Comment boards and your Kickstarter community.
An active Kickstarter comments board boosts your project in Kickstarter’s algorithms. But attracting people to see a comments board with complaints and negativity can be worse than an empty board. So, how important is an active comments board, and how can you get yours to be a place of support and positivity?
An active comments board has two major areas of benefit to a campaign, its effect on algorithms and its effect on backers. The first is a relatively simple exchange, the more comments by backers there are, the further a campaign will be boosted on Kickstarter’s search pages. Its not quite that simple, but the more comments from the widest variety of backers the better. The second effect is a little more variable and also depends on the quality of the comments rather than simply the volume. Backers will check the comments section of campaigns, and even the comment sections of former campaigns. There are a range of red flags that experienced backers know to look for on those boards in relation to a Creator’s attitude, backer comments and engagement. Simple things like backer complaints about reasonable issues or delays are not red flags, rather the way that a Creator responds to them is far more likely to create long term issues.
The silent majority
A quick thing to mention is that the vast majority of backers simply won’t visit a comments board. A quarter to a third as many comments as you have backers on a comment board is an acceptable number, but those comments will generally come from more like 10% of your backers. Vocal and active backers are a great thing to encourage and an important resource, they will talk about your project on social media and share it around, but the point is that there’s not a lot of benefit from trying to get all of your backers to comment. As a general rule, most backers will only comment if there is a problem, so if they all start turning up to the comments board, you’ve probably got issues. Many backers, particularly newer ones that see Kickstarter as a shopfront don’t even know that the comments board exists.
Your job is not to bring the silent majority to the comments board, rather it’s to keep the sorts of backers who look to comment boards naturally coming back there so that there is a warm and active community if a member of the silent majority stops in there.
Comment boards are excellent places to spot red flags on problem projects. Its rare that a project I seriously consider backing has a problematic comments board, but a lot of controversial or problematic projects in the past have had comment boards that signaled those problems. While I’ve not often seen problematic boards on projects I’ve thought about backing, I do stop in and check on the comment boards of previous projects from the creators of projects that I consider backing, and those have certainly put me off in the past. A comments board complaining about late delivery or requesting refunds can be highly detrimental to future projects. There are a few things you can do to help avoid a comments board that might hold your project back, and a few things you absolutely should not do. You should:
Respond to problems, ignore insults. If someone has a problem or a complaint you should always respond to it, clearly and quickly, more quickly than you would a positive comment even. There might well be flaws in your campaign or your game, there probably are, explain or fill in gaps, acknowledge that not all products are for all people and look into fixing problems. If someone is just trolling, which does happen, don’t worry about it, other backers can see the difference. In that instance, the only response is to ignore and report.
Be polite and professional. It can be tempting to respond to questions or issues in a lighthearted or joking manner. Resist that temptation. You can respond to positive or supportive comments with playful jokes, but doing so with questions can backfire badly.
Communicate. Backers do not actually tend to have an issue with delays to campaigns, they are so standard for Kickstarter as to be widely accepted and even expected. Backers have a huge issue with not being told about delays as soon as they arrive. In addition, if a stated deadline or delivery date is upcoming or passing and you don’t have any progress, state that. Don’t state lack of progress generally, but when backers are expecting news, telling them that there is no news is totally acceptable.
Play fair. If you said that things were going to happen a certain way, do everything you can to ensure that they do. Don’t sell to non-backers before backers, don’t sell to non-backers more cheaply than backers and don’t put people to the back of the queue if that’s not where they were already.
You should not:
Attempt to spam comments off the board. Kickstarter comment boards show 25 comments at a time. As such it is, in theory, possible to push a bad comment to position 26 by posting 25 other comments so far fewer people will see it. I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t do this. It looks far worse than whatever the bad comment would be, its bad practice and usually precludes a total Creator meltdown.
Offer unclear information. If you know that something is a guess, offering it as a guess while stating the reasons that you think it will be true and why it might not be is fine. Stating it to be a fact, or stating guesses that you know not to be true will almost always backfire.
Insult backers. Never insult a backer, however rude or inappropriate they might be it simply isn’t the way to respond. Stay classy.
There are a couple of less clear-cut issues in relation to responding. The first is whether to respond to positive comments not directed at you specifically or whether to respond to all comments. It is important that a Creator remain engaged and present on comment boards, but at the same time its not necessary to stand over every conversation that might develop like a looming father figure. If a backer congratulates you directly, I think it’s nice to acknowledge it, but expressions of general excitement or conversations between backers don’t necessarily need or benefit from your weighing in. The second issue is how to respond to suggestions from backers. Backer ideas range from excellent through to terrible, crossing over “looks like a good idea, which is why we already tried it and it doesn’t work”. There can be issues to do with a range of things outside of a Backer’s experience such as cost or even just the fact that you know the nuts and bolts of your product better than them. Sparking up a debate over the right or wrong of a mechanic or element can easily derail a comments board, generally the standard response then is to say that you’ll look into the idea and consider using it, which unless its clearly terrible you should probably do anyway. There are a couple of exceptions, some comments are actually amateur developers or designers touting for business, at which point saying that you will use their idea can actually end badly. There’s no clear rule for sniffing these out, but after a few encounters they tend not to be too hard to spot. The other exception is if someone mentions “Golden Bell Studios” or “Marc Goldner”. This studio has a terrible record of taking over Kickstarters after they fund and not completing fulfillment, as such some backers have taken to asking creators if they would work with them. Creators not familiar with them who want to be welcoming to backer suggestions have in the past responded to these suggestions saying that they will look into it and consider using them and lost backers because of it. If someone asks you if you would consider working with them then the answer is no.
Failing to plan
So that’s how problems can occur, so how to build community? Clearly, you’re hoping that the campaign will do well and that the boards will be full of active and supportive chatter throughout the campaign naturally and organically. But if that happens you have nothing to do but wave as the juggernaut rolls past, and there’s no point planning for that. You need to plan for what happens if the campaign is only moderately successful.
What you need to plan is how to spark conversation at various points in the campaign. Simply popping up with enthusiasm for the game or talking about what’s on the page of stretch goals feels forced and over the thirty days of a campaign gets stale quickly. Spend a little while before launch working out what you will be talking about at various points over the campaign. Stretch goals are great, but you can’t control them or be sure of them coming at the right time, ideally you want to have something that you can be certain of being able to put out once a week or, even better, every three to four days. Here are a few options:
Unboxing/review videos – This can be a tough one, if you have a review video you want it up on the page as soon as is possible. As such, having one and holding it back to get a bump of comments on your page is unlikely to be a good idea. However, if you have a reviewer whose lead time is longer than you need for the campaign adding their video with a big update can be a good way to get a few comments. Probably a better option is an unboxing video or otherwise detailed components showing video. You’ll want gameplay and review videos up from day one, but unboxing of print run samples or sexy videos of components are not necessarily expected or needed for pages, so you can more safely hold those back and generally get more result from releasing them anyway.
Artwork/background reveals – You may well have more artwork than you can put up on your campaign page, and even if you don’t, slapping up artwork directly on the page rarely looks great. Taking an update to really go deep into a piece of artwork’s production and development or showing artwork that wasn’t featured in the campaign can catch people’s attention and imagination. You really shouldn’t put up too much background on the campaign page, it’s not super eye catching and can make creators feel like failed novelists. However, in an update its far more reasonable, since people who read it will already be part of the world. Background or character detail reveals are also free other than the cost of time.
Interactive goals – In my opinion this is the best way to push comment board engagement. People don’t necessarily need to engage with videos or other releases, and even if they do it can be hard to naturally drive interaction with updates to interaction with the main comments board, which is where you really need it. Asking people what they think of added content on the comments board can end up looking a little desperate. Alternatively, if you put out interactive content or goals people can feel driven to discuss it on comment boards. The usual method for this are social media stretch goals requiring people to take weird photos or perform unusual acts. These can fall flat if they don’t take off strongly and can drive traffic to places other than the campaign. Riddles, quizzes or story contests that result in unlocked content with relatively few but more involved interactions can be excellent for this, in addition they can be a good way to release deeper levels of background content to interested backers. If any of these are driven by unlockable goals it should be remembered that they will not be connected to boosted profit margins from increased print runs and so should be costed in at even minimum funding levels.
In conclusion, there are extra bits of work that you can do to make your comments board a more active and welcoming place, planning ahead and building a specific campaign of updates and comments is a large part of that. The biggest part of it though is how you behave and interact as the creator of the campaign. Be respectful and classy and you’ll have won half the battle.
Have you seen a campaign make a comments board work for them? Or one that went totally the opposite way? Is there something you’ve seen used effectively, or even that backfired?