Kickstarter introduces creator handbook

'This is how we do it..."

Kickstarter published a Creator Handbook in an effort to improve its iffy customer service reputation

After years of providing opaque guidance to those wishing to post crowdfunding projects on its site, Kickstarter quietly introduced a Creator Handbook earlier this week on its blog.

Billed as a  “one-stop guide to designing a solid Kickstarter project, presenting it effectively, finding backers, and delivering on your plans”, the publication taps the knowledge of those who have run successful campaigns on the site.

In the beginning, people are advised to have a project page and video that clearly describes the ask and the background, along with rewards to be sent upon project completion and regular updates on the status of the project.

Key components in the video include plans and prototypes, budgets, timelines, and the people involved, who are encouraged to show their personal flair.

A final suggested aspect is honesty about what details still need to be ironed out, a subtle nod to recent criticism of non-provision of rewards and Kickstarter’s laissez-faire approach to those knocks.

Rewards center around creating a meaningful tie to the project.  Given the average pledge is $70 and the most popular $25, campaign creators are encouraged to provide small but creative rewards such as a copy of whatever is being produced, inclusion in credits or a personal link to the creator such as a call, note or autograph.  Verboten rewards like drugs, genetically-modified organisms, booze, porn, weapons and a host of other socially debatable items are included.

One could see this causing all sorts of headaches for Kickstarter, given the increasingly “everything goes” nature of society.  Most reasonable people will agree pornography should not be allowed, but what happens when the project begins to fall into a grey area?  Is an artist producing bronzes lumped together with the makers of Debbie does Des M0ines?

While in the minority, there are those who do not necessarily believe that genetically modified organisms are 100% bad.  Given the relatively recent timeline for its popular use, a lack of scientific documentation is not the same thing as significant evidence of harmful effects.  In the past Kickstarter has had this aura of non-judgement, which was far from reality, but as it moves forward it will have to tread carefully as it, and every other site, makes value judgments every step of the way.

Campaigns should also provide an estimated delivery date for rewards and explanations for any delays along with new dates.

Planners are guided through the budgeting process, down to a simplistic level.  They are told to not exceed 60 days and that those campaigns lasting 30 days or less have a higher success rate.  Readers are reminded Kickstarter charges a fee, as do payment processors, so they should add an additional 10 percent to account for that.

The key tidbit here is to not budget for more than what you can reasonably expect from the average supporter in your circle.  While every campaign dreams of going viral, few in reality do so it is important to not exclude your regular contact base if you wish to succeed.

Speaking of your contact base, Kickstarter advises you to send an initial e-mail to your friends followed up by a personal note to each one asking for their support while updating them on the status of the project.  If your project is a larger-scale one involving many people, get them to share with their circles.

Pitch the press too, but not just any press.  Bill O’Reilly won’t give airtime to your macaroni pictures of President Obama, but Pasta Illustrated might.  Pick media who cover the niche within which you are working, as they are most likely to run with it and are most likely to need content.  Generate buzz with a special event that makes it worth covering and which gets people excited.

Throughout the handbook Kickstarter reminds creators communication is key, and they break communication down into three types.  Build momentum by showing the latest prototype or updating the project thermometer.  Once you reach the cash goal, let people know where you are at in the production process –  a new chapter, cover art, or a distribution deal.  The final type is sharing the success your supporters helped bring to pass.

Fulfillment of promises and the kerfuffle therein is a big part of the reason why Kickstarter published the Creator Handbook in the first place.  Using the on-site Survey tool and Backer Report helps planners correlate backer information.

Kickstarter brings the reader back to budgeting again, which may have been more helpfully placed in the budgeting section, along with a sample budget incorporating conceivable expenses for highly visual or tactile learning styles.  Remember the cost of shipping, which, if your project tops your expectations, will be much more than expected and eat into money needed for operations if you are working on a small scale.

The Creator Handbook concludes with links to publications and interviews with project creators from different categories who share their best practices.  This may be the most valuable section.

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