To raise money from the public for a media project, you shouldn't subscribe to the adage, “If you build it, they will come.” Instead, you must “build it and engage,” says Serbian journalist Sasa Vucinic.
Vucinic founded the crowdfunding site IndieVoices as a marketplace to match innovative media ideas with socially motivated investors. It focuses on projects in the developing world.
The platform, launched in November, has attracted “beautiful, unique and creative ideas,” Vucinic told IJNet. But their “conversion rate into full-fledged, well-explained and convincing media projects and crowdfunding campaigns ready to be listed on the platform is incredibly low.”
So what stops those great ideas from growing into something bigger? Vucinic said an “engagement divide” separates media entrepreneurs who possess the skills to run a successful crowdfunding campaign from those who don't.
“Understanding the importance and developing skills to engage with one’s own audience is a precondition to successful crowdfunding,” he said. Identifying and engaging with potential donors and partners via social media is key, he said, because “that is the channel all of us use to talk to people who share our interests.”
Because the first few months of IndieVoices showed that many promising media entrepreneurs lack that understanding, the organization has expanded its mission to include helping them learn to engage their potential audience. To that end, it’s establishing the Independent Voices Foundation to promote audience engagement and crowdfunding as a potential solution to the problem of financial sustainability for independent media.
It also plans to develop tools specifically for crowdfunding of media projects that can help project owners create and focus their campaigns. This will include case studies and write-ups of best practices. It also plans to raise funds to help subsidize engagement for important crowdfunding campaigns.
What are the keys to a successful crowdfunding appeal? “What we’ve learned so far by watching listed projects on our own platform is that a good crowdfunding campaign first of all has to be unique and memorable,” Vucinic said. “Then, it has to have the power to motivate people to want to do something or to see something done or something changed.”
A good campaign sincerely and genuinely offers potential donors a way to participate. “The crowd is very fast to detect if this offer to participate is genuine or not,” he said.
A campaign, like a news story or media product, must also target a specific audience. “You have to focus a campaign to your core audience; you have to reach your core followers and those people you can identify in the crowd as like-minded,” Vucinic said.
The message of the campaign should appeal to the donor’s sense of mission. The project description should not be “help us buy a photo-drone by giving us 50 bucks,” he said. Instead, explain what it really means to make that donation. That might be, “Become one of the founders of drone journalism in Malaysia, with an investment of only 50 bucks.”
Jessica Weiss is a Bogotá-based freelance journalist.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Simon Cunningham.