Crowdfunding campaigns, when run well, can seem effortless, almost magical, if you’re watching from afar. Seeing the money and backers pile up, especially in the last phase of a campaign, can be breathtaking, when everyone is hugging and high-fiving.
However, crowdfunding is not a walk in the park. Unless that park is covered with broken glass. And a lion ate your shoes at the entrance gate. And he is now chasing you.
There is anxiety, especially during that famous mid-campaign plateau. There are sleepless nights, when instead of counting fluffy sheep you’re counting all of your Facebook friends who haven’t contributed yet. And don’t forget about the obsessive-compulsive “refreshing” of your campaign page to see if there are any new backers. Yes, crowdfunding can be stressful, but if you do the proper prep work — and create the right relationships on social media — crowdfunding can be full of great joy and excitement.
Below are some hard lessons I’ve learned after helping run many crowdfunding campaigns.
1. Crowdfunding starts before the campaign launches.
The day you launch your crowdfunding campaign is not the day you should start considering whether or not to use Twitter or Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Tumblr.
Bottom line: You need to at least be on Twitter and/or Facebook to have a decent shot at crowdfunding, and you need to have been using them for a while. If you’re reading this and want to crowdfund but are not on these platforms, don’t fret; start social media-ing today, and postpone your plans for crowdfunding until you’ve established a solid social media presence.
Why do you need to be on social media in order to crowdfund well? Because if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it…you get the picture. You can have the best campaign in the world, meant to support the best project in the world, but if you don’t have a way to spread the word, it won’t matter. You won’t raise the money you need. (One exception to this rule is if you have a tremendously large email list of fans or potential donors, or have built up fans on another social platform.)
- This Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about people really into sneakers ended nowhere close to its $100k goal. If you’re not into sneakers, you should know something: People immersed in sneaker culture spend a lot of money on their kicks, so this is a potentially very lucrative niche audience to hook. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though the team behind the documentary connected with their intended audience prior to the campaign. Instead, according to this article, one of the directors thought Kickstarter would find the backers for them. This was not the case.
- Alternately, “Ride the Divide,” a documentary about the toughest mountain bike race in North America, raised more than twice its Kickstarter goal in 2012, mostly because they worked very hard to connect with the people most interested in their subject prior to the launch of their campaign. Be like “Ride the Divide.”
2. You can’t rely solely on your Facebook friends.
Facebook is a great way to get started with social media, but you have to move past your personal Facebook page for crowdfunding success. If you only post your crowdfunding campaign to your personal Facebook page, you will place the burden of the success of your campaign on the shoulders of your friends and family. Don’t do this, unless you want to get uninvited from Thanksgiving.
Of course you will promote your project on your personal Facebook page sometimes, because your real life friends want to know what you’re up to and want to support you. But you should also have a Facebook fan page for either your project or a larger entity under which your project will fall.
Filmmakers often have a page for their production company so that they can showcase all of their individual movies there, alerting fans of their previous work to their new work. Authors often opt for fan pages for themselves so that fans of previous books can find out about new ones, and so on. Chances are that the project you want to crowdfund for is not the last thing you’re going to do. Make your social media presence a significant and lasting one.
3. The crowd is not looking for you.
No matter how amazing your film or book or custom leather bracelet or designer ice cream cone idea is, no one is sitting around flipping through projects on (insert your crowdfunding platform of choice) looking for your project. Yes, all crowdfunding platforms create a hub for your campaign, but no, it’s not their job to drive traffic to your hub. That’s your job.
Even a firmly established and trusted brand has to work it to hook their crowd for a new crowdfunding campaign. Kartemquin Films has been making documentaries out of Chicago for just shy of 50 years. They have lauded films such as “Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters” and “The New Americans” under their belt. If you’re in the docs industry, you know them. One might think that the crowdfunding campaign for their latest project, a documentary about Roger Ebert called “Life Itself,” would have no problem raking in the dough, especially with big names like Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog behind it. But the team behind this campaign is not resting on its laurels. Instead, they’ve created a very active and interactive campaign that draws in long-time Ebert fans and younger cinefiles at the same time. One of their simplest and most effective social media moves: dedicated one of the movie reviews from Ebert’s vast catalog (he wrote almost 8000) to each backer. This is a smart way to use an available resource and welcome each new supporter into the fold.
4. Pick the perfect platforms.
You don’t have to be on all of the social media platforms that exist. That would be exhausting. Instead, pick the right platforms for you according to:
- where your audience is;
- what you can reasonably handle in your daily life.
For example, if you are a filmmaker, you’re likely posting videos and commenting on the videos of others on YouTube and/or Vimeo. If you have a fashion-themed project, make sure you’re on Instagram. If your project is attractive to foodies, find people who love pictures of food on Pinterest. There is no cookie-cutter plan for social media; you have to find what appeals most to your specific audience.
5. Social media is fast; get pithy and quippy.
Yes, your dream project is important and deserves much discussion, but the key to effective social media is hooking people quickly. Tweets need to be short, awesome punches that people cannot resist clicking on and re-tweeting. On Facebook, you can write longer messages, but don’t go into multiple paragraphs; you’ll have plenty of copy to dive into on your campaign home page. And never underestimate the power of a good picture on Facebook.
6. Forget about going viral; focus on being vibrant.
Anyone who gives you advice on how to make a “viral” video or “viral” crowdfunding campaign is not trying to help you; they are taking advantage of you. There is no guaranteed way to get millions of people to see your crowdfunding pitch video, so focus on what you can control: giving your crowd consistent (and consistently engaging) messages that remind them that you’re still working hard and that they are still a part of the team.
7. Give it. Give another little piece of your heart.
Understand what your audience wants, then give it to them. In some cases, a crowd connects with a creator on a personal level, but how do you do this without TMI (a.k.a. too much information)?
In 2012, I consulted on a Kickstarter campaign for Katie Todd, an indie singer who produces her own albums and has a dedicated fan base on Facebook. For every 10 backers we gathered, we released a cute or goofy picture of her from her childhood. This was mildly embarrassing for Katie, but a great incentive for her adoring fans to get their friends to contribute so they could see the next picture. This was a fun (and free) way to make the backers happy while also getting them to do some recruiting. Win-win.
8. “Hey, brother, can you spare a re-tweet?”
Recently at a Doc U event on crowdfunding by the International Documentary Association, Adam Chapnick of the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo said, “If you’re asking for money, you’re doing it wrong.” This couldn’t be more true. No one likes the guy who says, “Come on! Give $10 to my campaign.” Instead, try these:
- “Help me spread the word: LINK HERE”
- “Know anyone who might like this? LINK HERE”
- Who can help me find the next backer? LINK HERE”
These are very basic, and you should put your own shine on them, but you get the drift. You get people on your side without putting your hand in their pockets and, in the course of it, they become invested in your success. A handful of re-tweets (or spreading the word about your project at their office) is way more useful than one $10 donation.
9. Eat your Wheaties; crowdfunding is a workout.
These crowdfunding campaigns are grueling, masochistic marathons (30 to 60 days, generally), so you have to pace yourself. Hydrate. Take your vitamins. Take a walk. Take a shower. Eat a vegetable or two. Take breaks from checking for backers. Shut off your computer. Turn the reins over to a trusted collaborator for a day while you take a technology sabbath. Use tools like Twuffer, Hootsuite, or TweetDeck to schedule tweets ahead of time. (Hootsuite can do Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, too.)
Overall, give yourself breaks from the grind so that you can return to your tasks with vigor.
10. After the campaign: Don’t love ‘em and leave ‘em.
Once you’ve met your crowdfunding goal (and even if you didn’t), show respect to those who tried to help your dreams come true. These people are now a part of your project, so keep them up-to-date. Invite them to share milestones with you. Let them know when you send out perks. Let them know when your project gets reviewed. Send them an update when you win your Oscar or Pulitzer.
The other side of this is also letting your backers know when things don’t go as planned. If you’re late sending your perks out, notify them. If your book is going to take longer to complete than you anticipated, be honest about it. They’re not going to be mad when you hit a snag; they’ll appreciate that you respected them enough to keep them in the loop. The crowd might, however, start to worry that they’ve been fooled if you fall off the face of the Earth.
The only true test of whether or not you can run a successful crowdfunding campaign is actually doing it. Be smart; do your prep work; and try to have fun in the course of it.
Julie Keck is a social media and crowdfunding consultant based in Chicago. She has run and consulted on crowdfunding campaigns that have raised more than $300k over the past 4 years, mostly for independent films and webseries. She has spoken about crowdfunding and social media at SXSW, the University of Notre Dame, Columbia College, the Chicago Documentary Film Summit, the Chicago International Film Festival, and more. Julie is also a filmmaker, as well as the social media and newsletter editor for PBS MediaShift. You can find her on Twitter at @kingisafink.