Kickstarting the Easy Way: Social Media and Self-Promotion
Updated: Jan 21
Probably the question I see most asked by new designers starting on the route to self-publishing is how to begin gathering a social media following, mailing list etc. I'm no expert in this area but I did manage to get enough of a following to back my first project so I'll offer what I've picked up so far. If you're looking for an expert in this area I recommend following Stuff By Bez or Stonemaier Games, both of whom are helpful souls and are much better at this than I am.
First of all, I think its important to accept your place within the community and industry. If you're reading this blog I'm going to assume you're a first time creator, in which case you shouldn't expect a following of thousands or a multi page mailing list, nor do you need one. If your first project is a reasonable size, a "humble" project, backing with a "humble" following is entirely doable. Our Kickstarter for SSO backed at around £9,000 with only a few names on our mailing list and a facebook following only just in the hundreds. Most importantly don't think that a good following or a huge mailing list will save a poor campaign or sell a bad game because it won't. These elements support and extend a good project, they don't replace one. Finally, if you're at the level where you are looking to blogs like this for advice be very careful about spending money to increase your reach. Money spent on boosting can feel heartening but it is easy to run away with, particularly as a new designer, remember that it makes people aware of your project's existence. If there is nothing for them to interact with with that awareness it will fade away and be quickly wasted.
Have A Permanent Presence
Whether a full website, a simple blog, or even just a facebook page, make sure you have something on the web for people to refer back to. This is for two reasons, firstly, if you just take someone's e-mail address for a mailing list in a short interaction then they hear and see nothing of your project until launch you'll simply make it into someone's spam folder. A regularly updated website or blog lets them maintain their connection. Secondly, and more importantly, you cannot constantly re-post your entire project on every interaction you have on-line without annoying everyone. Having a single set location where you have stated the best possible version of your project and where you can lay out the details of your game gives you somewhere to refer back to whenever it becomes relevant without making lengthy posts.
Become A Content Provider
The best way to interest the community is to be interesting and the best way to interest people is to give them something they want or need. If you have a project you intend to launch then at some point you must have learnt something about building a project, a something that will be the answer to someone's question. At this point it might just be how to get a vague idea through to the first prototype stage, but not everyone knows how to do that and someone is asking. Write it up, post it and give it as advice when people ask. Whenever you ask yourself a question if you discover the answer, write it up in the form that makes most sense to you and post it. The longer and harder you have to struggle to find an answer the faster you should write it up. That said, just because you found a source easily that's no reason not to blog it, you'll be offering a new route but also different people access information differently. By presenting it in your own voice you might be presenting it in the exact fashion somebody needs. Your most popular posts will be the ones that give something to the community, not the ones that promote your project, giving will pay back over and over.
On top of providing content via information, as a games designer you have the privileged position of being able to provide product content free of charge. Design something that needs few cards or components, or even just a rules set, post it up and make it available for free. You can get yourself a BoardGameGeek page and a designer badge, enter into competitions, learn some lessons in games design, rules lay out and presentation (that last one is valuable). While your doing it you can give people something they want and build a reputation at the same time.
Figure out what you wish existed on-line and create it, make the resource you want to see, then give it away and do it just because it will build and lift a community you love.
Micro Or Humble Projects
The best way to gather a following is to launch a project and the best project to be your first one is the smallest one you can manage. A humble project asking a £10 standard pledge level with a £5000 goal doesn't need a following (one won't hurt, but it doesn't need one) but it will gain the best mailing list and following you can find. A Kickstarter project will leave you with a mailing list of a few hundred people with Kickstarter accounts willing to pay for a board game they won't get for six months. That sort of selective mailing list many businesses would pay for, run a humble campaign and you can get paid for it.
I know that suggesting running a Kickstarter campaign to run a Kickstarter campaign might sound crazy but there are a few good reasons:
1) Your first Kickstarter will have a reduced chance of success the more it asks for, asking for less ups your odds of a successful campaign and having a successful campaign increases the odds of your next campaign being successful. Playing the odds isn't everything, but there's no sense in ignoring them.
2) You'll almost certainly make mistakes on your first campaign. I don't know what they will be, but there will be some. It might just be in the page or campaign but it might be in the budgeting and the less the project costs the less damage those mistakes can cause. Miscalculating on a £5000 project is unlikely to ruin you, miscalculating on a £100,000 project might.
3) If your dream project will ask £30-£50 as a standard level from backers its a tough sell for a first project, failing that project once can give you the information you need to succeed next time, failing it two or three times will undermine backer confidence. Holding back that dream project until you've learnt a few lessons will hopefully make it a better project.
If a humble £10/£5000 project is too much and puts off your dream project for too long consider a micro project, running a campaign with a £1 pledge level and a £100 goal will tick all the same boxes for a tiny risk.
Be A Human
This comes into three sections but you are a human (I assume) not a corporation and while that means that you lack resources it gives you other advantages:
1) Constantly writing rules can make it difficult but don't be afraid to give responses on social media as "my" opinion. I've seen direct results in terms of backer numbers and site traffic much more consistently and immediately due to personal posts of opinions and questions than from posts about the campaign however heavily boosted. Talk to people like a human being talking to a human being as often as you can, the ability to offer your potential backers the direct opinion of the designer, writer and CEO of your company is an advantage, don't waste it.
2) Our community is full of people looking for help playtesting games or running them at conventions, people with their own mailing lists and followings who are themselves gamers sometimes with tickets and tables at major events. At the very least support their pages and blogs with likes, shares and comments. If you can, playtest and review their games, if offered the chance to run a game at a convention on someone else's ticket, jump at it. At the very least you'll likely have one more backer, every project is just a series of one more backers. At best you'll get mentioned in someone else's blog, make contacts and even sales.
3) Join several board game social media groups, subscribe to several blogs, attend as many conventions as you can get to and have at least one regular gaming group. Be an active member of your community, and a helpful member of it at that. Ideally, before you ask your first question or make your first request try to make it so that at least one person who might respond might already know who you are. Questions and support are taking from the community, being active with follows and responses is giving to it. Try to give more than you take.
Remember, Its Not Everything
Your social media following is a big help, but it is the tail not the dog. Get everything else right before looking to a mailing list to fix things. I've seen campaigns cancelled after spending thousands on advertising because they were concerned that their boosting didn't get the results they wanted when their websites had no artwork or gameplay explanations. A good humble project will back without a social media campaign so if you're really not sure how to run a social media campaign, run a humble project and learn by doing. Its true that a project won't become a massive hit without social media support but it can become successful, if your intention is to release the best possible project you can to as many people as your current skills extend to then a small, successful project should be acceptable. If your intention is to run one of the ten biggest Kickstarters of the year then you should have a base and set of skills that would put you beyond needing my advice.
In short all the things you need to do for a good social media campaign you should be doing anyway. You should be active and present in your community. As a games designer you should be staying in touch with what's happening in your field and as a project creator you should be staying in touch with your backers and adjusting to their needs. Go small, keep it personal and aim first and foremost to put out one quality project to a group of backers that you can honestly say you served well.