Stand tall, $1 backers!


[This blog post is inspired by the comments on Jamey Stegmaier’s post: Interview with the Most Prolific Game Backer on Kickstarter]

Having created a Kickstarter project myself, I now have a better understanding the psychology of creators/backer interactions. Running a campaign is a very isolating experience, despite all the attention and communication with your backers and media! Your life is turned upside down as a creator, stressing and fretting about the progress of your fundraising, while your friends, your family, and your backers are just going about the business of their daily lives. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some backers who become active evangelist (but that’s another blog post).

One thing I observed during my campaign is often friends and acquaintances feel that donating just a $1 is insulting. They’d rather not contribute at all, if they can’t support your campaign to its fullest. That’s the wrong way to think about a Kickstarter project — whether you know the creator personally or not! Let me explain why donating $1-5 to an active campaign is not insulting, and is, in fact, a wonderful thing.

This post isn’t about backing a product your interested in owning, it’s about those projects and creators you’d like to see succeed, but either don’t have the budget or have no real use for it! For instance, I contributed just a few dollars to the Oru Kayak project because I didn’t have the budget or the need for a $800 orgami-folding kayak. I thought the project itself was worth backing, the kind of thing crowdfunding is supposed to be about in my opinion.

First off, every dollar does count for many small-to-midsize campaigns! If you’ve only seen the celebrity-fueled million dollar projects in the press, you’re missing the real heart of Kickstarter! These small-to-midsize campaigns represent the hopes and dreams of the founders, and they really do depend on you! Just ask Alpha Colony, with 542 backers it failed to reach its $50,000 goal in the last minutes by only $28! That’s literally only 5 cents per backer from its goal!

Kickstarter campaigns are short in duration and popularity counts. The “discovery” pages of Kickstarter itself are ranked by popularity (by default). Bloggers and other social media influencers pay attention not only to funding, but the number of backers. Kickstarter doesn’t break down backer contributions like IndieGoGo. No one can tell if you donated $1 or $1000. Kickstarter’s popularity algorithm doesn’t care about the amount either! A project can raise a lot of money with a just a few backers, but it will not show up in the popularity charts! Your $1 contribution is pushing the backer count up and helps the project rise up the charts. And, the number of backers is just the kind of factoid journalist/bloggers are looking for when writing up quick snippets for a story.

There are many ways to make your $1 go a lot further.  Supporting a project for $1-5 dollars AND leaving a comment of encouragement or thoughtful question on the message board – then tweeting and sharing on Facebook – are worth far more to the campaign than the money (especially for small campaigns). Just because one campaign you read about didn’t have much traction on twitter, doesn’t mean others won’t. Twitter isn’t one universe of homogenized users, it’s a whole bunch of specialized colonies with their own hot buttons, goals and desires. If you want to attract attention in unimaginably diverse demographics, Twitter is the place to find it. Here’s another tip: While it’s not against the TOS or even the ethos of Twitter, it’s against Kickstarter’s rules to tweet your campaign to anyone that is not following you! You’ll have much better results with organic tweeters anyway.

Let’s examine the browsing behavior of a habitual Kickstarter backer. These backers often look past the front page of a project and peek into the comment section wanting to see some activity from the creator and the backers. Your comment, particularly if it’s a thoughtful question that gets an answer from the creator, helps convert a browser into a backer! You’re already worth far more than $1 to the success of the project! So keep those comments and questions rolling, don’t be shy – without a doubt, more people are thinking it than asking it. You can break the ice. Also, don’t be afraid to ask a tough question! Most Kickstarter backers are mature enough to expect tough questions will be answered in a direct and timely manner. A tough (non-trolling) question and answer session can actually vet the campaign for future backers. You’ll actually be helping the campaign. Trust me, it’s impossible to imagine all the questions backers may have. The questions you bring up can then be incorporated into the front page or FAQ, and this will help convert even more backers. Your buck is working magic now.

But wait there’s more! Your $1 and a comment can translate into even more real backers for the project via referrals! Forge of Honor’s Kickstarter project had quite a few “backer profile” referrals. This means someone perusing the Kickstarter site viewed the profile of one our backers, and clicked through to the project! That’s probably not going to happen unless the backers are active commenting across many projects. Count yourself lucky when you have such vocal backers! I’ll admit I’ve backed several projects from other backer profiles myself. Keeping up with the all the cool projects is hard work; peeking into another backer’s projects is a good way to find interesting projects.

If you act now, we’ll even throw in one more way your $1 multiplies beyond its nominal face value! When you connect with Facebook and “follow” your friends who use Kickstarter (and vice versa), your friends get a “friend backing email” from Kickstarter. Kickstarter sends out alerts to your friends for each of the projects your backing. Forge of Honor’s campaign also had a few referrers from that (otherwise I wouldn’t have known)!

Consider the effect of donating just $1 to 10 active campaigns while also commenting or asking questions: Your 10 comments can have a multiplier effect bringing attention to several campaigns at once. Kickstarter browsers at each of the projects might be curious about the other projects you’ve backed when they see your charming and insightful questions! Your $1 Karma is exploding! Compare that to backing just 1 project for $10, no multiplier there.

To summarize, your $1 contributes beyond it’s amount:

  • Every $1 does count in the all-or-nothing world of Kickstarter
  • The number of backers is the most important factor in the popularity algorithm
  • Tweeting and sharing as an official backer carries more weight and more “social proof”
  • Your questions and comments in project’s comment section increases conversion of other non-$1 backers
  • Referrals from your backer profile are an important part of the discovery process
  • Referrals from “friend backing emails” also contribute

Never feel guilty about “only” supporting a Kickstarter campaign for a $1, you are part of the reason Kickstarter is successful as a community. A few project creators might not realize it, but most do. That extra support can really help in the emotional department as well. Don’t underestimate that!


13 thoughts on “Stand tall, $1 backers!

  1. I *love* $1 pledge levels. I love supporting KSers, tweeting, FB post sharing, BGG comments, and especially the KS comment section itself.
    Thanks for encouraging my hobby onto others!
    I will link this article on my future KS (launching early 2014).

  2. Dale–This is a great post! I like how you went into the psychology behind people who feel like $1 isn’t enough, while it actually does go a long way. Kickstarter is perfect for building community–not just raising money–and the $1 pledge is perfect for that.

    Also, I would add that it’s really important for project creators to offer a $1 pledge level to make it easy for backers to pledge at that amount. Not only is that important for all the reasons you mentioned, but it also helps get a backer’s foot in the door so they receive project updates from then on. I’ve seen many $1 backers eventually increase their pledge to receive the full game.

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