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Using social media effectively for your crowdfunding campaign

Best Practices Update #2

Using social media effectively for your crowdfunding campaign

One of the key strengths of crowdfunding as a fundraising vehicle is its ability to leverage the power of social media to build widespread support for a project. While many crowdfunding campaigns begin with those closest to project’s creators, social media is arguably the best way to reach beyond these immediate friends and family. Indeed, it is a highly efficient way to let your wider network of friends, acquaintances, colleagues and business contacts know about your project and its crowdfunding campaign.

And your wider network is a critical source of support. Indeed, up to 30% of initial funding dollars will come from people you know, most of whom will hear about your project online. The role of this core network is twofold: they disseminate word of your campaign across their own social networks (thus providing the seed audience from which to raise funds), and they also help your project achieve the first, critical 20% funding level. Kickstarter reports that 80% of projects that reach this critical funding mark go on to be successful.

In addition, using social media in a crowdfunding context has a word-of-mouth quality in how it spreads information is across multiple networks: one Tweet can be retweeted many times, and a single Facebook post may find its way into any number of News Feeds. This viral quality is an inherent feature of the way information is disseminated via social media, and means that social media is a particularly cost-effective means of leveraging your network to reach out to their networks.

Attracting supporters from outside your immediate network can be an important step in reaching your ultimate funding goal. For example, James Cooper reports in Kickstarter for Filmmakers that 29% of his backers for Elija the Prophet were either people he had interacted with online and with whom he had no offline relationship or complete strangers whose origin could not be identified (many of whom likely heard about the project online via social media).    

All that said, the world of social media is one that needs to be navigated and managed with care and purpose in order to have maximum impact -- which is especially true when social media is being used to promote a crowdfunding campaign. For instance, by not prominently displaying social links on your campaign page, you can make it difficult for your backers to leverage their social networks to your benefit. Also, being too aggressive in your approach to fundraising (i.e. overt “Give me money” posts that do not contain any other content) can actually deter potential backers.

Below we have provided some tips on how to maximize the effective use of social media in the context of a crowdfunding campaign:

  1. Develop a social media strategy.

Above all else, it is crucial to think about your social media strategy before you get started. Creating a clear social media engagement strategy should be an integral part of the initial planning activities related to your crowdfunding campaign. In order to optimize the potential benefits associated with leveraging social media to promote your campaign, you need to have a clear social media strategy.

At minimum, a successful strategy will:

  1. Outline what your current social media presence looks like,

  2. Identify your target online communities,

  3. Identify how and where to reach those communities,

  4. Articulate how you social media activities will work with your other communications activities (e.g. website posts, media interviews, etc.),

  5. Outline a schedule and plan for pre- during and post-campaign social media activity, including what the nature of the engagements will be (e.g. pre-launch promotion, campaign updates, post-campaign production updates),

  6. Summarize a plan regarding accessing the resources required to effectively manage the social media activity related to your crowdfunding campaign.

  1. Establish a strong online community first.

If you already have a community of interest built around your personal and/or professional network(s), leverage that existing following. If you haven’t been active on social media before, get connected and build a reasonable following before you even think about launching the campaign.

Creating an account a few days before the launch is not enough. You need to build a longer term relationship with your network in order to gain their support – and their trust. In addition, when launching a new online presence do not focus solely on your crowdfunding campaign; instead, try to build a community based on you – the force behind the campaign. If you focus too much on the narrow campaign, you may find it difficult to attract people to your network and you may begin to lose those people who follow you for other reasons. Social media users want to engage with people and share information of mutual interest; they do not want to be simply solicited for support.  Moreover, if you build a social media network built on relationships that reach beyond your project, it is likely to persist beyond your current campaign – and could be used to promote your project when completed.  It is, however, only when you have established an authentic relationship with your online community that you can begin to promote your campaign and encourage them to support it. Launching a campaign with an already established online community may also mean that you have substantial supporters lined up before the launch, which will help create a buzz and build early momentum for the campaign.

  1. Reach beyond your immediate network.

Try not to restrict yourself to your immediate personal (or business) networks. Seek out additional online networks and reach out to them. If your project speaks to a specific topic or subject where there is already a community of interest online, find them and tell them about your project. This can be accomplished by posting to their social media group pages or by using the relevant Twitter hashtags to ensure that people outside your network see your post. The more outside links you have to your campaign, the higher your chances of success.

This was the approach taken by Golden Nugget Productions for their documentary film Within Every Woman. First, they hosted their campaign on the Hot Docs curated page on Kickstarter where they knew it would be viewed by people who were fans of Hot Docs and were interested in documentaries. Second, they tapped into communities of Asian women who would have cultural and, in some cases, personal ties to the story being told about women across Asia forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Once again, it is not enough to simply post a request for support. Rather, build a relationship with these online communities and engage with them. Tell them about the project, explain why you are passionate about it, and respond to feedback and comments they may have. Once you have built interest about your project (and the people behind it), let them know about your campaign and direct them to the campaign page (once it is active).

In addition, leverage the networks of other key players in project. For example, if there is an actor (or other key creative) involved with your project who has an existing fan base, find the fan pages and groups on the various social media platforms.  Post about your project on those pages and include tags in your tweets and Facebook posts so your actor’s followers will see your posts – and be moved to support a project with their favourite actor. Additionally, if they have a strong social media following ask them to share or re-tweet your posts so that their network of followers will hear about the project and know they are involved.

James Cooper used this tactic regarding some fairly well-known actors (including Brian Markinson, Melanie Nicholls-King, Tonya Lee Williams and Carlos Diaz) involved in his project Elijah the Prophet and found it to be quite effective not only for getting the word out about the project, but also for lending some credibility to the project. By tying the project to individuals who had a positive reputation and an existing community of fans and supporters, potential supporters saw it as a ‘real project with real potential rather than a hobby project.

  1. Choose the right social media platform.

Not all social media platforms are created equal. Different platforms are ideal for different types of interactions. For example, Facebook is most often used by people to stay in touch with friends, family and acquaintances, whereas LinkedIn is more typically used to stay in touch with colleagues and business relations in your industry or area of practice and Twitter is typically used to connect more broadly with likeminded individuals online. Meanwhile, Tumblr can be a useful venue for regular updates on a given issue (such as the development of a video or video game project), while Instagram is used to effectively share images (e.g. production shots).

Once you have established who you want to reach out to (as part of your social media strategy), the next step is identifying on which social media platforms your various audiences are most active. This may be as simple as leveraging your existing social media properties, if you are already active and have a strong following. Alternatively, it may mean building a presence on a new platform to reach communities of interest with which you were not previously connected.

Which platforms you use will ultimately depend on the nature of your project and the nature of the audiences and communities you are trying to reach. In some cases, it will mean posting a demo video to your existing YouTube channel and watching the number of views grow. In other cases, it will mean starting a new Twitter account and building a solid following before beginning to post about your project and campaign (see steps 2 and 3). Sauropod, for example, found that by posting a video about their project, Castle Story, to Reddit, they were able to build a community of interest around their project. They immediately began to engage with that community answering questions and responding to comments and feedback from the community about the project. The Sauropod team even went so far as to launch a development blog with associated Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep their new fans informed. Once they had established strong relationship with their fans, they began to promote the upcoming crowdfunding campaign alongside regular development updates.

As expanded up on below, content and communication distributed via social media needs to be tailored to match both the audience and also the platform in order to maximize the effectiveness of your campaign.  

  1. Build momentum.

Once you have identified your social media communities and established a relationship with them, it is time to start promoting your crowdfunding campaign. Don’t wait until yourcampaign is launched to promote it. Instead, it is best to create some buzz and interest in the project and the campaign before you launch.  As such, when the campaign launches, you are not left with the challenge of building momentum in those first few days.

By some measures, campaigns that manage to reach 30% of their funding goal within the first week are more likely to succeed. In addition, good momentum will keep a campaign going after those first few days when friends and family make their contributions. Accordingly, it is important to create that initial momentum. Indeed, by promoting the campaign before it launches, you will create enough anticipation among your online networks to create momentum from the moment the campaign launches.

The Sauropod team discovered as much when they managed to reach their goal within five hours of launching the campaign. They announced they were planning a campaign almost 6 months before they actually launched the campaign and kept their community of online supporters up-to date on the launch even going so far as to posting a counter on their website one month before the launch. As a result, they had a large group of supporters ready to contribute as soon as the campaign was launched on Kickstarter, which created a great deal of initial momentum for the campaign and eventually helped make the campaign a great success.

  1. Have meaningful engagements.

The key to successfully leveraging social media to promote your crowdfunding campaign and maintaining momentum throughout the entire campaign period is to ensure that your social media engagements remain rich and meaningful, even if they are unrelated to the campaign itself. It is not enough to simply post the same message once a week asking folks to check out your campaign page, contribute and share it with their friends.

After the initial launch announcement make any future posts meaningful and more engaging to keep your followers interested and prevent them from getting annoyed with you. For example, provide production or development updates, announce new team members or actors joining the project, lead your audiences to interviews or articles being published about your project, update your followers on how the campaign is going and thank your supporters for getting you to where you are. Updates are an important way of keeping the momentum going and can have a significant impact on the success of your campaign. Indiegogo reports that campaigns with at least three updates raise about 239% more funds than those that provide fewer updates.  

In addition, tailor your posts and updates to the audience you are targeting on each platform. Although cross-posting the same message across all platforms may be the most time efficient, it is unlikely to be the most effective approach. Different audiences will have varying interests in the project, so providing tailored updates that speak to those interests will go a long way to keeping your followers engaged and encouraging them to become your supporters.

And do not let it become a one-way conversation either. Acknowledge and thank those who re-tweet or share your posts among their networks and respond to those who leave comments and feedback or ask questions. Making your audience feel heard and involved is a great way to turn them into supporters.

Continue with other posts as well. Don’t let your social media account become solely about your campaign. You do not want to begin to alienate your existing followers. Most sources suggest that an optimal balance is about 20% campaign-related posts to 80% other posts, or in other words a 4:1 ratio for non-campaign versus campaign posts.

  1. Consider hiring a professional community manager.

Not only is managing an online community a full-time job, but it requires a specific skill set in order to be done well. Launching a crowdfunding campaign will generate even more interest and activity on your social media networks and will also stimulate direct emails, comments on your website, and messages posted to your campaign page.

As discussed above, engaging with the community and responding to all comments and feedback are critical to ensuring the success of your campaign and ongoing support from your contributors. One option to ensure that engagement with your online community is managed effectively before, during and after your campaign is to hire a full-time professional community manager. Effective online community management requires a very specific set of skills, so choose someone that is familiar with the quickly shifting social media landscape and can accurately represent your campaign. If that is not possible, be prepared to train an existing employee (or yourself) and to shift that person’s focus away from core development or production activities to community management for a prolonged period of time.

And remember: A crowdfunding campaign is a sprint… followed by a marathon.