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Wording your Kickstarter: what works and what doesn't

Posting in Technology
Pebble is the most successful Kickstarter campaign to date, with more than $10 million in pledges; well-publicized Ninja Baseball got a third of its $10,000 goal. Why? According to a new study, it’s in the phrasing.

After conducting a linguistic analysis of Kickstarter campaigns, researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology found that the language used is surprisingly predictive of crowdfunding success. 

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,” Georgia Tech’s Eric Gilbert says in a news release.

About 52 percent of the more than 45,000 projects launched (and completed) since June 2, 2012 were funded. Focusing on 20,000 phrases from successful and unsuccessfully funded projects, the researchers compiled a list of the top 100 phrases that might signal success, and another 100 for failure. Here are some highlights.

What pays: 
  • Offering of gifts for donors and perceptions of social participation and authority: phrases like “also receive two,” “has pledged” and “project will be.” 
  • The phrases “and an invite,” “design elements,” "some help with,” "all supporters,” and “commemorating the” also strongly foretell funding.
What doesn’t: 
  • The appearance of groveling for money, New Scientist reports. Phrases suggesting the project would be in trouble if the pledger didn’t cough it up: "even a dollar short," "even a dollar will," and "even a dollar can."
  • The phrases “dressed up,” “not been able,” “trusting,” “provide us,” “campaign will help,” get to vote,” “the production costs” are also attached to unfunded projects. 

Language, they found, accounts for about 58 percent of the variance around success. And the language generally fit into these categories, with examples, from the release:
  1. Reciprocity, the tendency to return a favor: “pledged will” and “good karma and.” 
  2. Scarcity or attachment to something rare: “option is” and “given the chance.” 
  3. Social Proof, suggesting that people depend on others for cues on how to act: “has pledged.” 
  4. Social Identity, the feeling of belonging to a specific group: “to build this” and “accessible to the.” 
  5. Liking, which reflects how a person complies with people or products that appeal to them: “and encouragement.”
  6. Authority, where people resort to expert opinions for making efficient and quick decisions: “we can afford” and “project will be.”

The findings [pdf] will be presented at the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Baltimore next month. A Twitter spokesperson described the work as “thoughtful,” New Scientist reports

So just for fun, I thought I’d test these guidelines out, with some simple command-F work. I picked the Heirloom Chemistry Set project from woodworker and chemist John Farrell Kuhns (who owns a science store called H.M.S. Beagle). This cool project was successfully funded, with $149,038 pledged of its $30,000 goal. Word counts: “receive” (8), “will be” (5), “dollar” (0). And I got nothing for any of the other predictive phrases quoted here. Okay, well, not my most telling experiment. Though, full disclosure, I contributed to the Planet Money project for the t-shirt.  


Image: Eric Gilbert and Tanushree Mitra / Comp. Social Lab, Georgia Tech
 
kickstarter-graphic_0.jpg
 

— By on January 22, 2014, 11:53 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure