Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kickstarter Finally Did it: Traffic Analytics!

One of our chief complaints running our IU.me project on Kickstarter is the lack of built in traffic analytics. Kickstarter gives you some information about backers and where they came from (referrers), but absolutely no data on visitors that didn't back your project. Until today!

To my surprise, I was going over our project dashboard, and I see a field where I can enter our Google Analytics Tracking ID. I was shocked...was it there all along and I just didn't see it? I really felt stupid!



What that means is that you can use your existing website Google Analytics (or create a new one) and just collect this data off of your Kickstarter project page. The very same powerful tools you're familiar with now can be used to track your project. That's awesome!

I needed to find out if it's new or it has been there all along. I Googled for any write up about the subject and went over several pages of hits and nothing. Most of the links I found talked about the lack of analytics. My post Traffic Matters talked about this problem and prescribed some workarounds. Then as a last ditch effort, I went to Kickstarter's Company Blog and to my surprise on the very top, Kickstarter Introduces Google Analytics, a blog post dated today.

So, here you have it. Now, you can actually gain traffic analytics on your project. Simple solution that is well needed, and it's finally here.

A quick plug to our Kickstarter campaign: Please visit our Kickstarter project at IU.me and help us reach our goal. We've learned a lot from this experience and hope that we pass this experience forward. Our IU.me platform will launch regardless of the outcome of our Kickstarter campaign this summer, but it sure will be a great milestone to meet our Kickstarter goal.

Court the Media

This one should be obvious but can get lost in all of the activities leading up to a crowdfunding campaign launch, so I figured I will do a post on it. One of the best ways to get your message out is to get media coverage, preferably well timed with the launch of your crowdfunding campaign.
 
In getting ready to launch IU.me on Kickstarter, we waited too long to start this activity and relied mainly on press releases, which proved to be insufficient. Instead, you have to do one of two things:
  • Hire a PR firm that specializes in your space and has a proven track record working with the media. Have them show you articles that they facilitated for their clients and identify the specific reports and bloggers they've worked with in your space; or
  • Build these relationships yourself
The latter is more time consuming, but is equally effective, so you better get started on it well in advance of your campaign launch. Here are few tips:
 
  • Search for articles in your space
  • Identify ten to fifteen reporters/bloggers based on the articles you found, their relevance to your project and the views/likes/comments on each one of these articles
  • If the articles or blog posts have a way to comment and engage, go ahead and see if you can add a value
  • Follow these reporters/bloggers on Twitter and other social media platforms
  • Follow their work and stay engaged
  • Make sure you forward every press release you make to each with a small personal message
  • Provide them with status updates on your progress that you haven't shared publicly including your upcoming crowdfunding campaign
  • Even if you don't hear back, stay persistent and over a period of few months, you will get the interest of two or three of them, which you can coordinate with regarding your campaign launch.
  • And when they cover your product or campaign, make sure you follow up and thank them and stay in touch with updates.
Regardless of the outcome of your campaign, these relationships are worth the investment and continued nurturing.

Here are few related articles/posts with additional tips:
Please visit our Kickstarter project at IU.me and help us reach our goal. We've learned a lot from this experience and hope that we pass this experience forward. Our IU.me platform will launch regardless of the outcome of our Kickstarter campaign this summer, but it sure will be a great milestone to meet our Kickstarter goal.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Traffic Matters

In a previous blog post, I talked about crowd building well ahead of your crowdfunding project launch, which is very important. Another important activity is to setup your traffic flow also well in advance of your launch. This is two fold: making sure your project is visible to as many people as possible and to measure where your traffic is coming from.

One asks how can I make my project visible before I even have a project. Very good question. Here are some things you can do:
  • You start with your website, blogs, and all of your online assets and make sure they have good SEOs. Your assets don't include your Facebook page as content there doesn't get indexed by search engines. I'm not saying don't have one, but it's limited in its usage.
  • Create press releases regularly that references your website (very common). Now you have another set of content that search engines index that also points to your website.
  • Blog about your press releases and submit them to several article directories (there are many of them out there).
  • Keep your content fresh and keep adding to it.
  • Once you get your crowdfunding project page setup, for example on Kickstarter, they will give you a temporary URL that you can share with others for review. This same link will still work after you go live and will redirect to your project. So once you're comfortable sharing your project page with others, even before launch, go ahead and use it. This content will still be out there and will become a route to your live project.
Now once you launch your project, you can go back to your online assets and add links to your live project. This content is already indexed and searchable. When a user arrives there, they will see you're on Kickstarter and they have the chance to view your project. You can do this on your website template (so it's accessible from every page), on your blog template, and anywhere else that you can edit to add a link to your project.

The second part is analytics. Tracking the flow of traffic to your project so you can determine what's working and what's not working and make the necessary course corrections. Unfortunately, Kickstarter doesn't give you much of analytics on your page unless the visitor actually backs your project. That's nice, but not very helpful in understanding how many visitors you did have and where they came from. Here is what you can do about it:
  • If you have a great domain, use it as a URL to redirect to your Kickstarter project page. In our case, it's iu.me, cannot get any better than this. Make sure your analytics can capture/log traffic for a redirect though.
  • Use a service like Bitly to generate a short URL (BitLink). The great added benefit is that Bitly will provide you traffic statistics for the short URLs that you create with them. You can have multiple short URLs for the same project (which you can use in different marketing activities like Tweets vs referrals from your site). It also gives you referrals (so using multiple short URLs is optional).
Now you can better understand your traffic including how many visitors, where they're coming from, and where you're loosing them. You can combine that with Kickstarter's stats for backers and you have the full picture. Just make sure you use these Short URLs out of your online assets (like your website).

To summarize, traffic is very important for your crowdfunding project. Aside from the fact that it will bring additional backers (even though at a smaller percentage), it will also help you understand your convergence and any obstacles along the way so you can do course corrections. And as an icing on the cake, traffic also matters to your Kickstarter project popularity (ranking), so the more viewers the higher up your project appears. This is vital, as the higher up your project is at, the more chances that a Kickstarter member will see your project and back it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not all Crowd Building Activities are the Same

One of the very first things you learn when you decide to launch a crowdfunding campaign is that the platform you choose, be it Kickstarter, Indiegogo or the hundred other platforms out there, is that they provide your project with very little to no publicity or promotion. Accordingly, the only way people will find out about your campaign is if you tell them about it.

Accordingly, before you start your campaign, you need to build your crowd that will fund your project, and regardless of how cool and useful your project is, if no one hears about it, no one will back it, and it will not succeed.  Many books and articles talk about this very fact, yet, one of the things that we learned the hard way is that not all crowds are created equal.

So, about five months before our Kickstarter launch of IU.me, we created a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a LinkedIn page. We started building followers, organically in the beginning then used Facebook Ads to boost our followers on Facebook. Right before we launched, we had a little over 700 Twitter followers and 5500 Facebook followers. Not bad for a short period of time. The problem is how engaged are these followers.

What we found out that a lot of people would like your page just because they liked your ad or how your ad sounded. That doesn't mean that they are really interested in the subject. With Facebook in particular, your page posts don't reach all of your followers, so it's hard to add content there to get them and keep them engaged. Most of the time, you have to boost your postings just so more percentage of your followers (that you already paid for their likes) see your posts altogether. That was definitely a total waste of money.

On Twitter, the problem is a little different. Even organically developed followers are really very flakey and most of the time they're doing it so you can follow them back. To many, it's a numbers game. But even if you achieve a good number (and unlike Facebook, your tweets reach all your followers), most of your tweets are washed off by the large and constant amount of tweets. You are better off using hashtags with your tweets and be less concerned with building a following.

There is no easy answer. To build a crowd, you have to build a social network. A presence in your field of expertise or community. You have to nurture this presence over time, time that in many cases you don't have. It's like a bank account...you have to make deposits before you make a withdrawal. In our case, our dilemma was how much do we tell people about our technology and engage them in its details before we get it developed while we still are protecting our intellectual property.

Here are few suggestions, some will be better fit than others depending on the nature of the campaign, but mostly related to cloud services and applications:
  • Save your ad money and don't waste it on building a Facebook page following. Once your campaign launches, on the other hand, Facebook Ads might be a useful tool to drive traffic to your crowdfunding campaign.
  • Don't worry about building a Twitter following. Again, once you launch, use hashtags to get your message out, or use Twitter Ads or a Twitter marketing service like CrowdChirp.com to generate traffic to your campaign page.
  • Use a hybrid blogging plus social networking platform, like Tumblr, for building your crowd. You will be able to develop better quality of followers that are more engaged than Facebook for example.
  • Consider releasing a small part of your technology as an open-source or free lite service to use as a vehicle to build your crowd.
  • Partner with somebody in your field and/or related technology that already has the social networking presence.
Hope you enjoyed our posts so far. This has been a learning experience for us and we want to make sure we pass it along to everybody that might be considering crowdfunding. Hope you take a moment to visit our project at IU.me, and give us your feedback.

Friday, April 17, 2015

It's Never too Late for a Course Correction

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of treating a crowdfunding project as a marketing campaign, always starting with the target audience and crafting the content and the rewards with specific personas in mind. This is something that we didn't do when we first launched our Kickstarter project at IU.me. Today, we rectified this problem and updated our content.

IU.me is a powerful cloud technology with a broad use. It's like your operating system in the cloud. It comes with out-of-the-box features, yet it can do so much more based on what applications (SmartApps) you have installed on it. So, it's really hard to narrow down the target audience and talk about how they can use it and what benefits they will get out of it without getting into specific applications.

Since we're presenting the whole platform and not a specific application, we had to focus more on the out-of-the-box features and how they can be used by one group of people. The set of features we selected is the social networking part of IU.me, and the target audience is the Social Networking gurus and power users.

IU.me provides similar capabilities as Facebook and Google+, but it also adds some unique features. It bridges between social networking and blogging like Tumblr does, but goes a lot further. We choose to pick three points and leave it at that:
  • Customizable Microsites with multiple pages. Each page can have its own layout and content. Content can be from posts, likes, favorites and even gadgets that brings real-time content from other sources.
  • Custom Content Forms, where posts are not restricted to free-form text, links, images and videos. One can use one of the many forms in the AppStore (like a Food Recipe) or build their own from scratch in minutes.
  • The ability to upgrade to the paid service where you have your own dedicated Cloud Instance with full control on user permissions, installing SmartApps, and archiving and downloading your data.
Just like Tumblr, your microsite can have it's own subdomain (name.iu.me) or can be mapped to your own domain altogether, in the process, making your microsite a lot easier to access.

It was so hard to leave out the many features IU.me has, and the many usage scenarios both in personal and business use. But we choose to keep it simple and very narrowly focused. Next, we will be updating our ad campaigns and social media outreach to match this specific target audience.

We would love your feedback on the new content. Please visit our update Kickstarter page at IU.me and leave us your comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Great Stats and Analysis Blog Post


I ran across this great blog post on Kickstarter stats. It's very well prepared and is definitely worth the read. You can read the full blog at http://www.appsblogger.com/behind-kickstarter-crowdfunding-stats/. I'm including the infographic from the post below, as it gives a great summary of the post.

One of the nice nuggets there is to factor in geography. Certain parts of the US tend to be a better fit for your project than others. For example, San Francisco (and Silicon Valley in general) would be a better fit for technology, especially cloud-computing technology. One way to improve convergence of your Facebook Ads (for example) is to target that area. We will be trying this in the next wave of ads for IU.me and I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why do Most Cloud-Computing Projects Fail in Crowdfunding?

When I first started thinking about launching a Kickstarter project for IU.me, a cloud platform that bridges the gap between social networking, collaboration, organization and automation, I started researching web projects and reading related articles. The consensus was that it will be an uphill battle with very low chance of success. I usually take such news as a challenge to prove it wrong or get to the root cause. So, is there something inherently incompatible between cloud computing projects (including any form of a web service or application) and crowdfunding?

On the surface, I failed to see any issues or hurdles, but the majority of the opinions contribute this to the difficulty of setting up the reward levels. My problem with that is that games are software too, and some are web based, yet they still have a better rate of success. Not all games are free, just as not all cloud services are free, and vice versa. Even with free services, there are ways to setup the reward levels to distinguish the backers from the rest of the service users once it's launched, and elevate their status and/or feature-set.

One of the things that do matter though is who your target audience is. If the cloud service targets businesses, then that is a tough sell, as it's hard for businesses to account for pledges. And even if they do, businesses require predictability, that's why the try-before-you-buy model is essential in selling to businesses. Also, the cost of using a new service (whether switching from an existing one or not) might far outweigh the pledge itself. Consumer oriented services, however, do not have that problem.

Still the nagging question of why most cloud computing projects fail remains. My conclusion (which might change by the time our crowdfunding journey ends…I will keep you posted) is that it's a self-fulfilled prophecy. It is like in politics when a group of people refuse to vote because they don't have sufficient representation in the government. Well, the way to change that is to be more active and at least go out and vote.

The same thing applies here. The intersection of cloud computing professionals and people that are familiar with crowdfunding, let alone have accounts on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any of the dozens of crowdfunding platforms is very low. The ones that backed cloud computing projects are even much lower. Some of this is historical, based on the origins of these crowdfunding platforms, which attracted certain audience and type of projects, but that will change over time.

So if you want to change these statistics so you can see more cloud services and web solutions on crowdfunding sites, be an active participant. Go to Kickstarter, explore the Technology/Web category, find a project you like and make a pledge (even if it's just a dollar). If enough people do this, crowdfunding platforms will become a great vehicle for launching new ideas into useful and powerful cloud services.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Treat your Crowdfunding Project as a Marketing Campaign

Since a crowdfunding project is just a vehicle to pre-sell your product or service before it's fully finished and ready to ship, it's not much different than a marketing campaign that you would put together to sell your actual finished product. Accordingly, treat it as such.

It's easy enough to fall into the mode of describing your story, the background of the project or trying to appeal to everybody and forget the end goal. A methodical marketing approach would make a huge difference in reducing your marketing cost and increasing your chance of success.

Let's take a specific pitfall that we've fallen into, and in the process of correcting in our current project on Kickstarter. Our cloud technology, IU.me, solves many problems to many people both in personal use and in businesses across different industries. Any time you have a horizontal technology, it's a challenge to structure your marketing strategy for it to reach your target audience given how broad it is. But the keyword here is marketing "strategy" vs. marketing "campaign." Your marketing strategy that you use in your business plan will have to enlist many tools and various campaigns to reach the full target audience. Your crowdfunding project is just a single campaign in your strategy, and if you attempt to broaden that too much, you will appeal to nobody.

More specifically,
  • profile your target audience into a couple of personas. If your target audience is too broad, narrow it down to only the ones that fit the crowdfunding model. For example, individuals are more likely to make a pledge than a business.
  • Build out your personas with a detailed demographics, characteristics, likes, dislikes, etc.
  • Target these personas in your crowdfunding project content. So every word, picture or video appeals to them and is making a compelling sales pitch. It's not about what your product does, it's about what your product does for them.
  • Setup your reward levels based on these personas goals, likes and dislikes.
  • Develop your crowd building strategy for these specific personals (both in social media and advertisement)
  • And finally, increase your convergence rate by targeting people already familiar with crowdfunding (better yet, already have an account in your target crowdfunding platform).
Several colleagues gave me the feedback that our Kickstarter project content is too broad, but I failed to fully understand what they meant. Our technology is broad, which is one of its key differentiators and felt the need to highlight that. Separate in your mind your product from your crowdfunding project, and approach your crowdfunding project as a marketing campaign.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't Assume Everybody Knows about Crowdfunding

One of the lessons I quickly learned is that even though you're so familiar with Kickstarter or Indiegogo, a lot of people, both technical and non-technical never heard of them and have no idea what crowdfunding is.

Most crowdfunding books and articles talk about that you need about six months of preparation before you launch your crowdfunding project, especially building a community of interested people, your social network and your social presence. Makes sense. Sometimes though it's hard to reveal too much details of your idea that early on. This was the case with IU.me. So, instead we've focused on the general space that IU.me will play in. Posted relevant articles about cloud computing, social networking, collaboration, smart apps, etc. and launched ad campaigns around these areas of interest.

Knowing what I know now, it would have been equally as important (if not more) to use that time to also educate your community (your friends, your network and your social media followers) about what crowdfunding is. Engage them with polls and surveys if they've heard of Kickstarter (for example), know how it works, have an account there and even if they've ever backed a project on it. This interactive dialog is a great investment one can make well ahead of their crowdfunding launch.

It's tough enough to get somebody interested enough to visit your crowdfunding project page and read more details. If they don't understand how crowdfunding works, there is a significantly higher hurdle to cross before they click on the Back this Project button, pull out their credit card information and create an account in this website that they've never heard of before. Clear this hurdle long before your project starts and the clock is ticking. Back some projects early on and share it with your social networks, you benefit somebody else (Karma), and you also educate your network on crowdfunding and you lead by example.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Quick Background

We've just launched our Kickstarter campaign for IU.me 4 days ago. It has been an interesting ride so far, and it's just the beginning. It occurred to me today that it will make for an interesting read, and a great transfer of experience, to catalog this journey and share with anybody that might be interested in crowdfunding. Accordingly, I've created this blog, and this is my first post.

I'm going to keep it short, one or two posts a day at the most. I've done a lot of reading on crowdfunding in preparation to our launch, and one of the consistent messages is that it's a full time job. Nothing is on autopilot. A lot of daily activities ranging from staying in touch and thanking your backers to analyzing the campaign performance and making course corrections to maximize the chance of success for the campaign.

It is my first crowdfunding project and if you've never done one of these before but are thinking about it, you will find this blog very valuable. People that have done this many times and become experts at it, naturally will forget the little things that made big difference. Here, you will get a blow by blow catalog and its effect as it happens.