The Best Kickstarter Feature Nobody’s Using

Artists, writers, and musicians could be learning more about how people find their work.

When I ran my first Kickstarter project to publish Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby, I was delighted by the Creator Dashboard, which is available to everyone who runs a Kickstarter campaign. It succinctly summarized where my project’s backers were coming from, among other useful bits of information.

Stats from the Derby Life project dashboard

There was even a cool graph that showed my progress toward the goal day by day.


As an independent publisher, I was accustomed to having only a very general sense of where the books I published were selling, and what made readers pick them up and buy them. I can tell when people buy books through the Gutpunch Press website, but other online channels update only once a day, and indie publishers working with distributors often get even less timely, specific sales data. Having access to this information, in real time, gave me insights that I could act on right away to achieve better results with my campaign.

For example, I discovered that my own website, cultivated lovingly over more than three years, which received tens of thousands of hits per month and had actually inspired the book I was writing, led to almost no pledges.

$88 definitely didn’t pay for the hosting

As depressing as that information was, I was glad to have it, since it meant I should spend more time promoting the project via other channels.

But one thing nagged at me. Over 50% of traffic was unaccounted for, lumped into “Direct traffic no referrer information.” Those pledges could be from my own email blasts, people sharing the link over chat, and many other possibilities. It was a bummer that I couldn’t tell how well my email promotion worked, especially when I spent a lot of my time crafting those emails and lists.

The generic “Facebook” category was similarly unhelpful. Was it my personal Facebook? Groups and Pages I manage? Friends or strangers sharing it on Facebook? No way for me to tell.

Kickstarter offers integration with Google Analytics, but while it’s really simple to activate Google Analytics, it’s much less simple to use. I’m not that savvy about it, so I definitely didn’t get many useful insights from that integration. When I’m running a project, I’m already managing so many lists, social media channels, and my day job, so it’s hard for me to add yet another complex tool to the mix.

How to activate Google Analytics

Getting Custom

Fast forward two years. My Derby Life project was fulfilled and the book was out in the world, with strong reviews and an appreciative following. I decided to launch a second Kickstarter project to make the Color Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book.

I was thrilled that Kickstarter had launched Custom Referral Tags, a dull-sounding feature that has become one of my favorite aspects of Kickstarter.

How to use Custom Referral Tags

Creators can generate custom referral links in the Creator Dashboard after a project launches. Just enter a label in the box, click “generate tag” and a custom link will appear that you can use to track how many backers and how much money are coming from a specific channel. Creators can generate up to 500 individual custom links.

From Thornwillow Press The Sherlock Hexalogy Project, live now

I recommend creating a simple naming convention so you can tell at a glance which channels and specific posts are working. I used eight digit numbers to represent dates, and included acronyms such as FB for Facebook where appropriate.

Once you’ve created your tag, you can grab that link and use it wherever you’d like.

One of the biggest question marks for me in my previous campaign had been how to get the most from Facebook. For my second project, I used the Custom Referral Tags feature to create numerous Facebook-related custom links — one for each time I posted to Facebook. Because of that, I knew exactly which strategies worked well (and less well) on Facebook.

Look at all this data!

If I’d had world enough and time, I would have gotten really granular with it, using links generated with Custom Referral Tags to test out how different messages worked, or even which images got a stronger response. I also used custom links in updates to my previous project, which showed that around 5% of the backers of Color Jam discovered it through a Derby Life backer update. Those backers represented almost 10% of the total money I raised.

Ultimately, I was able to identify exactly how I generated 44% of the money pledged to the campaign, with less than 25% of the campaign’s money attributed to Direct Traffic and Facebook with no additional information.

Part of the Color Jam creator dashboard

This has given me a much better understanding of how people discover my work. I will be able to use these insights to be more targeted in the way I promote Color Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book when it launches in August.

How others are using custom referral tags

When I’m not publishing books about roller derby, I work on the Outreach team at Kickstarter, advising creators about how to run excellent projects. I’ve noticed that very few creators are using this tool, which surprises me, considering how great it is.

One publisher that has taken full advantage of Custom Referral Tags is Thornwillow Press, a publisher and printer of fine books, broadsides, notebooks, and more based in Newburgh, New York. They have run eight amazing projects in the past year.

I asked Griffin Gonzales of Thornwillow Press how he was using the feature. “Custom referral tags have completely changed the way we approach project outreach. With every new campaign, we send a round of messages to our past backers, our newsletter subscribers, our Facebook audience, etc. By delineating our outreach into specific tags, we no longer have to guess at what was effective. Instead, we can track the efficacy of messaging to each group, and thus be careful about spending our limited budget where it’s most effective. For outreach, the difference between using custom tags and not using them is the difference between chemistry and alchemy.”

So there you have it, folks. Perform alchemy. Use Custom Referral Tags and understand your audience better.