BrandingCommunication

Web3 Comms: Strategies for NFT Projects

When I first entered web3, it was a fertile environment for builders, artists and engineers. We were all trudging through the unknown together, so there wasn’t a huge emphasis on communication. If anything, web3 comms was an afterthought—project founders would post infrequent announcements and pop into Discord occasionally to chat with their community.

Community members would occasionally chip in to facilitate communication, through typical means such as compiling notes from Twitter Spaces and community calls as well as through surprising gestures, as when one random Bored Ape Yacht Club holder paid the late Gilbert Gottfried to plug the club on Cameo in the project’s early days. But largely communication was unstructured and scattershot, which makes sense when you consider the following:

  1. Many of these founders were focused on creating in a new medium (particularly on-chain projects) rather than communicating about it
  2. While pricey, the costs to get an NFT were not astronomical, as the “blue chip” category was yet to be defined
  3. Projects stood out more when there wasn’t as much competition

As we entered JPEG summer of 2021 and the “number go up” phenomenon swept across the entire landscape, most consumers were much more tolerant with a lack of communication. After all, if they purchased something one day and flipped a 10x project the following week, did a web3 communication strategy even matter? For many projects, the answer was “no.”

The decision many web3 founders face: communicate or build? (Image: Daily Struggle/Two Buttons Meme by Jake Clark)

This is no longer the case. I created this blog post to present some of the most essential communication strategies for web3 projects to adopt, whether they are looking to launch or have an already established community. Founders—and even one-of-one artists—will be remiss if they fail to consider a comms plan for their web3 work. Communication is key, not only to fostering a strong community, but also to signaling to the marketplace that your project is active and serious. As a communication and content marketing professional in the physical world, I am also interested in assisting founders and artists who are doing amazing work in this virtual space, but more on that later.

First, a warning on what this blog is NOT. This blog is not about paying influencers to promote a project, buying Twitter followers and Discord members or engaging in overall sketchy pump-and-dump kinds of maneuvers. Yes, those tactics work. Yes, you can make a ton of money with them. But this article is for the builders who are here pushing the limits and attempting to innovate. So if you’re looking for help pumping a “Bizzy Bears” kind of rugpull project, this is not the article for you.

However, if you’re a builder who believes in the transformational power of the blockchain and realizes that “we are early” is not a catchphrase but the truth, a defined communication strategy can help increase the odds that you will create something durable. But given that resources—both time and money—are finite, I would use the following structure for the types of communication options and their relative importance in the web3 space (I had to use Microsoft Word SmartArt—if you have a sexier way of showing the graphic, hmu):

Started from the bottom, now we’re here. (Image: Word SmartArt by the author)

Before we dive in, just wanted to mention that if you find this article helpful, consider collecting it on the Optimism network for 0.01 ETH—thanks for the support! OK, let’s go!

Project Launch Information

At this stage, you’ve been working on your project for months, either alone or in a team of tight-knit individuals. You’re getting close to revealing the project to your peers and realize that you need some sort of external communication about the project. At its core, this stage of project launch information communication usually consists of those questions we learned in elementary school:

  • Who is behind the project? Is your team going to be doxxed, a known anon or an unknown anon?
  • What is the project and/or what problem does it solve? Get to the essence of your project with an elevator pitch or ELI5 statement.
  • When will the project launch? Is it going to be a stealth drop or defined? If defined, what time zone is most important to launch in?
  • Where will it launch? Is it a button on your website, a drop on a platform like OpenSea or a mint from contract like Loot (for Adventurers)?
  • Why should someone care about your project? This is important: you must position your project in a way that showcases your project’s value. Is it the first at doing something? Or the best?
  • How will the project launch? These are the drop mechanics—is your project reserved for holders of specific tokens? Is there an allow list? If so, how does one get on that list? Is it a flat fee or dutch auction? Is there a public component?

Now, you don’t necessarily have to answer all these questions publicly—in fact, a bit of mystery can be helpful for your launch day (think about how the team behind GoblinTown.wtf was kept secret). However, as a team you must not only know the answers to all these questions, it helps to have those answers written down somewhere.

Ring ring! It’s time to prepare to launch your project! (Image: Corded Phone Noadz #296 by SerNoadz, licensed CC0)

Most folks getting started understand the importance of this kind of communication and often take a stab at defining their project. However, I notice that they may not be as thorough as they should be. Their communication efforts often read as a bolt-on to their project rather than a thoughtfully considered element.

Consider this: you have spent countless hours coming up with your idea, daydreaming about your project, assembling your team, producing the art and testing the contract on the testnet. Why would you launch your baby without paying the same attention to how you explain it (or choose not to explain it) to your audience? You must do the work.

After you have a clear definition of what your project launch information is, you now must consider how to communicate it. This means choosing the channels that you will use to connect with your audience. These typically include a website, a Discord server and a social media account (most likely Twitter). It’s important that you package this information in the most appropriate way for each channel.

Do you want to have a long-form piece of content to introduce your project? (Crypts and Caverns did this well.) If so, are you going to just place it on your website or on Mirror? Or do you want to keep the words minimal and let the visuals do the talking? (Blitmap did this well.) If you have a Discord server, how are you going to arrange the channels? Do you have a huge collection of them or a small number?

While there are debates around the optimal number of Discord Channels, I would propose that these channels be utilized for most projects:

  • #Announcements: This is where your major project announcements, including all the information about the launch, will be communicated moving forward (more on this in a moment).
  • #FAQs: It’s imperative to document—and to continue to update—queries your community members pose so they can get the answers they need without taking up your time.
  • #Official-Links: Splitting this out from the FAQs gives visibility to the specific websites, platform collections and contract addresses to help prevent your community from getting scammed.

While this web3 comms strategy is widely known and adopted (even if it is frequently done poorly), the next strategy appears to be often overlooked until it is too late.

Crisis Planning

There’s an old adage about civil engineering: If an engineer does a good job building a bridge, they get a certificate; if they do a bad job, the bridge collapses and people die. Applying this to web3, folks largely don’t appreciate it when a project drop goes smoothly, but they’ll raise hell when something goes awry. This could be for a number of reasons:

  • Project Overallocated. The demand exceeds supply, causing the project to result in obscene gas costs, quick mint and/or botting (Otherside, Brotchain). Overallocation can also occur with in-person events (NFT NYC 2022 parties, such as Bored Ape Yacht Club’s ApeFest and Forgotten Runes Wizard Cult’s Party) or physical merchandise (Bored Ape Yacht Club).
  • Drop Time Changes. Whether the change was made to try to capture momentum (Mirakai), to avoid potential botting/gas wars (Gutter Cat Gang) or just because of generic contract rollout issues (Akutar), potential minters feel screwed.
  • Communication Channel Hacked. This can be devastating for people who engage with a hacked channel—be it Twitter or Discord—and lose their assets, as has happened with some of the most high-profile projects (Nouns, Bored Ape Yacht Club, Zeneca’s 333 Club).
  • Controversial Team Member. This often occurs when a team member says/does something extremely controversial and the community revolts—I don’t want to get into calling out names, but most in this space can think of a handful of controversies regarding team members.
  • Conspiracy Allegations. In this instance, we’re assuming that the conspiracy allegations are false; however, they have gained steam. I’m not going to give an example of a situation because research has shown that even writing that a falsehood is erroneous gives it some power.
  • Moonboi Invasion. While this may not be a “crisis” compared to the other examples, a founder can be a victim of their own success when a Discord server is overrun with flippers engaging in floor talk and ostracizing an established/fledging community excited about the project (Figure31, Crypts and Caverns, pretty much any project with open mint).
You gotta figure out a way the best way to break the news to folks. (Image: News Blitmap (#73) by artist Other, licensed CC0)

While this is not an exhaustive list, the point is that a crisis can affect your project, and founders should absolutely have an emergency plan in place in case it does. While it may seem silly to take such precautions in the early stages of a project, exploring how you and your team would respond to a potential issue can be enlightening. It also helps your team shore up your internal security practices (such as ensuring 2FA for communication channels) and define norms for communication.

Having these discussions before a crisis erupts helps team members get on the same page, define the appropriate responses and even choose the manner/channels that you will use to communicate with your audience. While often overlooked, spending time on crisis comms is that ounce of prevention that’s worth a pound of cure.

Discord Moderation and Social Engagement

This block of a comms plan is two-fold: limiting conversation (moderation) and encouraging it (engagement). Both land on this rung of the ladder because they are equally important.

While I have the least amount of experience in the arena of moderation, I know that it is crucial to lock down a moderation strategy prior to launch. Fortunately, many folks in the web3 community are willing to share their tricks of the trade. Some of the most obvious things that you’ll want to do are:

  • Implement a verification page for new participants
  • Notify your community that you will not proactively direct message (DM) them and to approach any DMs as potential scams
  • Prevent users with names that are similar to your project and/or project founders from joining
  • When the Moonbois arrive and/or the project mints out and is hyped, disable links so that scammers cannot send to bogus listings
  • Enable slow mode or temporarily close the server if overrun with newer participants

During the tsunami of traffic that is often associated with a new launch, your goal should be to survive the rush without having members of your community fall prey to scams and to actively engage with participants who are genuinely interested. It is imperative that you be well rested and ready for this moment. Get plenty of sleep and be at the top of your game—don’t release your project running on empty. Yes, not all projects mint out immediately; however, approach your release as if they do. This moment is monumentally important in defining the overarching tone of your community, which leads us to social engagement. While it may not feel like it in the moment, the overwhelming traffic will eventually subside.

The other side of the coin of moderation is encouraging helpful, active communication. This can be done both inside Discord and on relevant social media channels. In some of the more prominent projects I’ve been involved with, the founders have taken a very active role in their communities in the early days (Bored Ape Yacht Club, Blitmap, Chain Runners, Akutars). This is key, because in these preliminary stages the founders can port their tone over to their community. Whether it’s silly, geeky, technical, fun, secretive, inspirational or something else, the founders’ tone will be imprinted on the holders. So in addition to thinking about what tactics you’ll use to engage your community, you should also consider the voice that you’d like to adopt.

Now that you’re considering tone, it’s time to think about tactics. How do you continue to engage a community online after the launch?

The first thing to determine is whether this will be an ongoing project (i.e., will there be a series of events or chapters) or more of a singular moment. If it is a one-time project (as artistic endeavors often are), I’d hazard a guess that it is not a one-and-done effort, and you’re most likely looking to continue to create other projects in this space. In both scenarios, engaging with your community can be important to your success.

Project Announcements and Information

In the current NFT environment, it’s common for a project to be the darling of the space one moment and forgotten the next. While it does not constitute a bulletproof solution for guarding against irrelevance, a consistent cadence of announcements can help keep your project at top of mind. Many project founders and artists, in my experience, tend to start off hot and heavy with announcements only to back away from them as they get knee deep in building out their project. This is understandable—after all, it’s way more fun to be absorbed in a challenge than it is to step back and talk about what it is you’re doing. But not taking the time to keep your community informed can leave them restless and cause them to lose interest.

The lack of comms has been a current meta that I’ve noticed in this space. It is as if, one year in from JPEG summer, founders and artists who were viewing web3 as a side project are now confronted with the reality that it is a “business,” in large part because of all the money at stake. Additionally, many early supporters have a genuine interest in continuing to support folks doing cool work. This past month, I have witnessed the following:

  • Artists I have admired—and was an early supporter of—launching projects and not communicating it to their holders
  • Private Discord messages from different project holders lamenting a lack of communication
  • Public Discord messages from folks requesting more information about what’s happening behind the scenes, even though they have faith in the team
  • Public tweets—like the one listed above—expressing frustration at a lack of communication from “blue chip” projects (note: this is not just specific to the Doodles project)

The key here is setting up a systematic schedule for communication, and announcements are vital.

The biggest hurdle to overcome is recognizing that announcements don’t always have to be grandiose. The pressure to announce only major developments—or “tent pole” announcements—can be crippling for founders, so keep in mind that your community will welcome even day-to-day announcements. Consider some of the following types of content that can serve as announcements:

  • Rather than toiling alone, give insight into a challenge that you’re working on
  • Highlight members of the community who are doing awesome things (this is what I do for the Blitmap project with the Nifty Newsletter)
  • Provide sneak peeks into upcoming drops
  • Discuss your opinions on the crypto controversy of the week—just this past month we’ve seen crypto Twitter light up with conversations on CC0, Tornado Cash and royalties; there’s never a shortage of controversy in this space
  • Spotlight a new technology, podcast or article that you find interesting and discuss how it relates to your project
  • Profile team members and what they are working on
  • Talk about things that are often overlooked, such as the merch manufacturing process, finding venues for a party or even partnerships that you’ve developed

The point is that in this fertile space, there is always something to talk about that will interest your community, even if it is slightly tangential to your project.

Finally, there is a discussion of the medium in which these announcements should be published. Founders and artists should be incredibly wary of posting announcement type content strictly to Twitter, even if they have a large following. When I talked with one of the artists I supported early on and asked why they didn’t let holders know about their latest project (which really blew up big!), they told me that they had been posting about it a lot on Twitter and were baffled that I hadn’t seen their tweets. The major reason this happens is that the social media platform’s algorithm often chokes out the reach of most organic tweets.

Businesses know this too well, that is why there is an entire industry built around social media marketing and paying for impressions—I lived this life in the corporate world, spending millions on impressions to get the company’s message out. I know that there are exceptions to this rule in crypto Twitter. However, if you are a founder or an artist already struggling to decide whether to spend your time on the project or comms, the last thing you need to be concerned with is engagement farming on Twitter.

Instead, use social media as a “yes and” approach, where you combine those announcements with another channel. The obvious channel of choice is the #announcements channel on Discord, where you can tag @everyone so that the little red dot appears. But while this will reach your most ardent of supporters/holders, many folks are experiencing Discord fatigue and may gloss over it.

While creating an email newsletter is another option (Substack or Mailchimp), many anons are reticent to provide that information. Furthermore, you don’t get the SEO juice of having your content be public facing. Another option is to have a blog. While self-hosted options seem to have fallen out of favor, Mirror has become the web3 darling for publishing. They have even rolled out a feature that allows interested parties to subscribe for updates, which may be more palatable for anons than giving their email address to the project itself.

Engaging in a podcast or Twitter Spaces solution may also make sense. Determining which channel to adopt often depends on the technical acumen required for the sound setup and the amount of time one must commit to this strategy. Twitter Spaces seems to be more accepting of off-the-cuff conversation and lower-quality audio, whereas podcasts must have impeccable audio, clear objective and often even have a video component to push to YouTube. But whichever channel a person chooses, having an outline of what to discuss is always a must. PROTIP: After the podcast or Twitter Spaces, pull a transcript of your conversation or use the notes to create a long-form article that links back to the original recording—temi is an excellent tool to do this task!

But the best solution for connecting with your audience on mission-critical announcements may be SMS messaging. As a web2 content marketing professional, I can tell you that SMS messaging services get the highest open rate of anything out there. So as more mainstream folks who are less concerned with anonymity enter this space, it may be worth considering a text message channel for announcements—some projects (like the one above) are already doing this now.

Regardless of what channels you use, the best thing that you can do for your community is to have a regular schedule of announcements and commit to it. For most projects, especially with a small number of team members, a weekly cadence is far too much for founders to handle. Biweekly or monthly communication will probably suffice for most projects.

If you’re interested in folks who do this well, I’d point to the Forgotten Runes Wizards Cult (FRWC) and the Chimpers teams. Both have incredibly consistent comms. FRWC has a Wizards Wednesday Twitter Spaces and have a consistent cadence to their announcements in Discord, and Chimpers will often post “minor announcements” weekly so their community is never left in the dark.

Press Outreach

Just as crisis planning is an often-overlooked communication strategy, not enough founders reach out to the press. One possible reason is that this kind of comms can take a lot of effort while seemingly resulting in little output. However, landing a top-tier placement can result in a ton of earned media impressions—even today, I feel that the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s piece in The New Yorker by Kyle Chayka was a tipping point for that project. But while landing a top-shelf placement is difficult, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. There are, after all, journalists who specialize in the crypto world. Having the right pitch at the right moment can secure you a placement.

While landing in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal or the Times may be the dream, even getting your project mentioned in niche media can yield a positive impact (and possibly create some buzz that a larger outlet picks up). And beyond the attention your project may attract in the web3 scene, having your project mentioned in media is a huge accomplishment for both your team and holders. It can help spur the flywheel of collectors retweeting the article, which in turn gins up more interest in your project.

While the amount of hits may be slim, their impact could still be significant. Investing an incremental amount of time each week or month in press relationships could result in some huge coverage. Remember this: trying to cultivate a relationship with the press when you need it for a major announcement will almost never get you that coverage. It’s important to start working on that connection now.

Thought Leadership Content

Writing about your thoughts or complex problems in the space has the greatest impact for your personal brand. Thought leadership consists of those pieces that people will come back to again and again, long after the current cycle has ended. This style of writing may move the engagement with your current project only minimally, but done at a high bar of quality and a somewhat frequent cadence, it can launch the founder or artist into a position of higher visibility and esteem. And this strong reputation can help open doors for media outreach down the line.

Some thought leadership content can be incredibly meaty and take time to develop. Consider some of the work that Dr. Scott Kominers has written at the Harvard Business School around web3 (the linked piece was co-authored with Jad Esber) or what Chris Dixon has created for the a16z crypto blog. I had a role in creating a similar piece with Crypts and Caverns founder threepwave around the “unruggable” nature of web3 and how that differs from the API access of web2. These pieces often try to answer the “What does it all mean?” kinds of questions that tend to loom over a new technology or innovation.

Another kind of thought leadership content is that extremely technical piece that dives into the nuance of a particular technology. 0xbeans.eth did this quite well in his deep dive on how the Chain Runners project used different on-chain mechanics to render their NFTs. Vitalik Buterin’s blog is full of this kind of thought leadership, such as his piece on why sharding is great.

For artists, thought leadership is often infused into the work that they produce, especially when accompanied with a written essay like the Blue Paper by Mitchell Chan: the act of creation is, and of itself, thought leadership. But artists can extend their message to the written word. The degree to which this is possible depends on the artist, but conversation around this current moment and its role in art history, technical challenges artists have overcome in creating digital/blockchain art and even how their work comments on the current scene are all excellent examples of thought leadership.

And although thought leadership by founders and artists that’s written in the form of an article tends to have a longer shelf life, it doesn’t always have to be. Case in point, Zeneca_33 has built his reputation by releasing a comprehensive newsletter that not only discusses projects and their mechanics, but also topics to have a well-balanced, meaningful life. There are also some Twitter personalities who create compelling and helpful threads that boost their crypto street cred. One of my favorites, is punk6259 and all of their threads on the space, from not letting the institutions steal your JPEGS, the need for an open metaverse and on “making it.” Then there is @0xQuit who dives into Ethereum contracts and explains them in a way even a layperson can understand. While this kind of thought leadership may be more ephemeral, it does help establish that person as a trusted voice in the space.

The main takeaway is that thought leadership is a long game—writing an article today may have very little impact tomorrow. But in building a body of work, the project founder or artist can elevate their standing in the community and become a valued voice on the state of the scene.

Comms in Web3 Matters

As the web3 space continues to evolve from more of a sandbox for testing new ideas to a solid foundation for tomorrow’s great innovations, the need for a communication strategy will continue to increase. Make no mistake: the art, code and innovation are at center stage in this current revolution; however, I contend that a comms strategy can only help the individuals creating it achieve their goals.

The level of communication needed often corresponds to the stage of the project’s journey. While all styles of communication may benefit a project, a newly minted project may not benefit tremendously from thought leadership content. Furthermore, you must always perform a cost/benefit analysis, recognizing that will either take your team’s time away from the core project or cost them money to outsource. But rather than avoiding the conversation altogether, I’m hopeful that this piece will open discussion on which strategies a project should pursue and which should be tabled at a current project stage.

If you’re a project that is looking to do something more than the PFP du jour and need help with your web3 comms strategy, I would be happy to connect. I hope to take my experience from web2 and bring it to the frontier of web3—I’ve spent a significant time in this space and love what is happening here and want to be part of this cultural and artistic revolution. I am most interested in working with people who are passionate about building something special in this new space. The ground is fertile in web3—the brands and marketers have not “ruined” it just yet. You can still find your passion and go after it—just make sure that you’re communicating to the world about what you’re building.

NiftyPins is a member of the Blitmap community and a comms professional—you can find him frequently hanging out in the Blitmap Discord or on Twitter at @niftypins.

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