Editor’s Note: On Nov. 15, 2018, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office announced that the three central figures in this story had been arrested and charged with second-degree theft by deception and other offenses. Prosecutors concluded that their dramatic tale of rescue and redemption had been “completely made up.” Story detailing the findings can be found here.
But what made it unforgettable — and what made it go viral — may be as illusive as the $400,000 the campaign raised for Bobbitt that his lawyer says is now missing.
"If we knew what made things go viral, whichever academic or business figures that out will do very well for themselves," he said.
But don't certain subjects — like a man experiencing homelessness giving his last $20 to a woman in need — tug at the heartstrings?
"If you're on GoFundMe they all tug at the heartstrings. It's full of sad stories," Mollick said. "National tragedy is one thing, but to nationalize an individual story is rare."
Most people who create crowdfunding campaigns see their greatest number of donations from family and friends and then from members of their online community, Mollick said.
"It's rare to have strangers commit cash," he said.
Whatever the reason, going viral is less of a well-defined science and more of a strange and incomprehensible art.
What's likely to make a crowdfunding campaign succeed at a more modest level, however, is more tangible. Mollick said spending time on a good pitch, having a good video and accuracy have all proven to be important. A single spelling error in a campaign can decrease funding by 13 percent, he said.
In a field crowded with campaigns for medical emergencies and scholarship funds, a distinctive campaign stands out, said Sunil Wattal, associate professor of management information systems at Temple University's Fox School of Business, where he studies crowdfunding.
"It's not about the need, it's about how different your need is from the needs of others out there," Wattal said. "This was a story that was very, very unique. Nothing like this had been funded through GoFundMe before."
Tips for a successful campaign GoFundMe lists on its website include posting frequent updates, sharing the link to the campaign on Facebook, and using a bright image or video that includes the people involved.
Given that about 70 percent of crowdfunding projects fail, the one McClure ran for Bobbitt was unusually successful, Wattal said.