How The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Won The Internet
Over the past few weeks, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been taking the country by storm — and not just because it’s hot outside. If you’ve spent even a minute on Facebook, you’ve probably seen at least one video of a friend dousing themselves with a bucket full of ice and pledging donations to the ALS Association, a not-for-profit dedicated to finding a cure for ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, AKA “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) and helping those living with the disease.
According to the latest numbers from The New York Times, the ice bucket challenge has raised $41 million and a swarm of awareness. Just three days ago that number was $15.6 million. And one year ago during the same time period, the ALS Association raised just over $50,000. Yes, that’s $50,000.
Participation in the challenge is relatively simple. Turn on camera, dump ice bucket, post video, and tag three friends you want to see take an icy bath or donate $100 to the ALS Association. Some variations, feature the challenge taker also pledging to donate $1 for each “like” their video receives from Facebook friends.
So how exactly did a charity campaign for a little understood disease go more viral than a cat listicle on Buzzfeed?
- It uses the viral hooks of Facebook to keep growing in reach. The fact that challenge participants have to tag three friends not only creates a chain of continuation, but also exposes this activity to friends of friends creating a broader network effect.
- Celebrities are doing it. I first heard of the ice bucket challenge two weeks ago when it was making the rounds of my summer intern’s friend group, but nearly everyone from Lady Gaga to George W. Bush has participated, drawing incredible media attention that has brought it to the mainstream. And if you’ve ever wanted to see Bieber have a bucket of ice cold water dumped on his head, it’s your lucky day.
- Participation forms community and becomes a form of social currency. Many campaigns ask people to do something and post it online, few are successful because of the level of effort involved as compared to writing a tweetor snapping a pic. The ALS Challenge is different because there’s a dare from a friend involved. How you respond is judged by your social circle, encouraging outward altruism to bolster one’s own image. And when everyone else is doing something, others want to feel part of that community.
- People naturally want to one up each other. With everyone getting in on the trend, videos are getting more and more creative with location, choice of clothing, technique, and more, driving more virality as others react to the surprise.
- It’s associated with an important cause and politically correct charity. ALS is a terrible degenerative disease and helping those living with it is something everyone can agree on, regardless politics and religion. In fact, it’s so politically correct that even members of Congress who voted to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health chose to participate.
Most importantly, it helps real people. Like Anthony and his family. And at the end of the day that’s what it all should be about.