A full-stack marketer's guide to selling out NFT Collections: Key insights obtained from selling out multiple collections working with 60+ projects for the past 2 years

JC Macalintal
Feb 19, 2024

Web 2 marketing doesn't work in Web 3. Web 3 — as an internet owned by the people — is built on a completely new social and technological structure, so the versions of marketing that works in the industry are different. Marketing in Web 3 is about community building, but most people have the wrong conception of communities.

A discord server or Facebook group alone is not a community. In order for a group of people in a particular platform to become a community, the exchange of value has to happen first. To be explicit, a group of people in a platform is not a community unless, otherwise, an exchange of value happens at all levels of the community, from the newcomers to the tenured members of the group. In short, a group of people only evolves into a community when the people within it are helping each other and providing each other value.

Community building in and of itself is a very tedious and operations-intensive process. Founders have to: 1) facilitate that exchange of value for the community, 2) show up and be visible to the community, and 3) moderate and protect culture, core values, and community. If you're reading this and those three activities disgust you, then building in Web 3 may not be for you. If those activities are okay for you and don't disgust you in particular, but you still don't have those skill sets, it's time to upskill; and reading this article is a good start.

Key Insight 1: Know the marketing ecosystem

Since marketing in Web 3 takes a different form, the marketing departments and roles, therefore, take a different form. One of the mistakes I've seen transitioning founders make is hiring the same marketing roles in Web without understanding that it takes a different competence to build and market in Web 3. For XO Project, we've had countless discovery calls with prospects with the same sentiments, "We've had a marketing team, but they don't produce results, and we feel like we're just losing money."

But they usually approach us when they're already near their minting dates, and at that point, we have to reject them because there's only so much we can do to help them. There are also projects who approach us while they're minting already, hoping that we could help them sell out NFT collections — at that point, we just give them a flat no.

If a simile would be made, building an NFT collection is like building three multiple ventures: an e-com brand (the NFT collection), a community (a loyal following that supports the collection), and an event series (activities, AMA's for the collection). The tricky part is you'll build those three all at once; hence, the marketing ecosystem in Web 3 has to be understood so founders can maximize revenue and impact per square inch of the company.

In almost every project in the 60+ ventures we've worked with, there are 5 crucial and important roles we've installed or worked with: moderators, community builders, collab managers, promoters, and marketers or social media managers — in order of importance.

These 5 stakeholders are in charge of facilitating the exchange of value that happens at all levels of the organization. At the forefront of that is the moderator. The moderator is in charge of moderating, cultivating and protecting the culture, community, and content of the collection. To grow a community healthily, good and consistent moderation is required.

Some communities blow their numbers to hundreds of thousands in a span of a few months, but the quality of the culture, content, and community decays and is filled with unrelated posts, spam, and even scams. It is the duty of the moderator to protect the community against that.

The community builder, on the other hand, is in charge of facilitating the exchange of value that happens on all levels of the organization. One of the most common mistakes community builders make is dictating how the community behaves or feels toward a particular topic or issue. Community builders are not supposed to tell the community how to feel, they're just supposed to give the community something to talk about. Part of doing that is building community polls, posts, events, and activities, and that has to be done every. single. day.

To amplify the polls, posts, events, and activities of the project, partnerships with other communities and projects have to happen to maximize the reach, impressions, and engagements of the project. Enter the collab manager.

The idea is simple, to grow the community, the project has to be exposed to other already established communities that already have their own loyal followings and project evangelists. Exposing the project to these other communities allows the project to absorb other members. The collab manager is in charge of looking for other partner communities and projects with a vision, purpose, core values, and culture that matches the project being built. It is the duty of the collab manager to build a database of possible prospect partners, properly qualifying them with respect to community health, culture fitting, and value matching. The collab manager should qualify the projects first and should not work with just any project that doesn't match the community's identity as it would mess with the work of the moderator.

To further empower the polls, posts, events, and activities of the project, the project has to be paired with the KOLs (Key Operator Leaders/Key Opinion Leaders) in Web 3. Web 2 people call these influencers. In Web 3, they're called promoters. Promoters are responsible for blowing up the activities and contests, especially the AMAs and other events of the project leading to the minting date.

It's important to note that promoters exist within the marketing ecosystem in Web 3 because, to date, there's no easy way to reach a massive amount of real people and real communities with a targeted demographic or niche in any of the platforms that Web 3 projects are built on now. Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Instagram's advertising platforms and policies are known to be evasive and tricky towards Web 3 projects in general.

On top of everything, from the polls, posts, events, and activities, to the collaborations, partnerships, and presence of promoters, the social media manager or marketer creates content that generates good FOMO around the project so other people within the platforms can ape in. It is the duty of the social media manager or content creator to publish, organize, and execute content that builds hype, culture, and lore around the project.

Regardless, every campaign that these 5 people will build should have a non-negotiable objective included in the KPIs: to grow the community.

Key Insight 2: the 3x Whitelist Rule

While growing the community, an internal metric should also be paid attention to: the whitelist slots. Whitelist spots are a community-building strategy that approves a list of email addresses, IP addresses, domain names, or other selected elements to give a select group of people priority access to minting or other privileges while denying all others to said guarantee.

Speaking of guarantees, there are no guarantees in selling out an NFT collection, but we've found that ensuring that the whitelist spots given away exceed the NFT collection's quantity by 2x to 3x is an effective way to maximize the chances of selling out the collection when the minting drops. Out of all the indicators that an NFT collection will sell out well, this is perhaps the factor with the highest bearing.

To grow the whitelist slots, giveaways, events, and other activities have to be co-organized by the project with other project founders, promoters, community leads, and moderators. An example of a collab whitelist giveaway is as follows (featuring Ethan Zabat — co-founder and CEO of XO Project, and moderator at Psychonautz NFT — on his work for Psychonautz NFT, one of our best performing case studies which topped the Opensea volume at top 4 during the first week of minting).

Key Insight 3: Collaborations are a bootstrapped founder's friend

If a bootstrapped founder wants to breakthrough the Web 3 space with a conservative marketing or community building budget, I'd argue that the only roles required (if minimizing costs is necessary) are the moderators, social media managers, and collab managers.

To grow the community, the project has to be exposed to other already established communities that already have their own loyal followings and project evangelists. Exposing the project to these other communities allows the project to absorb other members.

If done correctly, the founders can multiply their community's growth just through the right partnerships alone. We've grown communities to more than 20K with conservative founders with just our collab managers at XO — especially if these conservative founders are connected properly to the Web 3 ecosystem and have high-quality contacts.

Key Insight 4: From the first-time enthusiast to the whale, leave no stakeholder behind

The rise of the "discord-grind META" of projects to manufacture community activity, and presence has arguably alienated the people with the big checks — investors and whales.

The discord-grind META was designed by projects circa the last quarter of 2021 with the intention to reward actively engaged and chatting people in the community with whitelist spots and other community privileges. Although these rewarded people who can find time on their hands to chat, comment, or engage, it also alienated the investors and whales who have little to no time to check discord or interact on Twitter.

Enter the weekly development updates. The weekly development updates are weekly updates dished out by the founders and the developers on multiple platforms such as Twitter, Medium, Facebook, and the email list. In the world of Web 2, think of these as investor updates.

These weekly development updates are meant to show that the developers and the team behind a project are following through with the roadmap promised as discussed — which is crucial to sustaining the trust of the community to continuously grow it.

Key Insight 5: Delays in roadmap mean mistrust, and mistrust kills communities

In the 60+ projects that we've worked with, communities stagnant, decay, or die when the roadmaps promised by the developers are delayed, revised, or not executed. Projects have to think of roadmaps as promises; as such, when these roadmaps aren't met, the members of the communities, from the newcomers to the whales, are, of course, disappointed — and you don't want to disappoint people who trust you.

Key Insight 6: Founders have to be visible

Above all the marketing ecosystems, gimmicks, and events, the founders of the project have to be visible and felt. From fundraising and connecting to hosting events, founders have to be at the forefront of facilitating, protecting, and maintaining the culture, core values, and content of the community.

When doxxing is a viable option (especially if the founders of the project have credibility, results, and reputation relevant to their roles or the project that they're building), introduce the founders. Introducing the founders, their credentials, and their competence makes it easier to build the community (n.b., community building is all about trust). If not applicable, there are ways to navigate around the doxxing problem. There are a lot of successful undoxxed projects to take a look at, but solving the doxxing problem is a different conversation for a different article. To conclude, Web 3 marketing is simply community building. Community building is all about trust, and trust is gained only when the project has activities, events, and content that introduces the culture, content, and community.

Selling out the NFT collection is not about "hard-selling," it's all about community building. When the community is built, that is, the project has a group of thousands of people, fans, super fans, and even project evangelists, the sold-out will follow. The point is, building an NFT collection to make money is a weak motivation that will be crushed by the amount of work it takes to launch a successful NFT collection. The motif behind building an NFT collection has to be to bring forth a group of people and facilitate the exchange of value within to transform said group into a community.

To make the insights in this article actionable, and so it doesn't result in an information overload. The TLDR is this;

1. How many NFTs does your collection have? Then apply the 3x whitelist rule, then you have a target. For example, if you have a 10K collection, you'd probably need a 30K whitelist of organic people.

2. To get started building this group of 30,000 people, the question is simple.

3. What do these 30,000 people like?

Start there.

JC Macalintal
Founder, Creative Writer, Designer, Storyteller

JC Macalintal is the community builder of Social Media Marketing Philippines, a community of 60K Filipino social media managers, marketers, and freelancers both in Web 2 and Web 3. He’s also the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of XO Projects, a Web 3 BPOS that provides full-stack marketing and community-building services to help Web 3 projects sell out and build communities. Currently, JC is the Chief Marketing Officer of Bitskwela — a Web 3 EdTech company that helps Filipinos own a piece of the internet.

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