If you haven't heard anything about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the last two months, you probably also don't know that the world's going to hell in a handbasket fast. I'll leave that between you and your news habits, but I would like to discuss the Challenge a bit because I think that it's a textbook example of how to go viral the right way. There are some who have criticized the Challenge for a variety of reasons, ranging from religious and moral to financial. While I have my own reservations about the whole thing, that doesn't mean that from a social media marketing point of view is wasn't brilliant. Let's look at what went right.
The Challenge kicked off in June and hit it's high point in August, which makes perfect sense. If you're going to ask people to dump ice water on their heads, you're much more likely to get a good response when it's really hot outside and people are wearing swimsuits all the time anyway. This is probably the simplest piece of the puzzle that fell into place, but it's importance shouldn't be understated. This wouldn't have worked in November or February. Always consider the timing of your campaigns and how they fit in with the current state of things in the world and in culture.
Simple and Socially Ubiquitous
The rules for the Challenge were beyond simple: make an unedited video where you take the water over the head and then challenge three friends to do the same. And of course there's the donation part. Beyond that, have at it. There was no specific network it needed to be posted to, so it spread through all of them - Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Twitter, Facebook, G+, YouTube, even LinkedIn. That means there were no barriers to make people think twice about doing it. If it's too difficult to understand and accomplish, interest wanes fast. Tracking the engagement across such a wide range of platforms would be ridiculously time consuming without a high-quality social media dashboard, but it becomes a piece of cake when you have one.
Clearly and Strongly Actionable
Any and every campaign should have a call to action, regardless of how bold or inferred it is. The call to action in the Challenge was very clear and was something people would be likely to do. Once they've decided to do it, they wanted their friends to do it too. Meaning that the call to action of challenging three friends was really more of a prompting than an altogether new suggestion. It was very specific, it wasn't too difficult, and it involved enjoyable social interactions. It also used the range of networks and the social aspect to go viral. Getting a fan to participate is great, but getting them to bring three friends along, who in turn bring three friends along, well that's the power of exponentiality. Viral growth only happens when it's exponential. The more limitations you set your campaign under, the harder it is to break free of them.
Images are king online. Good text is necessary, but without images we'd all go back to playing outside. Pictures and videos are the most virulent types of content, and the ALS Challenge took full advantage of that. That also gave it a wider range of platforms for sharing. If you think about it, text isn't read much on Pinterest or Instagram or YouTube unless it's accompanying an image. But there aren't any platforms I can think of that don't welcome images.
Raising money for a well-known charity is like shooting fish in a barrel once you get celebrities involved, and the stars came out for this one. When you get the charity/celebrity angle involved with a campaign, more people want to be involved. Raising charitable money is always a good thing, because someone will always be helped and your name will always get a boost. Influencers of any kind that can be leveraged, should be leveraged. Try to walk a fine line between meaningful and fun in your campaign. People get involved when they feel compelled to help with something meaningful, but if it's all gloom and doom and seriousness they'll probably not stick around long. That kind of stuff wears people down. Fun picks them up. Have a meaningful and helpful basis for your campaign, but keep it as light as is appropriate.