Influencer Marketing Social Media

What the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Can Teach Us About ‘Going Viral’

September 26, 2014

Virality has become the Holy Grail of success for social marketers, but with so many unanswered questions about “What makes viral content tick?” it’s important that we continue to monitor trends that have organically captured the interest of consumers and glean learnings about said content to incorporate into marketing campaigns.

Recently, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge became one of the most famous – and arguably, most effective – Internet memes of the past several years. It helped ALS Association generate more than 3x the search volume of Beyoncé in August, and has driven roughly $100 million in donations to date.


So, what was so compelling about the content that catapulted it from meme to global movement? Beyond being humorous in nature, the user-generated content created as part of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge followed a familiar pattern and was easily sharable – anyone with a smartphone and a Facebook page could get involved. Further, the call-to-action to nominate others was also important to the virality of the meme. Once someone was “called out,” the challenge was hard to ignore.

Though the #ALSIceBucketChallenge was a consumer-generated movement, there are some lessons marketers can learn from its success:

  • Empower fans to empower your message: “Slacktivism” is a term that’s used to describe the fulfillment social media users feel when they believe they generated awareness through a “share.” While fulfillment is important, it’smore about giving a consumer purpose, whether that purpose be to aid in generating awareness of something, raise funds for a cause or simply put a smile on someone’s face. Marketers should equip consumers with the tools they need to know how their participation makes a difference in some way.
  • Mass exclusivity has mass appeal: Influencer marketing was founded upon the idea that a message becomes more impactful when it is delivered to you from one of your peers. The #ALSIceBucketChallenge found success in the peer-to-peer selection process through utilizing “mass exclusivity.” Partaking in the challenge wasn’t an open invitation, but rather it was an honor that left people wondering who they would be challenged by and when it would happen. Selection happened on the most public forum, Facebook, for all of the chosen’s connections to see. It’s important for marketers to remember that personal connections cannot be replicated, but finding a way to leverage those connections can be integral to campaign success.
  • Think about influencers in new ways: Celebrity sponsorships and endorsements are a great way to ensure your campaign has mass appeal, but remember to think about different ways to leverage influencers. The #ALSIceBucketChallenge became an even hotter topic when celebrity-to-celebrity interaction began, with the Bill Gates’ and Mark Zuckerbergs’ of the world authentically nominating one another to take the challenge, all in the public forum of the Internet with the press jumping at the chance to cover such organic conversation amongst the aforementioned big wigs. Social media has made influencers more accessible to the public at large; bring influencers down to a more relatable, human level, and many consumers will feel special that they can partake in the same activity as someone who is larger than life in their eyes.

As consumers and their habits are constantly evolving, adapting to the ever-changing social platforms, whether a social trend has relevance to your brand or not, as marketers it’s always important to take a deeper look at the key themes of trends, and glean learnings you can apply to your brand.

Cover photo via DailyNews