NFT Marketing – The unexamined life isn’t worth living

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In the final post of his series for the Hard Numbers website, MD and Co-founder Darryl Sparey talks openly about our approach to marketing for Pandimensional Trading Company, an NFT project. Darryl shares the challenges, opportunities and lessons learned from marketing a product he knew nothing about two months ago. This week, he looks at the lessons learned from the project as we wrap up our work with them.

“Corrupting the youth” was perhaps not the most significant charge levelled against cryptocurrencies in Nigeria when its government made moves to try and ban them last year. The Central Bank of Nigeria effectively tried to stop usage of crypto in the country by barring banks from enabling cryptocurrency transactions in February 2021. This came around about the time when the country was ranked 6th place out of 154 countries in terms of crypto adoption. “Corrupting the youth” was, however, one of the most serious accusations levelled at Socrates in ancient Greece when he was tried and sentenced to death. At his trial, Plato famously records him as having said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Whilst I’m no fan of absolutism, I think that’s a pretty good dictum to live by. 

It is only through examination of your successes, and more importantly, where you’ve come up short, that you can really optimise and improve what you do in future. A loss isn’t a loss, it’s a lesson, and any and all campaigns or activity that you work on in a PR and marketing business can be improved if you look hard at what went right, and what didn’t.

We’ve wrapped up our work with NFT client Pandimensionals in the last couple of weeks. I’m proud of what we achieved collectively for the project so far – they’ve had coverage in tier one media outlets like The Sun and Wired, we’ve organically grown a Twitter following of over 1,600 in just three months, a Discord community of over 1,000 users, and a pre-sale allow list with the wallet addresses of 100s of supporters of the project. But it’s important to reflect on where we could have driven better results or got from A to B more quickly. These are lessons we can potentially apply to our work for other clients, and for future Web3 clients too. So here goes.

It’s all about the Benjamins, baby – The project was selling NFTs to raise capital to deliver upon the very strong roadmap that the team had envisaged. However, upfront capital was focused on the technical development – the website, the smart contract, the minting process – and the artwork. This left a limited budget for any paid media spend, and the focus was on growing the project organically. Anyone who’s ever grown a Twitter audience from scratch, particularly in the last three or four years, will tell you that it is hard. In comparison, there are NFT Twitter accounts that see tens of thousands of retweets and likes for their very first tweet. Spolier alert: These are NOT happening organically. Like the Easter Bunny and Boris Johnson’s moral compass, first tweets from accounts that generate 5,000+ engagements organically do not exist. I performed an analysis of the Twitter accounts and first tweets of six NFT launches which all saw over 5,000 engagements with their first tweet. Then I filtered the list of users to those that had “shill” (a shorthand term in NFT Twitter for accounts that will promote NFTs for money) in their bios and there were always five to six similar NFT shill accounts that had retweeted their tweet.

This “dark paid social” activity has positive effects on the Twitter accounts of these projects in a number of ways:

asked (quite reasonably) “what is Demi Lovato?”, she still hasn’t asked me what an NFT is. The numbers of NFT holders globally is still small, comparatively. I now have a much better understanding of the media outlets, websites, Twitter accounts and Reddit groups that NFT holders read and are influenced by. This knowledge could have helped us get further, faster, earlier.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know – Partly as a result of the small audience of NFT owners globally, there are networks of NFT “whales”, who own significant numbers of NFTs from particular projects, who are part of virtual collectives called “Alpha Groups”. Members of these groups will often have significant followings themselvesThey create an artificially inflated audience for the project

  • They boost the tweets up the algorithm on Twitter and then make them more likely to be seen by genuine NFT enthusiasts, who then retweet and follow the project
  • There’s no penalty to this. On Google, if you pay for spammy links on dodgy websites, you run the risk of a penalty, so you don’t risk it. The same is not true on Twitter.

No-one likes to admit it, but the reason these accounts have huge engagement rates for their first tweets is because of this paid investment. These NFT shill accounts can charge anything from £200 and £2,000 for a retweet, depending on the size of their audience, and whether they take payment in fiat or cryptocurrency. They may well secure organic followers and engagement as a result of this activity, but paid investment, likely to be in the region of £3,000 to £10,000 per tweet, is the driver of the majority of this engagement. If you’re hoping to compete in this space, you need to have the funds to make this kind of investment.

The three Cs of NFT marketing – Community, Community, Community – Yes, I’ve nicked a joke from Peter Cook’s wonderful, one-time performance of football manager Alan Latchley here, who told it much better than me. Discord is crucial to the success of an NFT project. From working on the project, I’ve realised that it’s a vital way of keeping the audience who may have signed up to join your allow list (also called “whitelist”) between signing up and the mint date – when they can buy the NFTs. This can sometimes be weeks or even months, and you need to keep the audience engaged and excited about the prospects of the project. I hadn’t fully appreciated how global the audience for Pandimensionals would be – we had followers and community members from across Europe, America and Asia. We weren’t resourced to manage a Discord community like this, around the clock, on a 24/7 basis. If I were working on an NFT project again, I’d ensure that there was a budget for us to provide community management or in-house Community Managers to support the project 24/7.

Getting earned media coverage for an NFT project is HARD – I’ve written about this previously, but we didn’t land one piece of earned media coverage for the launch itself, despite investing significant time in research and identifying media we thought would cover it, and investing money in distribution on a newswire. What we did find is a LOT of seemingly editorial websites in the NFT and crypto space were, in fact, pay-to-play, and expected remuneration for running the launch story. As we didn’t land launch coverage, we had to be resourceful in getting coverage, which we did through news-jacking. We used news like the launch of Twitter’s Blue hexagon-shaped avatar subscription service and Yuga Labs (makers of Bored Apes Yacht Club) investment by A16Z as hooks to put  PJ Cooper from the project forward to comment. We did this very successfully and, given our time again, we would have invested more time and effort in this approach, and less in the launch release.

Know your audience – I hadn’t bought an NFT until January of this year. I knew very little about NFTs before we started working with this NFT project. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. The number of people who have bought an NFT globally is only 3 million. Of those, the number who own multiple NFTs from multiple projects is even smaller. I believed, before the project started, that the huge interest that we were seeing on Google Trends and on social media for NFTs was going to translate into greater market liquidity – more punters for our JPEGs. We created content on the Discord channel for how to buy your first NFTs to support this audience. That audience didn’t materialise. NFTs still haven’t passed the test I always apply to anything that might have cultural relevance – does my Mum ask me what it is? To this day, whilst she may have recently  on Twitter and can select particular projects that they like or believe in to promote. Often, they may be offered an incentive to do so, such as a unique NFT or free mint. There are other influencers in the space, with large followings on Twitter too. Getting in touch with these groups earlier on, getting their advice as well as their interest in the project would definitely be something I would have done.

Spaces and other projects, FTW – If you’re a founder of a project in the NFT sector yourself, there are two things I can advise you to do, which will help. Firstly, use other projects to build your own audience. Voltura (@BAYC2745) from Psychedelics Anonymous did this brilliantly with his use of the Bored Ape community, to build his audience, and then the audience for his own project. Find another project that has a similarly engaged audience on Twitter and Discord, buy one of their NFTs, change your avatar and get stuck in! The other thing is spaces. Make the time to go on as many Twitter Spaces chats with other founders and NFT enthusiasts as possible. These are a great way to network, make connections and promote your own project too. And to make new friends.

All narrative is controlled revelation – Ironically enough for a project where storytelling was such a strong feature of the project (the first set of characters is from a series of novels called The “Broadcliffs Saga”) we didn’t pay attention to this key rule of storytelling. If I had my time again, I would have kept the initial size of project (in terms of number of NFTs), mint date, target price, and other things about the project secret, and used the reveal of these to drive a greater level of interest and enthusiasm from the audience. Controlled revelation is definitely the approach to take, particularly as so many factors (like the price of cryptocurrency, gas prices and market enthusiasm) are beyond your control.

So, there you have it, warts and all. Whilst there are clearly things I would have done differently on this project, I’m really glad we took this challenge on and worked in this space. I’ve learned a huge amount in a short space of time, both about marketing to a specific niche, and about NFTs and the Web3 space. I’ve made some Twitter and even IRL friends who I think will be there for the long-haul and I have some very nice pieces of generative art that, whether they’re worth a few bob or not in a few years time, I’ll enjoy looking at. 

Given that the target audience for Pandimensionals is “degens” who smoke weed and buy NFTs, I’m fairly sure they’d be viewed as “corrupted” already in the eyes of ancient Greece! And while I’m no Socrates or indeed Plato, I hope I’m being true to the dictum of making my work worth doing by examining it, and looking for ways to improve things. It’s only in doing this that we make our work the best it possibly can be.

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