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.)