A worthy challenge: 3 easy ways to make your campaign go viral

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In fact, it probably took over your Facebook feed for most of August. A lot of people had mixed feelings about the campaign, but one thing is certain: It was a huge success for the ALS Association.

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness of ALS and generated more than $100 million in donations in just over one month. That’s a 3,500% increase from the $2.8 million the ALS Association raised during the same period last year.

Yes, you read that correctly: 3,500%.

As a marketing person, I’m always interested in what makes some campaigns so successful. I believe three key components helped set the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge apart.

First of all, it called out specific people in a public forum — in most cases Facebook. By doing so, it avoided falling prey to a psychological phenomenon known as “the bystander effect.” Originally, the bystander effect described how crime victims are often ignored when other people are present because of a phenomenon known as “diffusion of responsibility,” but it can also apply to fundraising and other charitable efforts.

If you ask a large group of people to help with something, they’re much less likely to take action than if you ask them individually. When they’re part of a group, people tend to assume someone else will step in to help. When you ask one person directly, especially if others are there to take notice, he or she will feel more inclined to do whatever you ask. I don’t know about you, but I definitely didn’t want to be the first of my friends to “break the chain” in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The second component that helped the challenge take off was its simplicity. It didn’t require a lot of effort to take part in the challenge and pass it on to others. Often organizations overcomplicate things. They think more is better and try to offer as many options as possible in order to appeal to as many potential sponsors or donors as they can. In this case, the choice was simple: Either pour ice water on your head or don’t. The challenge took as little as five minutes to complete, and you could say you did your part. Sometimes less is more, and this is a great example.

The third thing that made the challenge so effective is that it was entertaining. Let’s be honest, some of the videos were pretty funny. Who wouldn’t like to see their friends and family members forced to pour ice-cold water on their heads? Simply writing a check to a charity is a great thing to do, but it isn’t that interesting.



The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos helped bring awareness to a very serious disease, but they also made people smile. BuzzFeed even posted a compilation of Ice Bucket Challenge fails! It brought out people’s competitive spirit and creativeness and made each video interesting and unique.

Overall, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a viral marketing home run. Although it has pretty much faded from the public consciousness, it definitely had a huge impact.

Today, I challenge you to keep that positive energy going by completing the Fast Track Action Items below:

■ Challenge yourself to reach a goal, but do it in a public way. Tell your friends, family, or co-workers about something you plan to achieve by a certain date. That way you’ll feel more accountable and will work harder to ensure that you succeed.
■ Ask a friend, family member, or co-worker to join you in contributing to a deserving community organization. It doesn’t have to be a financial contribution. Instead, recruit a partner or group to volunteer their time or expertise.
■ Finish a task on your to-do list that is easy but that you have nevertheless been putting off. Make an effort to set aside five or 10 minutes to get it off your plate. It can’t be as bad as a bucket of ice water over your head!
Email me at jennaatkinson1@gmail.com to let me know how you are challenging yourself this month. Have a challenge for me? Let’s hear it.

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building
opportunities to local business leaders.

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