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5 reasons for the success of the ALS ice bucket challenge

A Splash of Inspiration
Between the months of July and August 2014 the phenomenal social movement known as The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge IBC swept across the social media platforms of the Northern United States. The concept, with which I am sure you are all familiar involved dumping a bucket of iced water over ones head, within one day of being nominated over Facebook and then in turn, nominating 3 or more people to repeat the process within 24 hours or face the penalty of donating money to the ALS association.

Despite widespread criticism and accusations of arm-chair activism the movement has been remarkably effective raising over $100 million in donations in just two months, 5 times more than there was donated the entire year previous. There was also a trickle-down effect to ALS related charities which saw a significant rise in donations over this time period. So love it or hate it, the IBC is a serious game changer.

The unprecedented rise of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has brought organisations all around the world back to the drawing board in terms of designing public engagement strategies. It has also led to host of theories about how such success was accomplished, with PR agencies asking what was behind such a prolific rise to prominence and more importantly can it be replicated?

The Facebook EffectFacebook Effect
There are a number of conditions that set the scene for IBC’s success. The first and most influential is the development and proliferation of social media platforms. A movement like IBC could never have spread so wide or so fast without the framework put in place by Facebook nor the prevalence of Vines online. Exact figures about ALS are difficult to find but in the US and Europe only 0.002% of the population suffer from ALS but between July and August of 2014 over 1.2 million videos where uploaded to Facebook of people conducting the ICB with over 15 million mentions.

We can also not ignore the importance of influencers on the movement, which was arguably begun but certainly accelerated by athletes from the Boston Red Sox Baseball franchise and players from the Atlanta Falcons with their initiative, Strike Out ALS which received massive traction both online across social media platforms and in the international media when US president Obama was nominated to take part.

Social Proofing
This call to action factor of the IBC can also not be ignored as an effective accelerator. The concept is empowering because it contains an element of social proofing. As a participant you are empowered to motivate others to join and when nominated, an element of social pressure encourages you to respond. This pressure was so great that not even Barak Obama could ignore it.


Some of the earliest adapters to this form of social activation where the younger generation, kids or pre-teens with a passion for social change and who never experienced a world without Facebook, known also as Generation Z. But being a Philanthrokid is more than just having access to social media technology, it is about an interest in philanthropy and a drive to create a brighter future. The cultural climate which gave birth to the IBC was inspired by the work and passion of these early Philantrokids.

While ALS is a horrific disease, the IBC dealt with it in a playful and light-hearted manner. This was manifested by the early participants, who were also sufferers. Campaigns which aim to raise funds or awareness for charity usually rely on shock or guilt to motivate people but the ICB relied on laughter, this is why it spread so fast.

This interruption to traditional methods of activism has led to a host of surrogates inspired by this success from Gaza or Kuala Lumpur. The latest #WakeUpCall which is popular among celebrities in the UK and involves posting a photograph of yourself online, just after waking in order to raise money for children in Syria. There has also recently been calls in the US for an Ebola Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness as well as much needed funds to tackle the disease.

One thing is for certain, the combination of empowerment, influencers and social media are powerful tools when used in combination in the name of a good cause.

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