How the Ice Bucket Challenge made a huge splash worldwide

Put yourself in the shoes of a social media executive whose client has spent millions trying to create viral campaigns… then overnight, you look on in envy as the Ice Bucket Challenge makes waves around the world, raising over $100 million since July and becoming the biggest ever charity phenomenon online.

The facts speak for themselves. According to the BBC:

– On Facebook, 2.4 million Ice Bucket-related videos have been posted. 28 million people have uploaded, commented on or liked related posts.
– Instagram has seen 3.7 million videos with the hashtags #ALSicebucketchallenge and #icebucketchallenge.
– On Twitter, over 4 million tweets used the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge

The $100 million dollar question is: what lessons can we learn from this challenge to make our own campaigns become viral sensations?

First, let’s look at what the Ice Bucket Challenge got right:

Fun and funny: Even if your campaign is for a sad cause, don’t depress your fans. Make it fun or else fans will mentally switch off. A big appeal of the Ice Bucket Challenge is seeing grown people scream like schoolgirls while wet and shivering.

Keep it simple: Everyone instantly understands the challenge, because they didn’t make it a complicated 7-step process.

Pass it on: If your campaign involves fans nominating their friends, who then nominate their own friends, it will have a longer shelf life. In fact this is exactly why Facebook quickly reached a billion users, since each user reaches out to friends and friends of friends, until you’re friends with total strangers with no idea how you ended up connected.

Celebrity factor: Without doubt, one of the most entertaining elements of the Ice Bucket Challenge is the chance of seeing global icons like Bill Gates getting drenched… and showing that celebrities are human after all!

Adaptability: People are getting more creative with the challenge, and we’ve seen everything from firefighters dumping water on students from a ladder, to hilarious ‘fails’ on YouTube. Give your fans the chance to customize the challenge in their own humorous way. This is what made Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ video trigger so many creative versions on YouTube.

Ice Bucket Challenge finds itself in hot water with critics… 

On the other hand, there have been some major criticisms of this campaign:

Raising money but not awareness: Here’s a quick test: everyone knows what the Ice bucket Challenge is, but do you actually know what ALS stands for? Exactly. (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in case you’re wondering). Normally a campaign first raises awareness in order to raise funds, but this challenge is doing it backwards. But its supporters argue that as long as money is being raised to treat patients, that’s what really matters.

Water wastage: Others point out that the campaign makes a mockery of the millions of people who die from lack of clean water. But charities that build boreholes can ride on the popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge and attract more donations in a win-win scenario.

Ego massage: Yet another criticism is that this challenge is just a way for celebrities and ordinary fans to show off as fake philanthropists, when in reality it’s all about jumping on the latest hot trend. Indeed, when you see Justin Bieber pouring a small pan of water on himself instead of a bucket, it’s obvious that many of the participants aren’t taking it seriously at all. But again supporters argue that even if people do the right thing for the wrong reasons, the ends justify the means.

Trend fatigue’: Like any trend, the longer it goes on, the more people will get tired of it and start making fun of it in parodies… and the more you risk negative headlines. In the example mentioned earlier, two firefighters who were dumping water on college students in Kentucky, US, were badly electrocuted.

As always, such trends have inspired other initiatives supporting totally different causes. In support of Palestinians in Gaza, the Rubble Bucket Challenge attracted about 40,000 tweets using the hashtag #RubbleBucketChallenge.

The reality of social media is that no trend can last forever — that’s what makes it a trend. Ironically the more popular it becomes, the more it loses its popularity (because “everyone is jumping on the bandwagon”). But just because you can’t get celebrity endorsements for your campaigns doesn’t mean you can’t learn vital lessons from the Ice bucket Challenge and be heard above the clutter.