encounter I had this weekend. I won’t name names (that’s the point of this entry, right?), but the overall idea is that someone libeled Stonemaier Games on a social network. Note the use of the word “libel.” I never have a problem with people disagreeing with my methods or disliking my games…I mean, it stings a little, because I put my heart into this company, but everyone has a right to their opinion.

Libel is different. Libel is when you spread a untruth about a person or company in a way that damages their reputation. In this case, another project creator said that we overcharged US backers of Euphoria to subsidize games for backers in the EU.

I was quite surprised to read this for several reasons. First, a basic understanding of per-unit accounting shows that while shipping to some backers in the EU will cost more than US shipping, the impact is a reduction in profit margin for each of those games sent to the EU. US backers are paying for their own games, not those of backers in the EU. Who’s paying for the extra shipping cost to the EU? We are. Jamey and Alan are.

Second, the biggest surprise was that the person who said those comments didn’t seem to realize that I have access to the internet and can read what he wrote.

I tried–as politely as I could muster–to point out the discrepancy in his statement. And granted, he didn’t go all-out slander. It was an offhand remark. But it was really disappointing to see someone lie about Stonemaier Games for absolutely no reason, and to think that we somehow wouldn’t notice.

That’s the thing about your public persona once you’re on Kickstarter. If you say something about someone online–someone else’s project, their game, their personal life–they’re going to notice. Is that the type of reputation you want to have? Do you want to build bridges or burn them?

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Actually, it’s another good reason for you to start blogging now if you ever think you’re going to run a Kickstarter campaign. You’ll start to get a feel for what it’s like to be in the public eye.

Either way, keep this in mind as you run your Kickstarter campaign and remain in the public eye afterwards. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have opinions. Rather, it means that you need to think of the impact of everything you say online and in public. When in doubt, just remember to praise publicly and criticize privately, with the latter ideally meaning that you address your concerns privately with the object of your criticism.

I found this a tricky subject to write about. I’m curious to hear what others think–feel free to share your insights in the comments section.

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27 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #41: Etiquette in the Public Eye

  1. Val–Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I completely agree with that article you linked to.

    I also like what you said about sharing your opinions. I think it’s really important to find a productive, constructive way to share one’s opinions online. I like your method of offering solutions and ideas if you’re going to criticize someone.

    1. Yeah, I’ve been debating whether or not to chime in about that. My fairly uniformed takeaways are twofold: That guy hurt first-time project creators in the game space by reducing confidence in people who haven’t proven they can deliver, and the advice that creators should not quit their day job. I think I’ll probably talk about at least one of those at some point on the blog.

      1. I think Fred Hicks had a very useful response to that project:
        He looked at the lessons that can be learned from this failure.

        I am one of those people that can be highly critical of a project. I also value people that are critical, even if mistaken. What I can add is that:

        (1) If I am critical of a project, I don’t squirrel away my criticism. I make sure it’s somewhere that the person I’m criticizing is aware of, so that they can respond and I’m open to that response (and continued conversation). If I am mistaken, I acknowledge that fact openly. This is important, because I believe, as a project creator, you’d rather know about fears and concerns that people may have so that you can address those issues directly (rather than have them simmer in people’s minds).
        (2) I try to be helpful. If I am critical of a project, I try to offer solutions or ways of resolving the issue. I try not to be dismissive out of hand, but point at why I feel the way I do and what could change that.
        (3) Be open to and respect opposing viewpoints. There are some people that I know have completely different viewpoints to my own and I find it very refreshing and I respect them for that. I’ve walked away from many a disagreement where we’ve had more respect for each other than when we started, even though we have opposite viewpoints. The issue here is respect – even when you disagree with someone, treat them with the respect and dignity another human being deserves.

        This, however, is a tightrope walk across a pit of spikes. I recognize the danger and it’s easier (and often safer) to keep your opinions private. I hope that people recognize the sincerity and caring with which I give criticism and for every time I err, I hope that my criticisms have helped a dozen more people (and I hope this criticism helps you too).

  2. I think myself and a certain creator should have read this blog earlier. Especially the advice on reactionary posts.

    1. Jason–Well, this post wasn’t targeted towards you (or anyone, really), and you certainly don’t have the same level of exposure that a project creator does. Also, after reading through all of those comments several times, I think most of them include fair criticisms of the project and its creator. It was just the last few that seemed to turn a corner into something a little darker. I appreciate you all responding understandingly to my request.

      1. Thanks Jamey. Lol. Didnt think it was directed towards myself but I could apply the principles as a backer. Some comments are forever embedded that could negatively reflect on my character. Granted its not likely that it will affect me in the same manner as a creator… but then again… some backers become creators. Just good points for all to reflect on. Thanks again!

  3. @Jamey, Libel as you pointed out is a legally definable offense where an individual puts something in print that is defamatory and untrue. It is often much worse than slander (as slander is spoken) since the print does not go away. Not suggesting that legal action is definitely warranted, but I think it is important for you to defend the truth and I think it’d be reasonable to expect an in-print recantation of the accusation. Unfortunately, In cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the harmed party, so if it ever came to a court issue, you would need to be able to prove both that his statement was false but also that it caused harm and third, that the statement was made without adequate research to defend it. I’m not an attorney so please don’t take any of this as legal advice, just what I remember from one of my communications law classes for my P.R. major ;)

    1. Chat–This is great information. Thank you for sharing it. In my case, it was very minor, and I was able to clear it up right away, but it’s good to know for the future.

  4. You pretty much described my main reason for stopping to back majority of kickstarters that have backed out of pledges for. If the way they present themselves leaves me questioning them, its tough to trust my money with them. It not only can affect their kickstarter project, but any other games or items they already have out or intend to put out in the future for someone like me who tends to have a long memory. The fact that campaigns cant be edited once funding closes, and the comments are viewable for a long time, means even people who didn’t back the project or may not have even been on kickstarter at time of campaign can go back and see those comments later makes the potential negative impacts even greater.

    1. Rob–That’s a great point. Kickstarter isn’t just public, it’s permanent. As is most of the internet. So a reactionary comment or post I make today isn’t just there today, it’s there forever. That’s definitely something people should keep in mind.

  5. Great post, Jamey. I’ve been consistently impressed by your public presence, and your awareness of your public presence (two entirely separate things).

    I won’t name names, but there is one project creator on Kickstarter currently who is blowing my mind with their outlandishly horrible and condescending PR. Thanks for always being top-notch in that area.

    1. Thanks Dustin. It’s something that I’ve learned over time through my personal blog. And I’m no angel–I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes, and I’m sure I will in the future.

      Feel free to send me a message about the project you’re referring to if it’s something I could address in a Kickstarter Lesson/interview in a productive way.

    2. That’s okay, Jamey –I think the takeaways I see from this particular project are covered in some of your other blog entries.

      I think that many board game project creators are in an interesting spot: if you are just trying to fund your dream game, then you’re just looking for a few (hundred) backers willing to see your vision to fruition; you don’t need their input or continued patronage. In these instances, custoemr service and etiquette don’t have to rule the day.

      But, if you are a publishing company looking to Kickstarter as a sort of business model, you damn well better think of your backers as “customers” and read a few books on Public Relations 101.

  6. This is a huge point that not enough people pay attention to and it goes way beyond Kickstarter. I teach technology as my career and I’m constantly trying to get my students to understand that anything they post on the Internet is basically permanent. Like I said, I’ve taught for around 7 years and have volunteered in youth ministry for even longer- I’ve been aware of my public image of a LONG time now. I don’t have room to do anything regrettable when someone- administration, students, parents, etc- is watching. This wise advice for any situation.

    1. Jeff–That’s great advice to give to younger generations who may not realize the lasting effect of their Facebook outreach. As you’ve seen on my personal blog, I think it’s totally possible to share your personality online, but you have to know where to draw the line.

  7. Jamey,

    Just got to tell you how much I appreciate these blog post. I have read every one and they are a great help. I signed up to be an ambassador for you here in Salt Lake area, and I’m very excited to do so. You are running a great company and I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate what a great businessman you seem to be.

  8. Solid advice. Another sweet article. Find the positive things to say first and basically keep your trap shut when it doesn’t directly affect you or your business!

    I fail miserably at withholding my opinion in the public eye. But, at least I’m well-aware that what I’m saying is possibly offensive or about to ruffle feathers, even when I say it anyway. 90 percent of the time I’m constructively criticizing or joking anyway, but I think having dissenting opinions is important. Not for PR, but for sanity :). And likewise, I refuse to ever contact someone about a negative review or opinion of my own work. Thick skin is just as important as a free and open expression of opinion.

    1. TC–I totally agree. I think if you have too much of a filter online, you no longer come across as yourself. That’s particularly detrimental on Kickstarter, where people may back you because they like you in addition to liking your project.

      That’s a great point about thick skin as well. Whenever anyone reviews Viticulture, whether the review is good or bad, I like to reach out to thank the reviewer for taking the time to play the game. I’m honored every time anyone–not just a reviewer–takes the time to learn the rules to my game and plays it a few times. I think the only time I get a little frustrated is when someone only plays it once and posts an elaborate opinion based on it…but they don’t tell people that they’ve only played it once. I think that’s really important information to include (the number of plays before reviewing the game).

  9. I’m hoping to stay as positive as possible at all times and especially during my campaign. Thanks for appearing at the aforementioned panel. The comments at the panel and the Kickstarter lessons are a big help for anyone attempting a project. I’ll be creating my Kickstarter page this week based on your advice. Hope to see you there.

    1. Awesome, that’s great to hear, Chris. Yesterday someone asked me if any of the panel attendees had any neat ideas, and I said that the one I was most excited about was your arcade pub concept. Local infrastructure projects are tough to pull off, but I’d like to see you achieve success with yours.

  10. @jamey, great write-up. I personally have seen this being done in at least campaigns, were someones past is brought to light to bring into question the validity of a campaign. With the recent the doom campaign, i under stand the need to self police, but for a publisher’s first time around, it seems very hard for them to get the cred they need. Once a self-publisher gets their first game under their belt it seems easier. Guess KS makes self policing a priority. Slander on the other hand seems to occur an awful lot on BGG and KS.

    1. jw–It’s just like running for a political campaign. Dirt from your past is going to come up.

      I have noticed slander/libel on both BGG and Kickstarter. In a lot of cases, there’s no malicious intent, but people often end up looking pretty dumb. Rather than post a public accusation about something, it’s so much better to post a public question for clarification. Once you get your facts right, by all means, accuse away.

      1. “Rather than post a public accusation about something, it’s so much better to post a public question for clarification.”

        +1000 to this. If everybody followed this advice 50% of all flame wars could be avoided.

  11. Great points. And when I tagged you on Facebook in that thread, I had no idea the original poster was going to go in the direction he did. You handled it very appropriately and professionally, I thought.

    1. Thanks Michael. I did my best, but it was hard. It was so odd that he decided to say something like that–I was really bewildered that he thought saying something like that was okay and would go unnoticed.

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