If there is an Oscar Award in the global communications industry, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge would definitely win the crown this year. This social media campaign did not only create a media storm around the world, it also raised $100 million in one month from over three million donors.
Now the ice bucket challenge trend has ended. I still often think of this giant communications success and would like to summarize some main elements that I have learnt from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
The initial idea of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is as simple as its title reads – dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head in order to promote awareness of ALS. People can nominate others to do the challenge in 24 hours. If the nominee does not complete the challenge, he/she will have to donate to the ALS Association for ALS research. It’s a simple but interesting game. This campaign went viral on social media from July to August of this year with the participation of many celebrities, politicians and public figures; ALS Association has raised donation amount 36 times more than its results from last year.
So what made this social media campaign succeed?
Contents are endlessly generated by audience themselves
People watch it, do it, then nominate someone else to do it. Content are generated through endless referrals. The campaigners use the idea of ice bucket challenge to raise awareness for ALS research. Popularity of ALS association increased as more people upload videos of themselves doing the ice bucket challenge and nominate someone they know to do it. The campaign cost is very low, as the audience are willing to produce content by themselves, promote it, and get others in their network to join.
This reminds me of my professor’s words, “as social entrepreneurs, we don’t go into the community to solve their problems. We get the community to solve their own problems.” In the case of the ALS ice bucket challenge, as the ice-water-dumping idea is thrown out, it is not the campaigners who create the videos, but the online audience who create their own videos and encourage others to do the same thing. If not, they will need to donate. The power of the general public is tremendous.
What does it take to make people wanting to generate content and spread the words? The answer is very simple: a cool idea that engages anyone to participate (in this case, the ice bucket challenge), and social media tools such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Countless celebrities across the globe did the ice bucket challenge. Entertainment stars; politicians; millionaires…you name it. These people are role models in the public eyes, they create star effects that make people follow their fashion trends. People want to see them doing the bizarre things like dumping ice water on their head and shake in the cold. People mock this action because it becomes a cool thing to do.
For celebrities, the ALS ice bucket challenge helps them brand a positive image as this action is for cancer research – a good cause. For the public, people get entertained by watching videos of celebrities doing the challenge. For the ALS Association campaigners, celebrity presence stimulates the campaign popularity growth thus reach even surpass their donation goal. The campaign with celebrity presence creates win-win-win situation.
Again, a good communication idea with the use of social media tools shine big.
Successful multimedia presence
Most people see social media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as the communications channel that makes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge succeed however ignore the power of media in creating this popularity. Mainstream media is in fact the one who started to disseminate the message at the very early period of this campaign. On June 30, personalities of NBC’s program Morning Drive performed a live, on-air Ice Bucket Challenge. On the same day, the media reported American golfer Chris Kennedy did the challenge and nominated his cousin in New York. This then became popular around the U.S. and the world.
During the campaign period, public figures’ ice bucket challenge and some challenges under special occasions have not just gone viral on social media, mainstream media such as TV and newspaper also reported them, which constantly stimulated the trend. It is a successful, multimedia strategy that the campaigners created.
Great timing of the whole campaign
Timeliness is key to social media campaigns. A trend can be extremely popular at a short period of time and die out the next. A long and dragging social media campaign is rarely a successful one as the audience get tired of the trend. This campaign captured a good one-month period of popularity and took over the media empire. Videos, images, social media posts and news reports about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge were created non-stop from July to August, when the hot temperature was perfect for dumping ice on the head. It ended right at the end of summer and rarely anyone does the challenge after August.
Was one-month too short for a campaign to be effective? The answer here is no, it was an intense month of content producing and sharing; more importantly, the ALS Association raised $100 million on a timeline of July 29 to August 29, which surpasses its fundraising goal. Was this planned by the campaigners? Yes. At the end of the summer, the association published a thank-you letter on their website, which it defined the time measurement as from July 29 to August 29.
The soul of the game is a good cause
One thing that is essential and needs to be reinforced throughout every social media content produced, is the purpose of the ALS ice bucket challenge, which is to fund ALS research and help ALS patients beat this terrible disease. Without this aim, the ice bucket activity is just a meaningless action of dumping water on one’s head. Those who forgot to mention “help ALS research” during their video, especially public figures’, can get back fired.
There are other things to praise about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge campaign. I see the five elements described in this blog as the main reasons that make this campaign shine. These are definitely handy when communications professionals design social media campaign.