Why the ALS Water Bucket Challenge is a Win for Social Media Advocacy
And How it Sticks it to the Internet Trolls
Over the past three weeks, our Facebook feeds have been inundated with friends dumping buckets of ice water over their head and challenging others to do the same in the name of ALS research fundraising. Sadly the only thing as prevalent as these videos are the usual snarky, reactionary posts from people calling the marketing initiative just another shallow social media advocacy attempt that is more about the pomp and circumstance than actually doing good for the intended cause. As annoying as these posts are (particularly when they come from ‘that guy’ who tend to use Facebook to post about social injustices and remind us how ‘people are so dumb and we’re fucked because of it’), nine times out of ten they’re merited claims.
Over the years we’ve seen countless causes make a huge splash on social media with very little effort made to actually do anything about the topic (KONY2012 and the aftermath of countless natural disasters come to mind), but this ALS Water Bucket challenge is not one of them. In fact, it’s a perfectly constructed use of the viral nature of social media content and the standard process that tends to accompany it.
For those of you wondering what that process is, there are four parts:
(1) An initial burst is made as people become aware of a situation and begin posting.
(2) The campaign and post rate hits a critical mass where it seems to consume your entire Facebook timeline and Twitter feed.
(3) A considerable backlash about the lack of help the trending topic is actually providing starts to replace the number of people in support of it.
(4) The topic disappears into oblivion and the next social matter takes its place in our digital world.
While the ALS Water Bucket Challenge seems to be following the same path, there are several factors in this particular campaign that are separating it from your everyday trending social advocacy topic. And for those of you still questioning how much good it has done, it has already raised over $2.3 million towards their intended cause and with the influx of celebrities taking part in it over the past two days we are likely to see that number continue to increase.
Here are three aspects of the campaign that set it apart from a marketing standpoint:
(1) It Combines Viral Content w/ Donation Request: In the past, most social media initiatives either consist of ‘viral content’ or donation requests. They are rarely as intertwined into one campaign that urges people to nominate other friends and get them involved as this one. Posting “Kony 2012” images on your Facebook page does not bring the war criminal to justice. Conversely, donating $20 to Hurricane relief in Haiti is a great thing to do, but without the viral content included, the longevity of the campaign is destined to be short-lived. By combining the quirkiness of pouring ice water over your head with an ‘or donate $100’ request, this campaign ensures that the message will continue to spread whether or not the individual has the desire (or ability) to donate money.
(2) It Specifically Calls Individuals Out (Casually): Instead of a blanket statement saying “You should donate” or “This is for <insert cause>”, the ALS Water Bucket Challenge calls out specific individuals. Not in a way that causes pressure on the person being called out, but in a casual fun way that gives them the option to opt in. Still having your name called out specifically shows that the person undergoing the challenges rates you high amongst their friends (think Myspace Top 8 days) and makes it almost an honor to have been chosen. Well-played ALSA!
(3) It Uses The ‘Backlash’ As A Tool: People are more concerned with their peers chastising them than they are with getting a stern finger wag from an anonymous “you should actually donate” persona on the interwebs. Over the weekend we saw the usual backlash start to kick in from Facebook trolls, but rather than putting the fire out on the campaign, we saw an increase in the number of people making mention that they were donating to the cause in addition to doing the challenge. George W. Bush would have described this as ‘master strategery’.
The bottom line on this initiative is that it was simple, smart and fun to take part in. ALS is a very worthwhile cause, as anyone who knows someone that has suffered from it will tell you. As someone usually disappointed in social media advocacy, the Water Bucket Challenge gave me hope that genuine good can be accomplished via social media.
Plus, its good to stick it to the Facebook trolls once in a while!
I was obviously convinced enough to take part.
LISTEN: Body Language - “Feel It”
New Body Language track up today! The Nu-Disco anthem “Feel It” just premiered on The Music Ninja a little while ago. Get into it!