3 Reasons Why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Has Been a Viral Success


By Alex Benton Bill Gates YouTube Chances are that you've logged in to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account recently and encountered a video of a friend or celebrity dumping a bucket of ice water on their head. No, it’s not a radical solution to global warming. The social media phenomenon, known as the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” is designed to bring mass awareness to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The premise is simple: Take a bucket, fill it with water and ice, dump it over your head, record the entire process and post it on social media. People must then challenge three friends to complete the challenge within 24 hours or donate $100 to an ALS charity of their choice.

The “challenge” came from former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Frates and fellow ALS patient Pat Quinn began to dare their social networks to take the plunge in late July. What started as a fun challenge among friends soon became a widespread social movement. In spite of the obvious side effects of ending up cold and wet, the uptake has been remarkable, with everybody from entertainers (Justin Timberlake), TV personalities (Matt Lauer, Bill Gates, Jimmy Fallon), sports teams (New England Patriots), sports commissioners (Roger Goodell), and entire cities (Boston) joining in to help the cause. NHL free agent Paul Bissonnette used a helicopter and glacier water. The New York Jets enlisted the help of the fire department. No matter how people are doing it, the viral phenomenon is clearly working, resulting in a 1,000% spike in donations to the ALS Association.

From a social media standpoint, there are a number of reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge has been so successful. Online adulation combined with a challenge is a recipe that has led to social media success in the past. But what has made this viral sensation so transcendent?

1. Simplicity

It doesn’t take a Boston College degree to understand how the challenge works. After obtaining the required materials, it only takes a few minutes to complete and upload to your social media channels. The addition of two uncomplicated, descriptive hashtags (#IceBucketChallenge and #StrikeoutALS) has also made it easy for people to search for other videos and learn more about the cause.

2. Inclusiveness

Anybody who has access to a smartphone and some cubes of ice can participate. This means that even young people can be involved, which is important when considering that the success of the challenge is dependent on videos being shared on social media channels. The cost to participate is free, and the fact that you’re only slightly humiliating yourself for a good cause it motivation enough for people to participate.

3. Time Sensitive

The “rules” are clear: Complete the challenge within 24 hours or donate to an ALS charity of your choice. Creating a sense of urgency among participants has been a major factor in the success of the movement. The restricted time period to complete the challenge ensures that the videos spread quickly across social platforms, and that the movement continues to flourish under its own momentum.

Effectively applying these three methods can position your next campaign for social media success. What things do you do help your social content gain traction? Share your thoughts in the comments below.