Kickstarter Lesson #80: How to Create Community Through Conversation on Kickstarter

20 February 2014

For the last 18 months through Viticulture, Euphoria, and this blog, I’ve lauded the importance for both creators and backers to build communities around projects. Backers are the heart of a successful campaign, not the money.

An integral part of building those communities are the comments sections, both on project updates and on the main project page. It’s something I look at whenever I check out a Kickstarter project—how are people talking about the project? Are they saying good things? Where is the meat of the discussion? How is the creator responding to those comments?

So today I wanted to delve into the different types of comments (mostly backer comments) from the perspective of both a backer and a creator, with the goal of highlighting the types of comments that build community versus the comments that—despite the best of intentions—doesn’t accomplish that goal.

1. Comments and questions about the project. These are almost always great. They’re on topic, they create discussion and build community around the project, and they often bring to light ideas/questions shared by many but only voiced by a few. Highly recommended.

2. Comments and questions about the product. These are great too. If you have a question about the way a game is played, this is the perfect place to ask it (if you ask it in a private message, only you benefit from the answer, so it’s great to share these questions). These comments often also share excitement or insight about the way a game works (strategy, art, etc)—again, it’s a great way to build community around a product through an open forum. Highly recommended.

3. Backer self-interviews. I really like the concept of backers sharing a little bit about themselves when they join a project. It’s really, really important—both for community building and for creators—for backers to be seen as individual people, not numbers, and this is a great way to do that. My only recommendation is that you connect the interview to the current project by mentioning why you backed it. That gives other backers something to connect to—that’s the common bond between you, and discussion can build from there. Highly recommended.

4. Comments about other projects. It’s against Kickstarter guidelines to spam one project with comments or links to another, so right off the bat, this is a no-no. But even if this weren’t a Kickstarter rule, it would go against the principle of building a community around each individual project. If people want to discuss Project B, they’ll go to Project B and talk about it, not discuss it on Project A, especially if you’re not saying constructive things about Project B. Strongly discouraged.

5. Comments that encourage sharing. Some backers really take it upon themselves to “rally the troops” and get them to share the project. It’s great for project creators to see backers do that—it takes some pressure off us project creators! :) However, it’s how this is done that really matters. When I talk to project creators about telling backers how they can share a project, I discourage them from blasting request after request to backers to share it. If a backer loves a project, they’re going to share it with others. I would say the same thing to backers trying to spread word about the project. There’s no need to force-feed it, and if you do, I think you’ll see people responding the opposite of what you want them to do. Rather, the best way to encourage sharing is to discover new and unique ways to share a project, and then talk about those ways in the comments section. This encourages discussion and creativity. Recommended with caveats.

6. Cut-and-paste comments. Nope. If you’re cutting and pasting a comment multiple times, you’re not being a part of the discussion, nor are you encouraging conversation. This is spam, regardless of your good intentions. If you have something to say that’s worth saying more than once, then it should be worth the time to type it in a different way the second or third time. Discouraged.

7. Minute-by-minute project statistics. Some backers get really excited about watching a project’s backers and funding grow, and they want to share those numbers all the time. The passion is great, and the idea of acknowledging new backers as people, not numbers, is great too (“Welcome, Backer #314!”). The method of sharing that passion isn’t. Your fellow backers want to know about milestones—the 500th backer or reaching a $30k stretch goal. They don’t need to know that the backer count just climbed from 367 to 368 or that funding just went from $13,402 to $13,459 (and if they really are interested in those numbers, they’re probably refreshing the project page). This is an example of a type of comment that, despite good intentions, actually discourages conversation. It comes across as an impersonal automated response, one after another, losing its meaning and diluting the comment thread in doing so. The best way to welcome new backers to a discussion is to have an active, ongoing, inclusive discussion about the project and the product for those new backers to discover and dive into after they back a project. Discouraged.

8. Congratulatory/exclamatory comments. These are fine. As a creator, it’s nice to see people feel just as excited about my project as I am. It’s mostly fine for other backers too—you all feel like you’re in it together when you reach a key stretch goal. I don’t think these comments necessarily progress the conversation, but I don’t think they detract from it either. Recommended.

9. Creator comments. If done correctly, an actively commenting creator can create a positive, welcoming environment for new backers, feedback, and conversation. That is, a creator should have a presence in the comments (but not necessarily reply to every comment, which could impede conversation between backers) and should serve as a moderator for generating conversation and keeping it constructive and fun. The one thing that creators need to look out for in the way they comment is how often they say “no.” Backers can offer a LOT of feedback and ideas, which is great, and your job as a creator isn’t to make a decision on the spot, but rather to use the improv acting method of “yes, and.” It’s a way to keep a joke/brainstorm/idea/concept alive so it can evolve into something good for the project or can naturally fizzle out if it’s not going to work. If you flat-out say “no” to idea after idea—even ridiculous ideas that will never work, like kittens for everyone!—you’re going to shut down creativity, brainstorming, and conversation. Highly encouraged with caveats.

10. Exposé comments. I saved this for last because these are rare but can have a huge impact on a project. Sometimes backers realize or discover something shady or suspicious about a project or creator, and they share their discovery in the comments. I think this is fair game—us creators need to be accountable for who we are, what we’ve done, and what we’re intending to do. The big caveat, though, is that if you’re going to accuse anyone of anything in a public forum, you better have your facts straight before doing so. So here’s my recommendation: Before you post anything publicly, contact the creator directly and share your findings with them. Give them a chance to respond and explain. If they ignore your message, check your facts one last time, then post them in the comments. You might end up providing a great service to other backers who have put their trust in the wrong person. Recommended with due process.

So those are my thoughts about Kickstarter comments from the perspective of a creator of 3 projects and a backer of 100 projects. What do you think? Keep in mind that a number of these differentiate between the intent of a comment—backers almost always seem to have good intentions—and the true impact of a comment. As backers and creators, we need to be aware of both the intent and the impact.

Thanks to all of the backers and creators out there who foster community through conversation on Kickstarter! (And thanks to andvaranaut for his insights and observations.)

17 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #80: How to Create Community Through Conversation on Kickstarter

  1. Even though I agree with your ideas, how do you actually enforce them? Some of them are very easy since they depend on you (say “do not ask for more shares”)…but what do you do if you have a backer doing minute-by-minute statistics? Do you send him a message asking him not to post it anymore?

      1. Hehe….that would be nice. From now on, all my backers will be forced to read this!! :p

        Another think you did not mention is to motivate discussion in other websites (say, make a forum in your website, or on BGG). I guess it never is bad… but I would hold until there is a sufficiently large fanbase. What is your take on that?

        1. MK: I definitely think the precedent you set in the Kickstarter comments carries over to other forums. There are a variety of ways to get people to move to those other forums, but I’ve found that during the campaign, the vast majority of people want to chat on Kickstarter, not elsewhere.

  2. Jamey, I couldn’t agree more…especially with number 7. I can think of three projects off the top of my head that were an absolute mess in the comment section. As you said, everyone loves some enthusiasm, but this was getting ridiculous. The worst one was the project with almost 9,000 backers that wound up with almost 38,000 comments!

    While the buzz can be good in some places, it renders the comment section useless for the actual useful information that needs to be discussed.

  3. Jamey, thanks for these insights! I must admit I feel pressure as I comment here :) It sounds to me, in a nutshell, let’s just all be respectful and professional in the comments on KS. As a creator you can’t always be prepared for what people will say in the comments. But you can develop yourself, even before your campaign, to be a person of integrity, and that will feed itself through how you handle your campaign.

  4. Thanks so much for this. There’s a big KS project going on right now that I’m backing, but feeling more and more discouraged about. The comments started out strongly #1, #2 and #3, but have devolved and become a big self-promotion fest for a handful of people doing #5, #6 and #7, plus a lot of meta-discussion between them welcoming people and saying good morning and goodnight to each other. It feels like a few are hijacking the community just to see how many times they can get their name out there and show how “involved” and “important” they are, with a thin veneer of “look how much I’m doing to help promote this awesome, awesome project.” It’s so… parasitic… and off-putting.

    Maybe it’s the natural evolution of the discussion, and people trying to fill the vacuum after the initial rush of backers tapers off; regardless, it lowers the attractiveness of the community environment.

    1. D: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think your concerns about the negative impact and unfortunate motivations behind backers who do 5, 6, and 7 are spot-on. Feel free to share this post with the project creator or with those backer–perhaps some of them don’t realize how those types of comments detract from the community-building aspect of a project.

      1. Thanks. Also, in a general sense, comments around #1, #2 and #3 tend to speak to the “soul” of the project — the inspiring personal reasons somebody wants to support and be connected to an initiative. Once it becomes a statistical competition ($50 more gives us a round 6-figure number! $120 moves us up a notch in the most-funded rankings! Another 10 backers! Go beat the bushes to improve the numbers!) it shifts the focus away from the project itself and turns it into something that feels like more of an impersonal, mechanical money-grab for “winning’s” sake.

        I appreciate the enthusiasm and initiative, I just think it gets spent in the wrong direction sometimes. It takes sponsor participation, oversight and guidance (involvement) from the beginning to manage that. Without a strong voice providing corrections early, someone from the community tends to self-nominate, and their vision may not mesh well with that of the actual sponsor and turn into a distraction. The longer they go unchecked the worse it can spiral out of control, and the harder it can be to correct.

        1. Exactly! I couldn’t have said it better myself. And as you pointed out, for the most part it’s just misguided enthusiasm. There’s a certain responsibility on the project creator to be that guide. There were a few times during the Tuscany project when comments started to veer in the direction of 5, 6, and 7, and either I or an ambassador immediately (and tactfully) steered them back to 1, 2, and 3 to preserve the spirit of community building.

          I’m not sure which project you’re talking about, but perhaps this is your chance to step up to be a guide? :)

  5. […] However, it isn’t only creators who determine a project’s success. The vast majority of that power is solely in your hands–you, the backer. You have the power to bring a project to life through your funds and social media. You have the power to make a project better through your opinions, input, and expertise. And you have the power to help the creator build community during and after a campaign through engaging, passionate, and empathetic conversation. […]

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