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What the Ice Bucket Challenge Can Teach Us About Engagement

  |  August 21, 2014   |  Comments

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been the viral event of the summer, but what can it teach social media marketers about engagement?

If you've paid attention to social media at all in the past several weeks, chances are you've seen video of everyone from Bill Gates to Oprah dumping buckets of ice water over their heads all in the name of a good cause. The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has been the viral event of the summer, just as bizarre as planking or the cinnamon challenge, but this time, the fad is for a good cause.

The Ice Bucket Challenge began in Boston in honor of Pete Frates, the 29-year-old former captain of Boston College’s baseball team who was diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease) two years ago. The rules are simple; if challenged, participants have a choice: either douse themselves with a bucket of freezing water or donate $100 to an ALS charity.

President Obama chose the latter; however, most participants are choosing to do both. The results of the grassroots viral campaign have been astounding. The ALS Association reported $31.5 million in donations between July 29 and August 20 from both participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge and those who simply enjoyed the videos, a significant increase from just $1.9 million in donations during the same time period last year.

While the ALS Association has certainly benefited from the Ice Bucket Challenge, they didn’t launch it. The challenge is completely user-driven; however, social media marketers as well as fundraisers can take away a valuable lesson in grassroots marketing from the hottest campaign of the summer.

According to Gene Lewis, partner and chief creative officer of Digital Pulp, the secret to the Ice Bucket Challenge's success is the fact that its call to action is nearly impossible to avoid.

"Like so many things that are simple and successful, the Ice Bucket Challenge now seems inevitable; it makes us all wonder why we didn't think about trying something like it sooner," he says. "It has the perfect mix of elements to make it viral: it's fun (and funny), it's personal and broadly relevant, it's for kids and adults, it's intensely shareable, and most critically, it includes a dare. And not just a simple text dare. When you're challenged, you're called out, on video, for the world to see. It's not just a small status update that will soon pass - it's a personal challenge that must be addressed."

According to Bob Cargill, director of social media at Overdrive Interactive, another crucial aspect to the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge is its social nature. "What both social media marketers and fundraisers alike can learn from the success of this campaign is to realize that in the era of the selfie, more people than ever are glad to show off their support for a cause or passion for a brand, especially if they have something to gain in the process," he says. The gain for the user, in this case, is to see him or herself as a part of the cause, namely "the personal satisfaction that comes from any philanthropic effort and the public acclaim they receive from their friends."

And finally, a major aspect of the challenge’s impact stems from its brevity, explains Rob Moritz, managing editor of the social newsroom at Innocean USA. He says, "The key from a social media marketing perspective is the fact it only takes a few seconds to do — or watch — and generates consistently entertaining, super-short-form content that’s as easy to replicate as it is to share."

Of course, the viral success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was completely unanticipated. And while social media marketers should surely note the psychology behind its success, they should also be wary of creating content with the intention of going viral, because the expectation all too often results in customer backlash. A safer solution is to focus on consistent production of brand-specific, quality content.

Image via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Alford

Emily Alford is a reporter at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Yahoo, and The Daily Meal. She has a PhD in English from Florida State University.

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