Kickstarter Lesson #51: Cross-Promotion Between Kickstarter Projects

2 September 2013 | 24 Comments

During  my Kickstarter campaigns for Viticulture and Euphoria, I received numerous offers from other project creators to cross-promote our campaigns. The offer was pretty much always the same: I mention their campaign on a project update, and they mention mine. Pretty innocuous, right?

Not so fast.

I’m not unique in receiving those types of offers–I’m sure most Kickstarter project creators have either received or sent at least a few of them.

There is a very specific subset of cross-promotions that I think are good for the Kickstarter economy. I’ll get to those guidelines in a minute. But I think the rest fall into the category of spam.

If I have no connection to your project , your project has no connection to me or my backers, and I send an update including a link to it to hundreds or thousands of backers, I’m spamming them. They didn’t sign up for my project updates (which automatically happens when they back my project) for me to talk about other projects. They signed up to read about my project.

It’s not just a philosophical difference; it’s a matter of retaining as many update subscribers as you can. Kickstarter makes it very easy for people to opt out of updates, so if you have even a single update that feels unnecessary or like spam, dozens of backers may miss out on much more important updates to come.

Most cross-promotion is done with the intent to get more backers and more money. More. You want more. By pursuing more, you’re not putting your existing backers’ best interests at the forefront of your decisions.

Based on my backers-first mentality, I will only consider a cross-promotion–and really, it’s more like a friendly mention with no expectation in return–if ALL of the following guidelines are met:

  1. The other creator doesn’t ask me to promote their project. If I love your project and think my backers should know about it, you don’t have to ask me to mention it. The inverse is also true–if I haven’t mentioned your project, that almost definitely means I don’t love your project and/or think my backers would benefit from knowing about it. At most, if you already shared my project with your backers, feel free to tell me and link to the update. Don’t do so with the expectation that I’ll return the favor–please only share my project if you love it and you think your backers would benefit from knowing about it.
  2. I have an existing connection with the other project and/or the project creator. If I haven’t backed your project and we don’t have an existing connection, why would I be compelled to promote it? I have to personally believe in the other project–not just the result of the project (the game or the product), but also the way the other creator is running the project. Am I enjoying the ride? If I’m having a blast being a part of your project, I’ll feel good about sharing it. Thus the best way for a project creator to compel other creators to mention their project is make something awesome. If you make something awesome,  you don’t need to ask people to share it. They’ll share it because it feels good to share awesome things.
  3. I truly believe that my backers will benefit from knowing about the project. There are so many projects on Kickstarter that it’s impossible to know about all of them. Every now and then there’s a project that I not only personally love, but I also think my backers would greatly benefit by being alerted to it. I think they’d enjoy the project and the product. Anything less doesn’t feel genuine to me.

Although this is my personal philosophy, I think the Kickstarter economy will benefit from more truly genuine, selfless, backer-first mentions of other projects and fewer cross-promotions done purely to get more backers and more money. I actually don’t see this as a rampant problem on Kickstarter, but as the site continues to grow, I want to prevent this from becoming an issue.

It’s possible that some readers will view this as a selfish philosophy on my part. I have all of these backers from Viticulture and Euphoria–why can’t I share the love a little bit to help out a new creator? The thing is, like other successful project creators, I worked really hard to gain the trust of my backers. The trust that I put their best interests first. They don’t subscribe to my post-project updates to hear about other projects–they continue to subscribe so they know the status of Viticulture and Euphoria.

The way I share my love for new project creators is through these Kickstarter Lessons. This certainly isn’t the only resource out there for project creators, but I’ve spent a ton of time on these lessons, and my only intent is to give other creators a resource that I didn’t have when I started using Kickstarter.

I’m curious how other project creators respond to cold-call requests for cross promotion. Do you hit the “delete” button as quickly as I do?

24 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #51: Cross-Promotion Between Kickstarter Projects

  1. While I’ve never decided to stop receiving updates because of a cross-promotion, I can easily see how some people would.

    I was backing a Kickstarter (not going to name names) and the guy running the campaign kept encouraging us to go to other campaigns and support them. Of course, I’d click the link and see that THAT campaign was doing the same thing.

    I just stopped clicking the links and eventually the updates started being 10% about the campaign I was INTERESTED in and 90% about other campaigns, so I cancelled my pledge and never looked back.

    1. Justin–Thanks for your comment. I would guess you weren’t the only backer to get annoyed to the point of cancellation when you saw those projects doing that.

  2. I love the backer first mentality. Especially dealing with the Cool Mini or Not shenanigans this week, I appreciate that.

    1. Kolby–Interesting, I wasn’t aware of anything happening with Cool Mini this week. Usually they seem pretty good with customer service.

      1. Usually they are – I just think they’ve grown a little too fast. Essentially half of the things that were meant to ship out with Zombicide Season 2 are not for some of us, but did for others. They started shipping their orders by ease of packing first (which is understandable) but what it means is that the people who supported the project the least not only have the game weeks ahead of others, but have all these extras already as well. Mistakes happen, but like I said I think they’ve grown a little too fast. When an established publisher like them charges you premium prices for a KS, you expect premium service and communication, which I don’t feel I’m getting.

        1. Kolby–Ah, interesting. I can see that being frustrating, especially when you paid more than some people who are getting their games faster.

          1. Getting it later is understandable – it’s more that some people are getting those extras that were all scheduled to be delivered at the time of the game and the people that are getting them are the lucky few that were shipped before they realized the bulk of the extras still isn’t here. (the extras are a lot of extra heroes, zombies, and zombie and companion dogs, which are a large reason a lot of us backed.)

  3. I totally agree with you: I make a point to avoid visiting cross-referenced KS projects…and my appreciation of the person doing the spam also lowers.

  4. How do you feel about cross-promotions involving game components? Example – I include a card in my game that references your game, and vice versa.

    1. Jeremy–Someone asked about this on Twitter too, and I think it’s a good question. I like meta things, so if it works for the game–that is, if it makes the game interesting and better–I’m all for it. If it’s just a promotional stunt, or if you have to back the other game to get a card for the original game, that’s just sleazy!

  5. My views on cross promotion have changed over the last year. I started as a casual backer, I looked at one or two projects and seeing posts about other projects popping up was great as long as they were informative. I didn’t browse KS as a general activity so if a cross-promotion was informative (a couple of lines on why I might like a thing) I was happy it was there. Now I make a habit of checking daily to see what’s new in KS board games, so they’re almost always a waste of my time.

    I’ve not sure which pattern the average KS backer follows, but I think it’d be easy for us as project creators to assume that people have mindsets similar to us and to overestimate their knowledge of other projects. Random psychology example interlude: I always worry about anything predicated on the notion that other people think like me because if you ask people to guess what % of people smoke you’ll get an average answer of 70% from smokers and 30% from non-smokers.

    From my point of view, I think that the key points about cross promotions were that they not be the bulk of the update (1-3 lines and maybe a pic) and that they be informative (i.e. “You may want to see this this because X.” as opposed to “We’ve made friends with these guys, check them out.”)

    I agree with the comment about “You have to buy the other game to get a bonus piece for this game” being bad practice though, I could be persuaded to stop backing something by a stunt like that.

    1. Greg–Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to see how your view of cross-promotion has changed over the last year. I agree with your third paragraph…as long as it fits within the construct of my three guidelines. :)

  6. A bit late, but I for one am actually a fan of “physical” cross-promotion (for lack of a better term), but really dislike the “linkspam” – to the point that I’ve actually pulled out of projects for being too spammy with the updates. Though, to be fair, in that case it was because the creator in general was very negative – their updates were 80% about his other Kickstarter (which I didn’t care about), 10% linkspam, and 10% complaining about things like how the hotel they stayed at had crappy service.

    But I like the “You have to buy the other game to get a bonus piece for this game” sort of promotion. Maybe it’s because I’m not a completionist at heart? If a project I support likes *another* project enough to put their name on it, that’s about the highest form of flattery/respect I can imagine. I’ll definitely check out that other project, even if I don’t end up backing it for whatever reason. The example of this I can think of is the Machine of Death / Story War cross-promotion. Both games are in a similar niche, and thematically the cross-promoted cards fit well into each other’s game. On the other hand, Story War did some cross-promotion with other projects that I didn’t back – one was with a videogame with shovels that just didn’t look that interesting to me. My game isn’t “broken” because of the exclusion of these extra items, but it IS enhanced (just a little bit) by their inclusion.

    I’d be interested to see a Venn Diagram of people that dislike component cross-promotion, people that dislike any sort of “Kickstarter Exclusive”, and people that are self-proclaimed completionists. I suspect the overlap is quite large.

  7. […] [JAMEY: In my opinion, Brian touches upon the only way that cross-promotion is the right thing for your backers, and that is that it's not actually cross promotion. Rather, if there is another project that (a) hasn't solicited your cross promotion, (b) you really believe in or have a strong connection to, and (c) would really benefit and excite your specific backers, then it's worth sharing with your backers. Then, after you do so, you could reach out to the other project creator and say, "Hey, I love what you're doing so much that I shared it in this project update. Thanks for being awesome!" There's no request, no obligation for them to return the favor. That's the only way for it to be genuine instead of a marketing gimmick that will annoy backers. My thoughts on this are detailed here.] […]

  8. I’d like to offer a counter-opinion here. I don’t think cross-promotion is necessarily a bad thing, especially to a new creator… if you do it correctly.

    I’ve been including a Kickstarter project I like, and that I think will appeal to my backers, in each of my updates. But I think this works within the context of my updates.

    I only send out updates every 2-3 days. Each update generally discusses, in order:
    1) A stretch goal we’re about to reach, or that we just hit.
    2) A highlight of a new game component (with a possible call to a survey to help shape the look of the game).
    3) A convention or demo night I’ll be attending this week.
    4) A podcast or review that I’ve been on recently, or that covered my game.
    5) Another game I think people will like.

    This isn’t hard-and-fast, and there are always exceptions. But there’s one steadfast rule: it’s important that cross-promotion comes last. With respect to the projects I’ve cross-promoted, I am always writing my updates as if I’m a backer reading it. If I had the cross-promotion any earlier, it would seem weird to me as a backer, like the creator isn’t as interested in the game as he could be.

    I also only pick projects that interest me, and that I think will appeal to my audience. This usually limits the campaign to games and game-related projects.

    Finally, I don’t send out an update unless I have something significant to update about *my campaign*. The goal of my updates is to keep my backers interested and enthusiastic about my *own* project. If my updates are only about other campaigns, that’s going to show backers that I’m not interested in my own campaign.

    I’m doing these cross-promotions because I do not yet have an enormous reach. I have a good reach, better than most first-time creators, but nothing like Jamey’s. I think, to a new publisher like me, who needs every pair of eyeballs possible, a cross-promotion done gently enough can increase backers without getting annoying.

    Signed, someone stupid enough to ask Jamey if he wanted to cross-promote. :)

    1. ingredientx: Thanks for sharing your perspective. Here are a few thoughts/questions:

      1. Did your backers sign up for your project updates because they want to hear about other projects or the current project? To me, the answer is a resounding no. Do you have a different answer? I think the only way you could justify sharing other projects on your project update is if the answer is yes to that question.

      2. Do you see a difference between a solicited cross-promotion and you mentioning a project simply because you like it? I see a big difference. With a cross-promotion, you’re exchanging a resource–your backers–that isn’t yours to exchange. It’s a deal that simply doesn’t need to be made. As I mention in the post, it’s very different if you simply decide, “Hey, I think this project is cool, and I think my backers would benefit by knowing about it.” That’s not cross promotion–that’s you looking out for your backers.

      1. [First off; don’t be alarmed; I updated my Gravatar profile, so I have a new name and avatar. “ingredientx” was from my pre-publishing days!)

        I think if my updates ONLY consisted of info about different campaigns, I’d agree with the “resounding no”. As it stands, I think mentioning other campaigns can be interesting to backers, as long as it’s done carefully, to not break the trust with one’s backers.

        I think we’re both talking about trust, and I think we both agree how vital trust is. I do think it’s important for the cross-promoting creator to curate well. The campaigns I select should be interesting to me AND relevant to my campaign.

        So in addition to trusting me as a creator, I am hoping my backers will trust me as a curator as well. Sure, it’s an assumption, and it’s not without risk.

        I think you’ve earned your “no cross-promotion ever” principle, Jamey, because you’ve worked to build an enormous social reach. But most of your audience here on this blog, myself included, doesn’t have that reach. You can reach tens of thousands of backers. I personally, right now, have an audience of maybe a couple of thousand possible backers, and that’s more than most new publishers.

        I don’t think us new creators can afford to miss expanding that reach, so long as we don’t cost ourselves backers doing it. And I think the gentle curation I’m talking about here – not shameless, annoying promotion, but a thoughtful mention of other related projects – can help.

        1. Gil: I definitely see that point about expanding your reach through cross-promotion. I guess I just don’t like the idea of that type of exchange with other creators. It’s not about those creators–you can tell from this blog and from my backer history that I love to support other creators–rather, it’s about my backers. I don’t feel like they’re a commodity to be traded to another creator.

          That said, I can’t speak for your backers. If they’re fine with that type of exchange and it’s working for you, that’s great! It’s just not something I feel is right for the relationship I have with my backers.

          1. I tend to agree with Gil.
            Here’s my thoughts. Backers are not resources.

            They’re A) Friends, and B) Customers.
            It is what it is. – So “trading them” is… eck… a horrible and sleazy way to put it. It makes me uncomfortable. I feel like that says “advertising” is trading people, billboards, commercials, etc… all trading people. Or at least “consumerism”.

            The bottom line is A) you need to make it clear why you cross-promote (to other campaigns, and your backers); and B) People still have the choice to click or ignore. It really is no worse than advertising, and is at best a friendly plug. (I recently helped a video gaming project JUST make it’s funding by sharing them when they were failing and under-trending a week out. It was awesome!)

            So for cross-promotion, and you know I’ve asked you even in the last month if you’re interested, and happy to come find this again now… is that I, and many see it as a wonderful opportunity to find new projects. Could they be searched for? Yes. But not everyone has the time for that. – *I* love, run, and Kickstarter … and I only get to browse every now and again.

            I’ve emailed probably 20-25 people asking for cross promotion during our current campaign. I have pretty strict guidelines on which projects I’ll invite and which I won’t, but suffice it to say: I’m picky. I only ask projects that are decent ideas, with good pages, clear goals, organized, and of likely relevance to my backers (99.9% gaming projects).

            And I offer cross-promotion for 2 reasons:
            1) Yes, cross-promotion causes a spike in pledges everytime. Yes, I’m in.
            2) To build the community on Kickstarter.

            I LOVE when one of my backers says: “I found you on [so and so] campaign.” That’s awesome. I like hearing about that other campaign, I like knowing it’s going well, and I like knowing they’re engaging their backers. Win.

            What really interests me is the responses I get.
            “Sure. Here’s a dropbox link with the pictures you can use, and here’s the blurb I want you to say about us.” – Awkward, and I never use their blurb. I’m sharing it cause I want to, or I’m not.
            “Sorry, we have a policy against all cross-promotion because we get so many requests and can’t decided which, or how to, say no to any, so we say no to them all.” – Don’t like this one, it seems weak. I’ve said no to at least 3 so far during our campaign. Some have had horrible pages, some were on day or 2 (too early for both of us), and some were just too unrelated (shoes). Have guidelines, and stand by them. Why does everyone need to be coddled, or everyone need to be rejected? *shrug*
            “Ok, but you share us first.” – Come on now.
            “I love the idea personally but I don’t think Sony will be up for it, but I can ask.” – Haha. My personal favorite thus far.

            Maybe I’ll do a KSAC on this topic. It apparently interests me.

            Anyhoo… yeah, I dig the Community Building, I just think you need to make it clear to your backers WHY you’re doing it, what you’re wiling to share, and how you think it will benefit the project. Above all, I think it’s polite to offer your backers the emotional freedom of saying “You can skip this section if you want.” – Takes the edge off for those that find an edge here.

            And with this final typed line, I think my comment is officially longer than the OP. : )

            Best to you all!

            John Wrot!

          2. John: This was a very interesting comment to read. It’s certainly the opposite of how I feel about cross-promotion, but I respect your thoughts. One question: Have you polled your backers to see how they feel about the cross-promotion you do? Given that you’re pretty prolific with sharing other projects, I would be very curious to see that data. Let me know if you poll backers and write a KSAC about the data and your thoughts, as I’d love to share it in the post above as a counterpoint.

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