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Practice Management > Marketing and Communications > Social Media

The Ice Bucket Challenge and its virality

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Have you seen the millions of videos, posts and more than $94 million in donations pouring in to the ALS Association about the Ice Bucket Challenge in the past few weeks? From Oprah Winfrey and Sir Patrick Stewart, to me and probably all your friends and family, someone has participated in what has become the latest social media viral video campaign. So far, over three million people have donated to the organization.

What is the Ice Bucket Challenge?

It’s every social media manager and marketer’s dream: a viral “campaign” benefiting the ALS Association that helps raise awareness about ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease) and fund research to find the cause, treatment and “ultimately a cure” for ALS.

How does it work?

Within 24 of being challenged by family or friends, you’re supposed to make a $10 donation, challenge three more friends and pour a bucket of ice cold water over yourself, while you record a continuous video accepting the challenge and doing it. Then, upload the video and share it with friends on social media using the hashtag #icebucketchallenge. Some people have not made donations and have only made the video. Others have made a $100 donation and skipped the pouring of ice cold water over themselves.

Who started it?

While some accounts vary, the official explanation from the ALS Association is that the challenge started as a “sort of” accident with golfers who challenged friends and family, but the Association specifically credits Jeanette and Anthony Senerchia, Pat Quinn, and Pete Frates (former baseball player who suffers from ALS) and his family. You can watch 40 of the best videos so far here. (My favorite video is of Sir Patrick Stewart.) 

Why has it gone viral?

That’s the $94 million dollar question! Some social media blogs and articles posit that it went viral because:

  • It appeals to the emotions: it’s fun and engaging.
  • Challenge/duel/hard to say no to: it challenges or calls out people to be a part of something or because it “incorporates 24 hour public accountability,” according to Surety Solutions, a specialty insurance broker.
  • It’s creative and different. People have come up with the craziest ideas on how to dump water on themselves, like by using a dump truck.
  • Anyone can do it since the target audience is everyone in the world.
  • It is social currency, which means that it’s easily shared.
  • It’s a video or easily consumable content and it’s quick: just a few seconds of video.
  • And the fact that Facebook has made the videos in the timeline play automatically whenever you scroll over them has helped spread the virality of the challenge. This means that you had no way of escaping watching the videos and getting caught up in the ice tsunami.
  • Some say it was perfectly timed: To throw an ice water bucket over yourself on a hot summer day seemed appropriate, versus doing that during winter.
  • And like Surety Solutions points out: “The Ice Bucket Challenge is not a formula. You can’t orchestrate ‘viral.’ But those who observe and apply the basic principles will improve their marketing.”

Have YOU taken up the challenge or donated, or both?


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