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Socially Stephanie: Social Lessons to Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge



Dear Socially Stephanie:

I've been absolutely in love with watching all my friends take the Ice Bucket Challenge. Why did this campaign work so well, and how can I create a viral campaign for my business that will take over the world? 

Icy in Idaho

P.S. I challenge you to take the Ice Bucket Challenge! :)

Dear Icy:
Well, it's good to see you aren't living under a rock. As you and I both know, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been a huge success. Everyone from the former President George W. Bush to Vogue's Ana Wintour has accepted.

There are a few things you need to know before you take the plunge into the cold waters of viral campaigns. First, we should really dig into the psychological reasons behind why something goes viral. No, there isn't a "go viral" green button we push to automatically reach 1 billion eyeballs. (That would be nice though, wouldn't it.) Marketing is about psychology, and campaigns and promotions that work are effective for a reason.

There are psychological triggers that play into whether something will sail or fail. The first part of that equation is the emotional response to something that is fun or outrageous: virality needs to create some kind of an emotional response. In this case, that was laughter, shock and fun. Fun and funny on social media automatically has "likes" and "shares" built in. In fact, humorous content is shared more than any other type of content.

The next part of the equation is what I like to call the guilt factor. Think back to when email was just getting its start. I'm sure if you were anything like me, your email inbox was filled with chain letters saying that if you didn't do this or that, you'd have 7 years of bad luck, sex, or even finances if you didn't send the letter back to the person who originally passed it along and 7 new people. Even though it was nonsense, it was hard to avoid a strange sense of guilt if you didn't do what was asked of you. The same is true for the Ice Bucket Challenge, except that it's for a good cause. If you are called out and don't do it, you pretty much ruined the fun. No one wants to be a party pooper.

The third part relies on the Influencers who are involved. This is critical, and one of the most important determinants of your initial success. By feeding this content to influencers in your space and encouraging them to participate, your reach multiplies instantly. Clearly the Ice Bucket Challenge has this part down. Zac Efron, Ben Affleck, Bill Gates, Robert Pattison, Niall Horan from One Direction and tons of other celebrities have posted their videos online, garnering mainstream media attention. Even Mark Zuckerberg did it. When the founder of Facebook is involved, it's 24K social gold.

The last part of the equation is FOMO, or "Fear of Missing Out". If everyone else is doing it, it must be good and acceptable for me to do it. This is the aspect that keeps the game going after the initial influencers play their roles.

Oh, and don't forget timing as it plays a huge role as well. If we were in the dead of winter, pouring a bucket of ice water on your head would probably not excite people to get involved. But in the middle of summer, pouring a bucket of cool water onto yourself seems like a minor sacrifice.

So, how can you make something work for your business? Don't forget there's a lot of luck involved: a lot of campaigns don't manage to achieve virality. But with the right strategy, the right timing and the right people involved, you are more likely to get the ball rolling and hopefully become a NewsFeed hero.

Good luck!


PS - I took the donation route, but watch out, I may just do the video too. Stay tuned!

Do you have a question for Socially Stephanie?

Please email and let Stephanie help you solve your social quandaries, queries, and boondoggles. (Questions may be edited for length and clarity.)

Illustration by Jesse Wells

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