by Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) I first heard of “break the internet” craze towards the end of 2014.

Then, as 2015 began, entrepreneur and original Xbox designer, Elan Lee, and the principal art director at Xbox Entertainment Studios, Shane Small — in collaboration with founder, Matthew Inman — quietly put up a Kickstarter campaign for a card game called Exploding Kittens.

Kickstarter Exploding Kittens screengrabWithin 20 minutes of going live, the target funding of US$10 000 had been reached, and their followers were still spreading the news.

And it hasn’t made it to the shelves yet, not even virtual ones.

No bold claims

Unlike the bold claims of attempting to break the internet, the co-creators of Exploding Kittens set out to rally their existing community members towards what seemed an achievable goal — by Kickstarter standards.

Inman is well-known for his offbeat and nerd-like sense of humour that appears in comics on over 3.1m people’s Facebook timelines every day. He’s also been involved in building another crowdfunding campaign to restore the Tesla Science Center which raised US$1.37m on Indiegogo. As part of that, he convinced Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors, to donate US$1m towards the project.

Inman and his co-creators expected the Exploding Kittens campaign to raise some funds, but according to Business Insider, none of them anticipated that the figures would reach “$1 million in seven hours, $2 million in just over 24 hours and $3 million in under 72 hours“. As of Monday, 2 February 2015, Exploding Kittens has gained 129 399 backers, who have pledged $5,101,612 (of a US$10 000 goal).

Exploding Kittens thank youThe secret is, in part, building and growing a community — over years — that trusts the collaborators, people who are willing to share the work and participate in its success. They didn’t launch on the internet, hoping for a miracle, but that’s exactly what their fans seem to have given them. A magic bullet of sorts.

Community collaboration

Much like the card game itself, the campaign logic followed by the co-creators, especially, has involved the community from the start. With an over 3.1m-strong Facebook community, the US$10 000 goal must have seemed simple and achievable.

It’s also something that the community members want to see making its way from conception to physical product. The community members themselves have been involved in the process from the beginning and they have already committed to it — Exploding Kittens has invited people as participants, as opposed to pushing a marketing message long after conception, design and manufacturing, and then having items that gather dust on shelves, or ones that keep moving down the ranks on Amazon and Kalahari.

Blue Pill - Red PillThe blue pill or the red pill

In The Matrix, Neo is offered the opportunity to take either the blue pill or the red pill, where Morpheus says: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

In most instances, the blue pill is what brands generally take, when they go on as if customers don’t exist, until a new product is due to launch and, then, all of a sudden ‘did somebody mention viral?’ which in turn becomes the last resort after all budgets have been depleted in other channels.

In reality, platforms such as build their communities over years, only to launch a product when the right one comes along. And, by the looks of it, not only does the web love kittens, defusing exploding ones drives pledges.

The red pill comes with uncertainty; it’s a long-term commitment to build a community and sometimes roll with the proverbial punches in the form of negative feedback. Venturing into that terrain enables brands to build a street team of both influencers and open themselves up to detractors.

It seems easier to approach people on the open web for product launch, to seed unsolicited products for possible mentions on Twitter or blogs.

Forget the numbers

More often than not, the notion of reaching millions of people online is what drives most social campaigns. Influence lies in key people changing behaviour in such a way that others are converted towards buying your brand, signing up for your newsletter, and/or giving you a fighting chance in conversations outside of marketing messages.

The value of building a community, aside from one day potentially having a campaign that becomes viral, is in having allies for your brand. People who are truly interested in your cause, who are likely to spread the message because they’ve always cared, as opposed to placing bets on the masses who may think you are much unneeded spam that rears its head in front of them.

Are you doing the work? Are you communicating at a human level, with personality, even when there isn’t campaign in sight?


Mongezi Mtati


Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) is the founding MD of WordStart ( Apart from being a kiteboarding and sandboarding adventurer, Mongezi connects companies and brands with measurable word-of-mouth. He contributes the monthly “The Word” column on word-of-mouth marketing and social media strategy to MarkLives.


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