Kickstarter Campaigns Are Won and Lost in Their Wording

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 16 2014 12:45 PM

Word Choice Can Make or Break a Kickstarter Campaign

words
Make sure your Kickstarter's verbiage doesn't get on the list's bad side.

Photo from Georgia Tech

There are a lot of things that can be lousy about a crowdfunding profile. It can have a bad video, corny photos, or bad incentives to contribute. Or the goal itself may be the problem. But even more can go wrong than it might seem. New research from Georgia Tech shows that the words and phrases used in a crowdfunding campaign can actually predict how successful it will be.

The study looked at 45,000 Kickstarter campaigns, a little more than half of which were successfully funded. The group controlled for different project genres, goal sizes, and whether the profiles had elements like videos. Once they'd done that, they went through the copy in each profile and found 100 words and phrases common to successful campaigns and 100 that foretold doom.

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Eric Gilbert, a professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech and an author on the paper, said in a press release that the phrases or words that showed up in successful Kickstarters were generally related to common persuasion principles. "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."

In contrast, campaigns focusing on negative incentives or scare tactics tended to seem desperate and unattractive. For example, projects containing the phrase "we can afford" tended to get funded, whereas those containing "not been able" did worse. Basically, don't tell your would-be donors that you were turned down for a grant and this is your last chance to get this research funded.

Not all of the phrases made it onto one list or the other for obvious reasons, though. For example, No. 36 on the list of positive phrases is "the Brooklyn." Does it appeal to the large population of potential funders who live in Brooklyn? Does it make people feel like they're cool for contributing to a campaign that is somehow related to Brooklyn? Unclear. "December of" and the name "Christina" were also on the positive list. Having the words "a door" or "dressed up" hurt a project's chances of being funded. OK, so maybe it's not the most practical advice for people trying to get a smart door project funded. Or maybe it's exactly the tough love they need.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense. Follow her at @lilyhnewman.