Kickstarter Lesson #91: My Thoughts on Campaign Boosting Services

23 April 2014 | 33 Comments

Yesterday I was contacted by the project creator of a struggling crowdfunding campaign. He’s been getting a lot of messages from campaign boosting services–companies that claim to give your project instant exposure, tons of backers, and increased visibility on the crowdfunding platform you’re using–and he wanted to know what I thought about those services.

My initial reaction was, “No, stay away!” There are a few reasons for this:

  1. You’re missing the point: If your campaign is struggling to the point where you’re considering services like these, there’s probably a number of other aspects of your campaign that aren’t working. Driving more people to a product that isn’t priced correctly, doesn’t look good, or isn’t pitched well isn’t going to help the campaign.
  2. Predatory Practice: There’s something predatory and sleazy about these services. People put their dream projects on Kickstarter, and when they don’t do well, they get a little desperate and might spend money in ways that they really shouldn’t. Campaign boosting services cost money but don’t offer any guaranteed return on investment.
  3. Impersonal outreach: I prefer more organic methods of building a fan base, like building relationships and connections with people.

But when I shared that last point, I realized something: I advertise my campaigns on Board Game Geek. There’s nothing personal about that type of advertising–it’s a standard banner ad.

There is a key difference between targeted advertising and campaign boosting services, though: A generic campaign boosting service will reach a broad spectrum of people, many of whom probably aren’t even interested in your project category. However, if you’re running a board game campaign, Board Game Geek is the perfect place to share that project–that’s the exact audience you’re trying to reach. I spent $700 advertising Tuscany on BGG, and I raised about $12,500 in funding as a direct result.

Regardless of how you decide to advertise your project, I would make sure you revisit my first point above. If you’re struggling to get up to 10-20% of your funding goal, there is almost certainly something else going on with your project that is preventing people from backing it. So before you spend money on targeted advertising (which, to be clear, I advocate over campaign boosting services), make sure you first get some honest feedback from people (like herehere, and here) to see what else can be improved.

Has anyone used a campaign boosting service for their campaign and has some empirical data to share?

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33 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #91: My Thoughts on Campaign Boosting Services

  1. I’m really not certain how much benefit any of the paid YouTube or BGG advertising is at this point. We budgeted a good chunk of change for preview/review YouTube videos which included a number of folks that are popular on BGG and who seem to have a lot of subscribers (Tantrum House, Board to Death, Unfiltered Gamer, and a SHUX preview). Yes, I recognize that paid advertising is inherently biased, but our thinking was that these YouTube videos typically get 200-4000 views so that should be helpful because our artwork is really entertaining.

    Using 1 link to track everything, we have seen surprisingly few clicks to our campaign (Taco Ninja Adventure) from YouTube. We had all the preview videos launch the morning of the KS launch. We also started paid Facebook and Instagram campaigns at the same time as the KS launch with a daily budget of $50 total. Here are the number of clicks after 3 days from our account:

    FB: 532
    Email, SMS, Direct, 379
    Insta: 188
    Other: 86

    We also see from our KS dashboard that exactly 1 person clicked through from Youtube and backed the project.

    And we’ve asked a number of other project creators in the Chicago area about their experience with BGG advertising and they said they had poor results and that FB advertising was the most effective for them.

    It’s frustrating because whenever we have shown folks the game in person, they get really excited about it and sign up for the email lists. The fun artwork gets them interested and the game play keeps them around. So we believed that these YouTube promotions would go a long way. It’s been pretty frustrating to see that they haven’t been anywhere near as impactful as we anticipated. We didn’t find any good data regarding YouTube promotions and I figured that I’d offer this info to you so that others could benefit.

    I’m not sure if it’s a fault of the game itself, of the campaign, or if paid YouTube previews just aren’t effective. Thoughts?

    Also, given other folks experience with BGG advertising and the fact that BGG advertising is now pretty expensive, it’s really hard to justify pulling the trigger on a paid BGG ad.

    1. Rusty: Thank you for sharing these detailed numbers! I really appreciate it (though they’re a little off topic for this particular post, which is about campaign boosting services, not advertising). I think it’s great that you’ve gotten such great results from the Facebook ads.

      The one thing I’d say is that I certainly wouldn’t give up on sending out review copies to YouTubers. Even if they don’t translate into backers directly from the links on those videos, the exposure is incredibly helpful, and I think it’s important for backers to see unbiased opinions on the project page itself.

    2. One plus of a YouTube video is that, if it makes your game look as good as it is, you can share it on your own social media, updates, or even embed on your primary crowdfunding page.

  2. This is a great thread. I am the owner of Great Northern Games. I have run 2 successful KS and I am in the middle of my 3rd (which funded) but I am in the Sargasso Sea portion of the project and considering crowd boosting (even though I intellectually know it’s a waste of money – my emotional brain is still thinking about it). After reading this thread, I am back to my senses and will not throw money at crowd boosting. Thank you all !

    If you have ever read the book the Tipping point (I think?), it basically states that for an idea to catch fire, you have to reach the “connectors”. The 13% of the population that people listen to before they start to adopt the idea. I think in the gaming industry, the 13% are the reviewers/some bloggers. Getting 2,000 likes doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell.

    In my 3rd KS, even though we funded, we did everything better than we had in the previous projects. Everything except making sure we had plenty of reviews from connectors (the Cardinal Sin of KS games). And I am paying the price for that. In the past, BGG ads are hard to gage. BGG contest worked very well for me. Video reviews have definitely generated pledge traffic.

    Sorry this is so long. One thing I have seen since my last KS 2 years ago is that 2 years ago, our project bounced around between page 2 to 4 in KS. This time, when we launched our project Lucky’s Misadventures, within 3 days we were 20-30 pages down in the KS project scroll list. It seems like these days if people don’t know you are there, they will never see you. I feel that has changed. If I search under popular, we were listed below 6 projects that had 0% funded after 20 days and we were 126% funded within 4 days (how does that work?)

    Well…thanks again for keeping me from throwing away money on crowd boosting! I’m back.

      1. Thanks Jamey, you know I knew you were going to say that but I had to ask :) I saw them recommended in the comments of a FB discussion today and I remembered this post and had to refer back. Thanks again.

  3. Matt: Thanks for sharing! Can you offer us some hard data about how that service impacted your campaign? Please share a link to your campaign, the day that you started using this service, and the number of referrals you got from them.

  4. I completely agree with you, Jamey, that advertising is not a way to save a failing project. As the advertising manager at BGG, I actually turn away about as many Kickstarter advertisers for advertising as I run ads for. Those that I turn away, I give advice as to why they may not have been successful so far in their campaigns, and what they likely need to fix before even thinking about advertising. At the end of the day, I’d rather help someone out than simply take their money for advertising, and I only approach projects about advertising if I think the ads will actually help.

    Basically, if a project isn’t funding without advertising, it’s probably not going to fund with advertising either. Advertising only serves to make a successful project even more successful by putting more eyeballs on it.

    1. Chad: I think that’s extremely ethical of you, and that makes me even happier to be a BGG ad customer. It’s also the exact opposite of the predatory practices I see from the campaign boosting services. Thanks for doing the right thing!

  5. I agree with you Jamey. Targeted traffic can be effective but only if the project has its own momentum. I provide paid promotional services (banner ads, featured write-ups, interviews) to a large number of projects through the TiBG newsletter. The projects I am most effective at helping are those that are already gaining a trickle of backers on their own. I can send a fair amount of targeted traffic to a project, but if that project has stalled then the traffic rarely seems to convert to pledges.

    With public advertising (marketing to those you haven’t yet built a personal relationship with) the best offers convert only a very small percentage of highly-targeted traffic. Paying to get untargeted traffic to your Kickstarter projects seems only slightly more effective than flushing your money down the toilet.

    1. Roger: Flushing money down the toilet might even be more effective, as you get the immediate data feedback of seeing the money leave your hand forever. Tailored, targeted ad services like the ones you offer a much better ROI.

  6. Thanks a lot Jamey! One last: did you have a large community base when you started from pre-existing activities, or did you build it on the go?

    1. Fabio: I did have an existing community (I’ve written a personal blog for about 8 years now), but I should have spent at least a year honing relationships and connections within the board game community before launching Viticulture.

  7. Great read as usual from Jamey, and a nice discovery for the James Mathe part. But, I do have a question for you.

    Say that there’s this guy who has a good idea and he thinks he has the capabilities to make it into a reality. But, he has a job and his skills in creating, managing and engaging a community to back the project, well, those may be lacking.

    Is there a way to get professional help on that, possibly something based on a share of profit base? I know that creating a community is not Kickstarter or Indiegogo job, but it seems to me that this part is becoming more important than the project itself, if I can make such a provoking sentence.

    You may have guessed already: I’m the struggling campaign guy under predatory attack:)

    1. Hi Fabio, thanks for your question. I believe there are some companies that offer consultation services and some that will even run the campaign for you (like Game Salute), but I think a Kickstarter campaign is by far the most effective when run by the actual creator/designer of the product, even if that means learning as you go and even rebooting to make it better.

  8. Yeah, one of these services contacted me for one of my campaigns and they even left in the name of the last project they contacted in their template… So they are not even looking at your project. They are just copy and pasting to everyone. That showed me their attention to detail and the quality I could I expect from them.

    I’ve never used these services and don’t plan to. You laid out why in clear points. Thanks!

    1. Derak: Thanks for your comment. Point #4 that I cut from my list was how impersonal and generic those services are (it’s an important point, but it applies to any message I get, not just those services).

  9. I’ve run ads on BGG many times and did 2 contests. They help for sure, but the issue is that much of the BGG crowd can be gotten organically. So I question statements like ” I raised about $12,500 in funding as a direct result” — did you wait for most organic traffic from BGG to find it’s way to KS first? Did you only advertise at BGG in the middle “flat” part of the campaign? If not then you donno if your BGG referrals are from organic or the paid advertising. I have done such research and found that BGG ads do not directly result in a great ROI. They are, as is most marketing, company/product branding.

    As for these services that spam you – well 99% of them are crap and don’t even do what they say they will (fake likes and mailing lists, junk mail sent to news outlets that could care less, etc) let alone result in any measurable results. So absolutely avoid them. I know several people who have tried them and in every case has been a total waste of money.

    I offer more marketing help on my blog too:

    1. James: That’s a great question. Yes, I waited a little over 2 weeks into the Tuscany campaign before I put any advertising on BGG. Up until that point, exactly 179 people backed Tuscany after clicking through the Tuscany page on BGG (i.e., not advertising) for a total of about $18,000 in funding. Then I launched the ad and attracted the other $12,500 in funding.

  10. Interesting point as I built my company off of social media. I get hired to build social media campaigns quite often. It does work, you just have to know how to build the campaign and hit that target audience. However, there are many, many people in the board game industry who feel that BGG is a waist of money. I don’t agree with them. It is a target audience and it reaches it for very little cost so I have to agree with you here. Most people don’t understand marketing/branding and miss the point there as well. Good post as usual :-)

    1. Thanks David. You might have some thoughts on this: I would compare these campaign boosting services to services that guarantee to give you 1,000 Likes on Facebook or 1,000 new Twitter followers. Those numbers don’t really mean anything unless those people actually like what you’re doing. In fact, particularly on Facebook, only a small percentage of the people who Like your page will see a post you make on Facebook, so by adding a bunch of generic Likes, you’re actually diluting the number of people who care about your company that see your posts.

      My point–as I’m sure you know better than I do–is that social media isn’t magic. It’s a lot more than numbers. It’s about creating compelling content and engaging the people who follow you. Perhaps you could add to that based on your expertise, particularly in connection to campaign boosting services?

      1. Jamey, You are absolutely correct. Those numbers are absolutely empty. It gives impressions and very slightly, maybe possibly, someone could “discover” your product and be interested lol.

        Facebook is a 6% post rate meaning that only 6% of your audience sees your posts unless you pay to boost it. Very ineffective. Now people commenting will help but still, Facebook does everything it can to keep you paying for the boost and not allowing your fan base who volunteered to view your posts from actually seeing them.

        These kinds of campaigns are all about engagement, consistency and fresh content (which you previously stated.) It’s a ton of work but can pay off huge dividends in the short and long term. Building an audience of people who feel like you care about their patronage is the best thing you can do.

        When comparing campaign boosting services, that service should provide organic followers or fans i.e., people that are actually interested in either your company, field of influence or product types. This can only be done when they take the time to research not only the sphere of influence needed for such a campaign but all data based on your social media accounts.

        Best bet for Kickstarters are BGG, Reviewers with a decent to strong following, consistent social media and a kickstarter page that gets people to capture the vision of the product. Without that, you have nothing. That maybe the hardest piece of the puzzle. Anyone interested in learning this, should just look at your campaigns.

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