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The 3 Tactical Elements That Made the “Ice Bucket Challenge” a Viral Success

Unless you live under a rock that isn’t equipped with Wi-Fi, you’ve probably seen news about the viral success of the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” Our social streams are full of friends, family and celebs dumping buckets of ice water on their heads and challenging others to either donate to ALS or subject themselves to an icy shower.

The results are pretty amazing. The ALS Foundation reports that donations have increased nine fold during the challenge, and the organization is unquestionably garnering new donors and supporters for its mission.

There are lots of causes out there about which people are passionate, and many charities make deft use of the social web, which begs this question: Why is ALS research getting a disproportionate share of attention (and dollars) this summer? The answers are actually pretty simple.

  1. Video is at the heart of the viral spread. Participants post videos – some elaborately staged others spur-of-the-moment – of their dousing on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other channels. Video is the most arresting visual format, and communications featuring video elements have an advantage over other message types.
  2. Personal interaction, as well as a bit of peer pressure – are built into the challenge. Participants issue challenges to others they name, and those people then follow suit. Viral spread isn’t just assured; it’s built into the fabric of the campaign.
  3. Creative license, with a shot of competition. The audience generated element rewards creativity. Case in point – a colleague and I who received the Challenge from another coworker are orchestrating plans for our own video response. We’re determined to up the ante in our response, which will probably inspire the folks we nominate to do the same. The result? An organic mix of interesting and widely varied content.

For communicators planning campaigns on social channels or at live events, keeping these three keys in mind as you structure the program will help ensure success. A strong visual core will garner more attention than plain text, and building in the right sort of interactivity that encourages viral spread and rewards creativity will result in the development of higher-quality content that is more likely to spread.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.