5 Reasons the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Went Viral

A cold front has overtaken your news feed, and it’s known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Whether you were the first to reach for your ice box, or are praying you never get nominated, no one can deny this campaign reached unprecedented levels in fundraising and virality. Below, we explore five reasons as to why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is streaming across your social networks.

1.  Your Friends Do The Bidding 

Who are you more likely looking impress? An organization you probably have no prior relationship with, or one of your close friends? It’s really a no-brainer, which is why the nomination tactic is so brilliant.

When you think about it, it’s not really The ALS Association challenging you to film yourself dumping cold water on your head, it’s your friends. They’re the ones who get you involved, and they’re the ones who are going to watch your video.

People don’t have relationships with organizations, they have relationships with other people. Rather than trying to forge and replace those relationships, the ALS Association capitalized on existing friendships to go viral.

2.  It’s Attached to a Cause

Be honest. How often did you hear or talk about ALS on a daily basis before the Ice Bucket Challenge videos went viral? While ALS is a devastating disease and supporting the ALS Association is certainly a worthy cause, it seems highly unlikely that all of the millions of people who have taken the challenge feel a strong, personal connection to the association – what is normally required for people to act on a social media call-to-action.

That’s because ALS isn’t really why they’re doing it. They’re doing it for the same reason that people are on social media in the first place – it’s a chance to show off. It’s a chance to claim your spot in the digital sphere and watch the likes and comments roll in from all of your friends. And when you attach that impulse to a cause, suddenly it doesn’t seem so self-serving anymore.

Of course there are exceptions. There are people who truly believe in the cause and that’s what motivates them to get in front of the camera. But, at the end of the day, people are obsessed with their own image. That’s why social media thrives – and that’s why campaigns that encourage people to step into the limelight see success where others don’t.

3.  It Has a Deadline

Perhaps the most ingenious and overlooked component of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge campaign is the fact that each challenge comes with a 24-hour deadline. Every social media and digital marketer understands that urgency is a key component for any call-to-action. People are busy and if they don’t have a reason to do something right now, they will often end up not doing it at all.

4. It’s Silly

Forget for a moment the nominations, the worthy cause and the deadline. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos are simply fun to watch. Who doesn’t want to see the friend who sat next to you in high school English scream as ice pours over her head? Or watch that guy who used to live down the hall grimace in anticipation as his wife takes her time turning the bucket upside down?

People aren’t just taking the Ice Bucket Challenge – they’re watching the Ice Bucket Challenge. That cycle of content creation and consumption is what has kept the campaign alive over more than just a few days.

5.  A Lot of Luck

It’s true that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did everything right. And they were rewarded for it – they went viral and raised close to $100 million.

But a lot of other campaigns do “everything right” as well, and barely see a post or a dime. There’s an unspoken element of virality that is simply based on luck. The right people see your post at the right time and it spirals onward. As marketers, there are things we can do to propel this process forward, but very few campaigns see this level of exposure.

When creating your next campaign, work to mimic the components listed above that made the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge successful, but don’t anticipate their volume. Set reasonable goals based on real metrics and maybe, if you’re lucky, one day you’ll go viral too.


Kiera Stein is an Independent Social Media and Digital Marketing Consultant specializing in strategy, engagement and growth. She takes a holistic approach to all of her projects to ensure her clients see results on social media that adhere to their larger business goals. She blogs about social media and digital marketing at Dog-eared Social. Follow her on Twitter at @KieraStein

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