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Social Media: Lessons From the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge"

Posted by Joe Clarkin on 8/14/14 11:00 PM
Topics: social media

The following excerpt is from an article by David A. Frankel, posted on Read over the highlights below, then be sure to check out the full list.

If you have any social media presence at all, particularly on Facebook or Instagram, over the past few weeks you have probably noticed a daily influx of video posts in your timeline of people dumping buckets of ice and water over their heads. Fear not--this is not likely in reaction to the effects of global warming or people trying to escape the "heat" being generated by summer boy band tours. This viral phenomenon is the "Ice Bucket Challenge," which is being taken on by growing numbers of men, women, and children to help bring awareness to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The idea of dumping ice water on your head in the name of a cause is not new or innovative, and in fact, earlier this summer it was not even associated specifically with ALS. So how did this movement lead to a record number of donations to ALS research over such a short period of time?

Let's break down some key elements of why this campaign has taken off so quickly and successfully:

Anyone can participate.

The target audience is anyone with a smartphone and a social media account--which is just about everyone these days. Even children who don't have social media accounts can participate, which is huge because a large portion of the Facebook user demographic is accustomed to sharing pictures and videos of everything their kids ever do. Aside from the cost of ice, your time and any donation you make, the entry to be a part of the awareness campaign is essentially free, and the humiliation factor is extremely minimal, which again makes it pretty much a no-brainer for most people.

Compressed time period to complete challenge

The directive is clear--if you are challenged, you have 24 hours to accept and complete it. This is a key reason this spread so quickly, as a reasonable sense of urgency is created for those who have been publicly called out to participate. And we all know you definitely don't want to risk looking bad in front of the Facebook set.

Perfect time of year

It's summer, you are outside a lot, and it's hot. Who doesn't want an excuse to cool off or publicly douse their kids with ice water? Late July and early August also tends to be vacation time for people, so it's easier for even the busiest people to justify making themselves more available to do a stunt like this, particularly with a time limit attached. And at this point in the summer, most people are counting the days until their kids return to school, so this is a good outside, afternoon diversion to keep them occupied.

Simple, but descriptive hashtags

In today's SEO-driven world, this campaign was able to effectively spread two easy-to-remember hashtags used to categorize the posts: #IceBucketChallenge and #StrikeoutALS. Essentially, these two hashtags alone describe why the campaign exists, and has made it extremely easy for people to search and learn more about the effort, watch videos posted from the challenge, and ensure that others are aware of their participation.

Small expectations from the start

When members of Team FrateTrain issued the Ice Bucket Challenge to their base, they did not set out to make it a huge viral hit, nor did they have a large fundraising goal in mind. They simply wanted to raise awareness about ALS and Pete's fight among as many people as they could. By focusing and executing on that goal alone, the rest happened organically.

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