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Posted by Stuart on September 24, 2014

If you have had any involvement in social media over the last 3 months, then chances are that you’ve willingly had a bucket of ice water dumped on your head and paid money to support ALS research, a disease that you probably had no concern about before July. This brilliant social media movement helped the ALS Association raise over $100 million between July 29th, 2014 and September 1st, 2014, compared to the $2.7 million donated during the same period last year – and the ALS Association had nothing to do with the campaign; it was not dreamed up by brilliant marketers, but like many social media trends, was completely organic. How did one golfer in Florida dumping water on his head for charity result in a world-wide phenomenon? This is the nature of social media and here is what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge teaches marketers about “viral” social media campaigns.

Close only counts in horse shoes:

You may come up with a great campaign which will certainly be a hit on social media, and just as you begin to gain momentum a similar campaign goes viral, and you can’t help but feel like you were so close! Look at what happened to the cold water challenge which began in late 2013 and was gaining momentum right until May, 2014. The rules were similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, except you had to jump into a tub of ice water, but you’ve probably never heard of it.

So what is the lesson? When it comes to social media, there is no ‘good enough’. It is difficult enough for a great idea to go viral, and the slightest mistake can be the difference between success and failure. I’ll talk more about where the Cold Water Challenge fell short later in this article.

Good things come to those who wait:

The challenge started in July, but for the first few weeks it wasn’t gaining much traction. It wasn’t until celebrities started getting involved (arguably starting with Justin Timberlake), that the campaign began to go viral. With any social media campaign you need to give it time to catch on – it won’t necessarily be an instant hit. In the case of ALS it took a few weeks, but it may mean you having to repeat a campaign the following year before it gains enough momentum to go viral. Just be patient before you judge the success or failure of a campaign.

“Dare” to succeed:

A major element of the campaign’s success was the fact that people were being asked to challenge their friends and dare them to dump ice water on themselves. As the campaign grew we started seeing larger tubs being used, because people were trying to show off more to their friends. For most people, giving money was an afterthought to actually completing the challenge; there were many people who didn’t even mention ALS in their videos. By including an element of ‘daring’ in a social media campaign, not only are you are encouraging people to share and participate, you are also encouraging people to hold their friends accountable to continue the challenge.

Light’s, camera, action!:

In the current web landscape, video content rules. Between YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook everyone wants to be a star and see their face on the small screen (mobile). Give consumers the chance to express themselves through simple videos shot on their cell phones, and they will jump at the opportunity. It allows consumers to express themselves with ease and at their convenience because their cellphones are always on-hand.

Quick n’ easy:

It takes 5 minutes to fill up an ice bucket, dump it on your head and upload it to Facebook. This is why the Ice Bucket Challenge Succeeded where the Ice Water Challenge failed. You need to buy far more ice, and spend at least 15 minutes to fill up a bath tub, and it is a lot harder to sit in a tub of ice than it is to dump some on your head.

It is also very important that the final video content is very brief, because consumers’ attention spans continue to shrink. The Ice Bucket Challenge usually took 30 seconds to watch, and I’m sure you can agree that we all skipped over the videos that took any longer than 1 minute. Also, if you ask consumers to make a longer video, you are also asking them to spend more time waiting for it to upload.

Basically, your campaign should be easy to complete and quick to watch.

Everyone’s A Critic:

Once the ALS ice Bucket Challenge became viral it faced a lot of criticism. Critics were complaining that people were being “clicktivists”, and sharing the ice bucket challenge without raising money. Others were complaining that the ALS Association was not putting enough of their donations towards research, or that ALS was not a worthy enough cause to receive as much money as people were donating.

With anything you do on social media, you make yourself completely vulnerable to the public, and there will be a lot of people looking to criticize and defame everything about your company. For the ALS Association it was a matter of transparently educating consumers as to where their funds would go. Be prepared to face your critics head on and face stubborn, often false, rebuttals.

Easy Come, Easy Go:

When you read “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge…” in the title of this article, your probably though “oh ya, I forgot about that thing!”. All good things will come to an end, and with social media it often ends very quickly. Once you achieve a viral campaign the hard part begins – how do you leverage this campaign in the future to continue find success? Movember is a great example of a viral campaign that has continued to find success over several years, proper planning and strategy is the difference between being a repeat success and a one hit wonder.

What did you think of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Did you participate? Share your photos on social media with tagging us @bticreative!