"Appropriate vs Inappropriate Social Media Marketing," or "Right and Wrong Ways To Promote Your Kickstarter"
I have a pet peeve about direct marketing... it's been triggered before, and I'm sure it'll be triggered again. It has to do with all these newfangled social networks, especially when combined with this newfangled crowdfunding stuff you hear about.
It just so happens that this came up last week, and again this week, so I thought I'd vent a little bit by writing a blog post about it. Basically this post is to plead with you about how NOT to go about promoting your Kickstarter project...
Last week (Nov 9th) a Twitter account called Soccer City (@SoccerCityGame) sent me a tweet - directly to me (notice the @sedjtroll at the beginning, meaning it triggered my notifications but didn't appear in their public feed):
"@sedjtroll You will to love this game [KS link] Please RT and help everyone have the best soccer board game ever THKS!"
This person obviously does not know me. I couldn't care much less about soccer, and I find it highly unlikely that I'll love their greatest soccer board game ever. I'm also unimpressed with the typo ("will to love") which they copied and pasted into many, many tweets.
They got well over 100 instances of that same or very similar message out before myself and maybe a few others replied that it wasn't appropriate. I did get an apology (as did 2 or 3 others), and I see a sort of public apology as well, and after Nov 9th I don't see any more direct tweets of that nature. At least these guys seem to have learned their lesson!
I'm a little surprised this doesn't happen more often and when it does I wonder if I'm overreacting when I reply asking them not to reach out to me personally and directly, asking me to help them push their project. But I feel it's an important principle. Especially when a week later it happens again:
Yesterday (11/16), WhatWeMake (@WhatWeMake) sent this tweet, again directly to me (see the @sedjtroll at the beginning):
"@sedjtroll if you like miniatures, card play, sci-fi and spaceships you might LOVE this: [KS link]"
At least this one equivocates... they don't presume that I'll love their game, they just suggest that I MIGHT, given other factors. Is this better or worse? If @SoccerCityGame legitimately thought I would like their game, based on knowing me and my personal likes and dislikes, I think their message might almost be appropriate. @WhatWeMake's message was flagrant "I have no regard for your feelings toward my project, but I'm going to bother you, and ask you to bother all all of your friends and followers, about it" self promotion.
Curious, I clicked on this user's name and checked his "Tweets & replies" thread - no fewer than 128 instances of the exact same or very similar text, tweeted directly at famous people like Wil Wheaton, small publishers like @TastyMinstrel and @DiceHateMe, big name designers such as @toinito and @eric_lang, board game media people such as @TheOneTAR and @UndeadViking, and indie designers/twitter personalities such as @PuppyShogun and @HyperboleGrant. 128 instances in a day... and checking again now I count no fewer than 54 more such messages just in the last couple of hours!
In that time I saw maybe 3 or 4 appropriate tweets about the project.
Here's the thing. Nobody likes intrusive marketing. If you knock on my door, interrupting my dinner, trying to sell me a vacuum cleaner, I'm not going to be happy about it. If you call me on the phone, interrupting my day, trying to sell me magazines, I'm not going to be happy about it. I'm not thrilled that my physical mailbox acts more like a trash can than a method of communication... Nobody is.
In the digital age, this extends to the personal inbox, of which we all have many. Nobody likes Spam email, and companies that provide email services do their darndest to preemptively filter Spam out for you. Have you ever looked in your Spam folder? Imagine if there wasn't automatic Spam filtering, and your email was constantly cluttered with 100 messages a day from people offering you sex, drugs, and fake timepieces that look just like the real thing!
If you can imagine how much of a pain it would be to manage one inbox while sifting through a torrent of unwanted advertisements, then you can probably imagine it for several (yahoo, gmail, BGG Geekmail, FaceBook, Twitter, work email, etc), and you can probably see where I'm going with this rant.
In case it's not clear how invasion of a personal digital inbox is analogous to a more personal phone call, consider that many people have notifications sent to their email, tablet, and/or cell phone whenever someone sends them a private/direct message, or even just tags them in a Tweet or FaceBook status. In that case, by tweeting @sedjtroll you're not just sending me a message that I will see. You're reaching out from the internet and tapping me on the shoulder saying "lookoverhere, lookoverhere!" And depending on the method you use, you might be - literally - doing it from 3 directions at once, as my computer beeps at me, my phone vibrates, and my tablet plays a soft tone from the next room. All while I'm trying to work, read, enjoy a TV show, or - god forbid - design a game!
Today's social networks make it easier than ever to connect with other people, but this larger surface area with which to interact can be a double edged sword. It's also painfully easy for people to contact you even if you don't want them to. Therefore it's important that we respect each other's personal space - and that includes the personal space in the digital world. Just like you don't want your phone ringing from a telemarketer offering a "great deal" on a home refinance, you also don't want your twitter notifications blowing up to let you know about this "great new soccer board game."
I can't help but think about the extreme here. I am immersed in the world of board game design and publishing, and many of my Twitter followers, and people I follow, run Kickstarter projects for their games all the time. If I got three announcements (phone, computer, and tablet) every single time someone I knew launched a kickstarter project (in addition to all the other notifications, email, and things I've actually subscribed to), the internet would be literally unusable! It would be very much like trying to maintain an email box without an automatic Spam filter - in fact, maybe 3 such inboxes.
Nobody wants that!
So please, Please, PLEASE heed my request... do not directly contact people with what amounts to Spam!
"But Seth!" I hear you cry... "I need to get the word out, or my Kickstarter project will fail! Not everyone has the reach of TMG!"
There are appropriate ways to do internet or direct marketing. It's true that not everybody has the reach of a company like TMG, but you know what? No too long ago, TMG didn't have that kind of reach either. And you can check whatever histories you want to, you won't find hundreds of instances of direct requests to share TMG Kickstarter projects.
Michael was very transparent as he went through the journey of a fledgling publisher, and one of the big things he talked about was Permission Marketing. Sending emails directly to someone about your kickstarter is OK if they have specifically opted in and requested it. Collecting emails of people interested in your project, and getting their permission to email them directly... THAT'S an example of appropriate direct marketing.
Tweeting and posting about your project and asking for retweets, without tagging any innocent bystanders, is also perfectly appropriate. You will find that our friends and fans will likely share the message on their own, which is their prerogative. Assuming of course that they do so in an appropriate way.
The best thing to do is to grow your tribe ahead of time, so that when you do post about your crowdfunding project, you'll have people willing to hear you. There are many ways to do this, and most of them include contributing something to the community you're trying to turn into an audience. Write a blog, do game reviews, make some videos, or start a podcast. Build an audience ahead of time and you will find it much easier to get the word out about your kickstarter project.
I feel I need to take a stand against unsolicited Spam coming from my personal friends and followers! I think there needs to be a way to fight back, to show offenders that this type of behavior is inappropriate, and nip it in the bud - make sure proper etiquette and protocol is out there so that we don't need to go through this type of thing every time a new kickstarter is launched.
How can we do this? I'm open to ideas. I'm considering composing a universal, generic response (140 characters or fewer) which could be used on any social network, politely informing the offender that they've broken etiquette, and warn them against repeating their offense. Perhaps something like:
"@xxx Spam is inappropriate and inconsiderate. Please don't do that, you're ruining the internet for everyone else."
Because I'm a little vindictive, and because my temper for this type of thing is short, I kind of want to encourage a "retro-smash," where a response like that could bear a hashtag such as #HowDoYouLikeIt, and when an offense occurs, the response bearing that hashtag could be sent by tens-to-hundreds of people, with the offender tagged of course, which should hopefully drive home the point. Of course this type of retro-smash would have to be used appropriately as well - mob justice is only OK if it doesn't get out of hand :)