To Get Your Kickstarter Funded, Say These Magic Words

By Ben Richmond

Looking to kickstart drum up interest in your latest crowd-funded project? Of course you are. We all are, although some dreams don’t make it very far. My own silent film adaptation of the Xbox game “Halo”—which Microsoft isn’t interested in makingbadly needs funding (and a script and a director, but whatever, that’ll all come out in the wash with enough money).

There are no shortage of statistics on Kickstarters, which means there’s no shortage of pointers for making sure that your pass of the electronic hat comes back bursting with cheddar.

The broad Kickstarting guidelines are pretty intuitive—the bigger the goal, the less likely you are to reach it, so try to be realistic. The more you give your donors in terms of rewards, the more Facebook friends you can make aware of your campaign, the better your video (you need a video), the more likely you are to succeed.

But there’s more to winning on Kickstarter than just being Amanda Palmer; researchers at Georgia Tech found that the very words you use on your page are extremely predictive of your projects success. They looked at 45,000 Kickstarter campaigns—just over half of which were successfully funded—and controlled for variation in goal size and the type of project—music and art are typically more successful at getting funding than fashion or games, for example—and the presence of videos and all those other variables. Once those were accounted for, they were able to come up with a list of 100 things that successful crowd-funding campaigns say, and also 100 things that predict not being funded..

And these pointers are, broadly, just good persuasion-related tips—so it’s a valuable study for pretty much everyone, even if you’re doing an Indiegogo campaign or just trying to get someone to pick you up from the airport.

“Our research revealed that the phrases used in successful Kickstarter campaigns exhibited general persuasion principles,” said Eric Gilbert, a professor at GT and co-author of the study. “For example, those campaigns that follow the concept of reciprocity—that is, offer a gift in return for a pledge—and the perceptions of social participation and authority, generated the greatest amount of funding.”

So if you want to have a successful Kickstarter, get those t-shirts ready for people who donate. But also note that many of the phrases reinforce the notion that people love a winner. Phrases that try to scare people into giving by focusing on what happens when they aren’t funded—if they come up “even a dollar” short, for example—come off as groveling and are unattractive to the crowd. But playing up “social proof” of your campaign’s appeal and success that it has already attractive is a way to open floodgates.

The phrases that predict success (F is for funding) are in the left two columns; the phrases that predict a lack of success are on the right. The gold phrases were obtained after a comparison with Google 1T corpus.

via Georgia Tech

Playing up some sort of scarcity adds some panache to your campaign as well, a principle that’s likely related to how when Kickstarter campaigns get longer, their odds of being funded wane.

The general principles are good ones, but the best phrases are the ones that aren’t really easily understood under them. “The Brooklyn” is a phrase that predicts success, possibly because it appeals to the social identity of a well-populated borough that’s firmly in love with itself. But even the researchers couldn’t figure out a few high-scoring indicators.

“Another perplexing finding was the occurrence of phrases like christina and in our top predictors. While christina (β = 2.33) mostly referred to famous celebrity (i.e., Christina Aguilera), we had no clear explanation for the occurrence of cats—except for the commonly accepted wisdom that the internet loves them”

The paper will be presented at the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Baltimore on February 24, but is available to read now, if you’ve got a campaign scheduled before then, or you want to view the full list of phrases that predict success or failure. It’s worth noting, as the authors do, that they’re stopping short of putting any causal connection to these correlations, but it’s a cool way of mining the data that is language.

I expect to play up how anyone helping fund my Jacques Tati-directed retelling of an epic—about Halo soldier who spends most of his time aiming ineptly at the sky—will get mad great stuff in exchange for their help for contributing to this rare opportunity, instead of playing up how if I don’t get enough funding it won’t be possible to hire my director, who has been dead since 1982.

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