Kickstarter Lesson #149: How to Go Viral in Two Easy Steps

21 May 2015 | 26 Comments

Yesterday I did something I rarely do: I shared a YouTube video.

I watched the CBS trailer for the fall show Supergirl last week, and I really liked it. It made me happy. But I didn’t share it.

Rather, it wasn’t until I read that it had accumulated over 10 million views in 1 week–more than all trailers for all new fall shows from the major networks combined–that I decided to share it on my blog. I waited until a critical mass had confirmed that the video was worth sharing before I decided to share it.

Kickstarter creators–myself included–have barely tapped the potential of internet virality. We’re not reaching that critical mass.

We share our projects on social media and encourage others to do the same via project updates and stretch goals, but who shares those shares? Hardly anyone.

Why is this? We’re sharing the wrong content. That is, we’re sharing–and making available to share–pretty much only one piece of content: Our project page. That’s not enough, not nearly enough.

So what is the right content? It’s content–an image, list, meme, or video–that catalyzes this two-step process:

  1. Inspire a person to share the content
  2. Inspire a friend or follower of that person to share the content again

It’s that second step that is so important, as it allows us to reach beyond the people in our tribe. But you can’t jump there right away–you have to start with a catchy title.

The Title Is the Thing

If your content doesn’t have a good title or opening line, you’re going to have a lot of trouble getting to step 1, much less step 2.

Internet virologist Ze Frank describes these as “share statements.” He gives a few examples in this article:

  • How to Restore Your Faith in Humanity
  • How to Piss Off Every New Yorker in 36 Seconds
  • Drunk vs. Stoned
  • What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage

Each of the statements asks a question and assures you the answer is just a click away. What this does in terms of sharing is that it gives a person room to elaborate on what the post means to them when they share it.

Step 1: Inspire a Person to Share the Content

The key to getting the first person to share your content is to create something that makes someone think one or more of the following things:

  • “I want to talk about this.” (content that inspires conversation)
  • “I told you so.” (content that reaffirms something you know or believe)
  • “Look what I found!” (content that shows how clever and unique you are)
  • “This is how I want to be perceived.” (we use content to represent the best or coolest versions of ourselves)
  • “This is going to save me a lot of time and trouble.” (we’re compelled to share lists of mistakes others have made or pitfalls to avoid because we often see them as near misses–things we almost did. We want to warn others before it’s too late for them.)

Step 2: Inspire a Friend or Follower of That Person to Share the Content Again

Once that first person has shared your content, the content needs to have a deeper layer–something that goes beyond what a fan of your work cares about–to get a stranger to share it again. The content thus must also make a person think one or more of the following things. Often this layer of sharing involves someone sharing the content with one or two specific people rather than with all of their fans and followers.

  • “This made me think of you.” (this is another way of saying, “I’m proving that I know you.”)
  • “I don’t want you to miss out.” (this applies perfectly to Kickstarter since there’s a ticking clock)
  • “This made me feel something and I want you to feel it too.” (this usually applies to happiness, but not always)


Does virality equal conversion? That is, how many of the people sharing your content actually go to Kickstarter to pledge?

Those are good questions, but it’s not really under your control. The best you can do is share content that doesn’t seem like a sales pitch, because then people definitely won’t share it.

I think the best way to prevent this is to give people just enough information to discover the project on their own or to get them to ask, “What is this?”

That is, don’t plaster the content you share with links to Kickstarter, Kickstarter logos, etc. Just create awesome content that meets the goals of step 1 and 2, and leave some breadcrumbs so people who are interested in learning more can do so.


I’d love to hear from other creators about content they’ve created specifically for the purpose of sharing. I really think this is an area where we can all improve. It doesn’t take that much work to create a few clever images or memes and share them during your campaign.


To read more about virality, I’ve previously written about sharing content here, and this and this are great posts by other authors.

Leave a Comment

26 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #149: How to Go Viral in Two Easy Steps

  1. I read this and most of the comments here and agree on most too.
    But I disagree with the viral posts a bit. If I see something “inspiring” and have the urge to click share, then notice it has been shared over 1000 times, or over 100 times even… I don’t share. I know it will come up in my feed a lot after I have seen it (for the first time) now. And by the second or third time it annoys me. it gives me a bad feeling about the peole who have shared it even. The absolute meanest way to describe this; “you are not that original/funny.”

    And as I am writing this I am thinking about it maybe even a cultural thing, that this bothers me so much? The times I have been to the US, or when I see US “documentaries” (trash tv the kids watch like people being held up at customs in airports, but also more serious Discovery documentaries for example as well)
    The things that are being repeated greatly annoy me. Example: You see a bag being searched, drugs come out. The person gets questioned about this. Then the voice over tells me exactly what I just saw. Worst case; commercial break and then going back a few minutes to show it to me again! By then I have received the message four times! But it can get still worse, when they cut the scene to someone else and then back to this. “Remember what happened?” aarrgghhh!

    Am I the only one being bothered by this?
    And if so… I’d be interested to know what would be the most optimal thing to aim for?
    Because being “here” and responding to this is part of your efforts. I would have never heard of you had you not been out there doing this.
    Which means that you probably have showed up a lot of times before I clicked.

    interesting stuff!
    thanks again for your posts!

    1. Liesbeth: Thanks for sharing your perspective. I can see what you’re saying about repetition. I think that’s why sometimes people end up getting annoyed at a product (at no fault of the product itself) when they see too many people posting about it on Facebook.

  2. One of the things we are trying to do with Mech Defense, is give players of our game a reason to share online.

    As a legacy game, we expect that very few if any games will ever have enemies and maps that are identical. As a result, we are looking to encourage gamers to share photos of their maps and enemy upgrades online. To help encourage this activity, we plan to hold regular contests for people who play #MechDefense where we will give out some simple prizes or discounts on products for people who win.

    One of our current playtest groups is even talking about writing up a blog entry about the statistics and probabilities around building roads and loops in the various spaces available on our map. This is exactly the type of content that we feel could go viral if it is handled properly.

    1. Cool, I think the contests are a neat method to try. Eventually I think it’s good to get to the point where people are inspired to share without any incentive, but that takes some time.

  3. Nice post. Gonna try some of these tips for our next game review vid. I know we need a better hook during the intro, but even before that I guess we need a hook to get people to click on it in the first place.

  4. I’ve discussed this briefly with Richard Bliss on twitter, but something we have to be really careful about is aiming your viral post at the right audience! I spent a long time growing an audience for a science themed facebook page, and going viral a few times really helped that (one of my posts was front page on reddit for a while). I ended up with 70,000 followers but unfortunately all they wanted was the content that was going viral, not the actual message I wanted to share with them! As a result my engagement with that audience is minimal and it was mostly a waste of time.

    In summary what I’m saying is that people should definitely follow your advice, it’s spot on! Just keep in mind your target audience when you’re thinking about *who* will make it viral. After all, going viral in a small but engaged community of your target audience is more valuable to you than going viral with millions of people who will forget you tomorrow!

    Learn from my mistake!

    1. Gino: That’s really interesting that the viral audience was only interested in viral stuff, not the message itself. I focused more on the content in this post, so you make a great point about thinking about the audience too.

      1. Yeah it was a bit of a ‘lightbulb’ moment when I realised, especially when I hear other people (you and Richard Bliss) talking about it. As a side note, I also found that a portion of my followers were there because they wanted to take the content I made that went viral, remove all mention of my page and then use it on their own pages to make their page viral! I’m sure they eventually found out how little use it was to them, as I did!

  5. I think “Kickstarter Lesson #” is great. People who want to run Kickstarter campaigns will know this is relevant. (Of course, for your non non-Kickstarter posts, leaving out “Kickstarter Lesson #” makes sense, as you currently do.)

      1. Begin with “Kickstarter Lesson #” makes it more recognisable in our feed. Beginning with that I always go to read these posts. Others I’m more likely to skip. Remember that on Facebook people follow you for a reason so for those interested in your posts it’s a recognisable continuation of your Kickstarter story.

  6. This was a great write-up, Jamey. I think understanding that in any Kickstarter campaign (or social marketing in general) that if we give a person a story to tell, we will be more memorable and ideally, shareable. If you don’t mind me broadening the scope a bit, generally speaking, ANY time I do a public performance or presentation, I always envision the one-liner that an audience member says about their attendance at a show or convention. For some of my previous adventures, it was, “There was this guy with a big afro who fought Godzilla on stage” or “There was this guy with a big afro that hung upside down for his entire show”, etc… Even last week, when TROBO participated in a fairly low-key, tight-collared educational business plan competition, I hoped the members said, “There were these guys with a stuffed robot called TROBO who got us all to clap and sign a song at the end of their pitch.” I tend to think that when anyone is sharing something socially, they are reflecting on themselves and want to add value to a conversation and justify their time invested in some effort. That includes their time spent on facebook, etc… trying to find the next interesting thing to tell their friends about – bullet 4 in your list above.

    A great example that immediately comes to mind is the dollar-shave club video. It’s hilarious – to some audiences (certainly me and any other dude I know), and so by sharing it, I feel I am doing a service to my friends by bringing them a laugh, while being the cool guy who told them about it. It’s a wonderful piece of viral content, and I think it meets many of your criteria above.

    1. “I feel I am doing a service to my friends by bringing them a laugh, while being the cool guy who told them about it.” That’s an awesome line that sums up many of my points. Well said!

      I also really like the idea of giving people a story to tell. I also really like this: “I tend to think that when anyone is sharing something socially, they are reflecting on themselves and want to add value to a conversation and justify their time invested in some effort.”

      1. Great points.
        I have been looking into the subject myself for a while trying to understand the phenomenon of the viral marketing.

        To be honest your description Jamey is the clearest for me I think because I was looking for relation of the viral marketing to boardgames on Kickstarter.

        I sort of sense that for a Kicstarter campaign it suppose to be a mix of professional design, fun & a pinch of crazy so people have something to talk about thus a reason to share too. Also for me the theme has to come strong through the whole design of the game.

        Love the shaving video thanks Trobo :)

        All the Best :)

  7. If I start seeing tweets and such that say “It started out as a couple of pieces of cardboard and an idea… YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!”, I’m blaming you….! :)

    1. Jason: Ha ha…understandable. :) The key is that those messages are set up to get people to click, not share. Clickbait is manipulative, while sharing is focused on what the person thinks or feels.

      1. But if they share without clicking that is pointless. I think it is still clickbait. However, if it’s good, it’s good. So I don’t mind of they deliver on the promise

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