Why (Successful) Crowdfunding Campaigns Can Backfire on Storytellers
You’ve just spent the most intense month of your life sending hundreds of online updates via all the Social Media platforms available on Earth, asking your friends and the friends of your friends, and the guy on the line at CVS to spend their money and use their contacts to help you reach your goal and you did! Life is awesome.
You’ve been dreaming about telling this story for so long! And now, not only do you have the money you need, but you also have an audience, a group of people rooting for you, waiting for you to share your vision and what you have to say about the world. What else can you ask for?
Well, I don’t know about that, but I know that the people who have invested in you are asking for much much more than what you expect. Welcome to the more-work-for-no-money period of your life.
Let’s rewind a little bit:
Crowdfunding has been a massive topic of conversations in the last 3 years, Kickstarter leading the way but far from being the only site offering this service (check Seed & Spark, the new platform for filmmakers only). If you are reading this post, chances are that you already know all about Double Fine Adventure, Amanda Palmer or Zach Braff. When you check new campaigns, you can tell what works and what doesn’t, if the pledge are helping or hurting the campaign and if the people asking money are willing to put the work and effort to get ‘there’ or not. And this is all good.
But it is not enough.
Flash News : Crowdfunding doesn’t end once you’ve reached your goal.
There has been a lot of talking about how to do a successful crowdfunding campaigns but none (that I know of) about how to deal with your freshly built eager audience once you are done with the campaign.
I went through all the projects I have backed in the last year (from different platforms but a large majority are Kickstarter projects), and here are a few numbers I want to share with you:
- I’ve backed 23 projects related to storytelling, 21 of which were funded successfully
- 13 of them are films (either shorts, feature or documentaries)
- Out of this 21 funded successfully, 4 of them have completed their moral contract so far: they have left me satisfied with the overall process and sent me what I have pledged for.
- Out of these 4, one of them was a documentary.
In all fairness, films take time, but that’s probably why it’s even more important for you, storyteller/successfully crowdfunded campaign leader, to think about what you intend to do after the battle in order not only to keep your backers happy, but also to have them have your back in the long run.
#1 – Understand What You Are Asking From People
When you ask people to put money on a story you want to tell, whether it is a movie, a book, an album or a game, you ask people to take a leap of faith. You ask them to give money in the dark for something that won’t make them any money ( in a world that is all about money) and that they might not even enjoy or like. Yes, people might actually dislike your story.
So this is a pretty big leap of faith.
When people give you money, it means that they have just attached themselves to you on an emotional level. They’ve dropped their shield and they’ve said “Ok stranger, I believe in you enough to use the hard-earned money I have and give it to you as a proof of love.” Yes, I believe people are basically saying I Love You when they give $20 to a total stranger. (I’m excluding your mother and the people backing you because they have to here)
- Hey, but what about the perks? I’m not stealing their money! I’m giving them something back! (And something awesome actually)
Yes, you are offering them something awesome, on paper, but we all know how crowdfunding campaign runs, half of the time (and especially for movies), perks take months (if not years, as it appears) to come around. And in the meantime, your audience is left with a hole in their wallet and a diminishing ball of hope in their heart.
#2 – Understand *YOU* Are Your Campaign…
As I’ve said before, the great thing about crowdfunded campaigns is that they generate money and eager communities. The terrible thing about crowdfunded campaigns is that, if not handled well, they can damage your career on a deep deep level.
- Aren’t You Being a Big Dramatic Here?
I really don’t think so. And this is not a marketing title. Here is why:
You’ve made your money, and now things are started to get real. Depending on where you are at when you do your campaign, you might have a million to a gazillion stuff to handle, and that is without taking into account all the perks. You take a couple of weeks off the hook because enough with the updates already! and you tell yourself you will start giving news when you have something of interest to share.
Time passes and either you forget to share the news when they happen, or they don’t seem to be that interesting since people are waiting for you to send some big stuff out there. Before you know it, 3 months have passed and you still haven’t done a decent update.
And here is when the ball starts rolling toward the wrong wall. People don’t want you to harass them every week with nothing, but they want to know you are working, things are moving forward and you still love them. Because guess what, there is nothing more annoying than taking a leap of faith for someone who sent way too many I-LOVE-YOU-GUYS-YOU’RE-AWESOME! and kept asking for more during their campaigns, and then stopped showing their love once they got what they wanted.
This behavior, my storyteller friend, says terrible things about who you are.
Even though it’s not intended, even though it’s not you you (you are actually a very nice person, your mum can attest on that one), even though it’s only because you’ve been working your ass off to make this thing happen, you have been dealing with 400 shitstorms you hadn’t foreseen, and you genuinely think there is nothing of interest to share at the moment, even though all that and more, it does make you look bad.
And here is where it gets sadly funny: this could have been so easily avoided if you had just taken the time to think about it.
How to Avoid Looking Like an Ungrateful B&$#@^
PLAN. IT. UP!
Decide that no matter what, you will do a bi-weekly update post-campaign to let your backers know where you are at. See your successful campaign as the true opportunity it is: getting people to root for you, not only for this project, but for your career, for who you are as an artist. You are your own media company, remember?
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have something to say about the project you’ve been crowdfunding for, you can:
- share your universe
- be useful
- be nice
- be fun
- be creative
And it’s not as if the world was really helping you to do so in cool and free ways. Ever heard of Vine or Instagram Videos? Go set-up an account for backers only, share pics, share 6 or 15 seconds video, share a quote, share real news about meetings, about doubts, about your life as a storyteller.
Zach Braff is a great example on how to keep people’s energy high. If you are a backer, check his updates, they are always full of love but also either entertaining, useful or plain fun. They are not always related to his coming movie, he actually recently made an announcement about another project he has just been casted for and *boom*, all of sudden 46,000 backers are now looking at his next project too, making him even more of an asset to have for directors, producers etc.
Of course, you are not Zach Braff, but in theory this guy doesn’t have to nurture his community as much as he does, while you do! Take a moment to look at the updates you are receiving from other campaigns and see what you love and what you dislike, and how these elements apply in your post-campaign.
Bonus Updates are what will help you nurture your community and make the waiting part be as -if not more- rewarding than the actual pledge they gave money for. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but it needs to exist. This is how you tell your audience that you care more about them than your solo project. (Because we tell stories to connect with others; with them.)
#3- Understand Your Career Depends On Who *YOU* Are
You can reject this. There are, after all, a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t see that as a good news: it’s more work on a maybe very long term, and there are only 24h in a day to make money to pay the bills and work on your own projects. Besides, it’s not like you are cheating on your audience, you told them you would do XXX, and you are or will (hopefully).
The thing, you see, is that when we talk about love, fair is never a word that comes to mind.
It might not be fair to you to have to work for a lifetime for a crowd of people who gave $1 to a short movie (or a feature!), taking some of your precious time away from your important projects so you can find ways to communicate with them and make sure they won’t think you are a selfish a-hole.
But if you are a true storyteller, it will be oh so rewarding. In moments of up you will have a crowd to share your good news with, in moments of down you will have people caring and supporting you. You will be pushed to find new ways to express and define yourself, and you might even find new stories and opportunities on the way.
Giving out of love (i.e. giving for free) is never a bad thing.
And think about something else:
What makes you think you are not going to have to run a crowdfunding campaign each and every time you want to tell a story?
If we have learned anything from the last six months is that even successful TV Shows and critically acclaimed indie directors with one million followers are having a hard time to finance their projects through the good old regular Hollywood System.
I sometimes have the feeling that a lot of filmmakers think they will use Kickstarter until ‘they make it’ and then, they won’t need it. This is just not going to happen pal. As far as we know it is more likely that in a near future Studios will start asking you to prove them you can get a certain amount of money through crowdfunding before they even start considering you seriously for any job.
If you have done a campaign and still have a project in completion, if you are planning to run a campaign or just successfully finished one, I urge you to think about your backers not only as people interested in this project, but as your pack. Each person that gave you money is a person that loves you, or wants to love you. They want to help you reach your dream, have a career, be successful. But they also want you to be a leader and show them love.
The Thin Red Line Between Love and Distrust
Lose your audience’s trust, and the road ahead will be painful. Nurture their love, and feel its power.
This is probably my longest most personal post in the two years I have been running mentorless.com. I hadn’t planned to write it, even though I have been thinking about the subject for some time, but here is what happened today that made me realize that maybe I should:
In December 2011, I have backed a graphic novel project from a girl I don’t know. I was part of those backers who were seduced by the project and took a leap of faith. The campaign was a success, hitting 20% above its initial target. I had put $20, which was -and still is- an important amount for me. (Believe me, I know how much money $20 is.)
The estimated delivery for the graphic novel was May 2012, turns out it will be August 2013. That’s actually fine by me. As I said, very few projects are completed on time as storytelling is a tricky process.
Here are the things that bothered me:
- Updates: there has been 14 updates in total. 7 during the campaigns, 7 after. The campaign ended 19 months ago, that means less than an update every two months. The last update is actually from December 2012, 7 months ago. Couple of backers -including me- tried to reach out for news and were ignored. I don’t think I need to stress out why this is not a good strategy.
- Pledge: my pledge included a hard copy of the book as well as an online backers-only access to the graphic novel while it was made. Soon after the campaign was done, the site was online and open for anyone to see because the author had decided it was better that way. Again, I can understand that, after all it’s about sharing your story with an as big as possible audience so, why not. I did have two problems with the way it was handled: first of all, when there is a change of plan make it a dialog, not a unilateral decision. Treat your backers respectfully. Second of all: compensate. I paid because you said it was the only way to have access to your story and now I am told that I could have just waited for others to pay for me: i feel like you took me for a fool.
- Final Product: one of the reason I pledged for this graphic-novel was the subject matter. As it turned out, the author decided to do a long prologue before entering the main subject of her story. The prologue became a 93 pages long intro. Realizing the amount of work and time the story was going to take, the author decided this long intro was now Book One of a two books story. And Book One is what I will get. Again, unilateral decision and deception. Today I received the Kickstarter’s questionnaire asking where I’d like the book to be shipped, and that’s about it. No new updates on the site. No nothing. The book I paid for will be Book 2, and if I want to read it, I’ll have to buy it. But guess what: I won’t. I’ll read it if it comes my way, and maybe it will be great, but I don’t trust this author anymore and I try to stay away from deception.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt this person is a nice person and didn’t do any of this on purpose. But I also think she didn’t put enough thought into what it meant to ask people to take a leap of faith.
If she had fulfilled her contract doing exactly the same things (few updates and vanishing at some point), I would have been satisfied, but that wouldn’t have make me someone she had in her corner. If she had done the extra effort of keeping the connection with her backers on a regular basis, no matter where her projects was, she would have gained a cheerleader and a backer for her next project, even though I might not have loved her current project. (and I actually liked her ‘Book One’)
So, again, when you ask for money from people you have to realize that you are offering them a much deeper bond, that you are officially taking a leader hat and that you are shaping your career every single time you update (i.e. get in touch) or don’t update (i.e. ignore) your backers (i.e. your pack). If you are here for the long run and have more than one story to tell, don’t take it lightly.
I will end with Ira Glass’ quote:
It takes time and patience to become the artist you want to become. Take care of the people taking a leap of faith and saying that they believe you can become that artist.
If you’ve read until this point, I thank you very much and I hope you found it interesting. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter and your suggestions (if any) on how to make the post-campaign experience better!
As Brainpicking says so well, donating = loving.
I spend around 30h per week working on mentorless.com to find articles that will interest all of us, write the newsletter and maintain the site (that would need much more of my time to improve, I agree). A lot of us can’t donate, but if you can, and feel this website deserves your help, any amount will make a difference.