What Content Marketers Can Learn from the Viral #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Videos of people dumping icy cold water over their heads have been flooding my Facebook news feed as frequently as wedding photo albums and engagement announcements over the last few weeks. It’s a testament to the huge viral success of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Everywhere you turn in the world of social media there’s either a celebrity or a personal acquaintance dousing themselves in the name of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurological disease that affects 30,000 Americans.

After being nominated to participate in the challenge myself, I started thinking about how this viral challenge works—from a content marketing perspective. While there are many things I could touch on, from the timing, to the use of video content, etc., I will limit my comments to the subjects of the challenge themselves and how they work collectively to make this campaign one of the most successful examples of viral marketing I’ve ever seen.

The Many Faces of the Ice Bucket Challenge

A main, and (in this blogger’s humble opinion) probably the best, aspect of the campaign is that anyone can do it in any number of creative ways. No skill or extensive resources required: just a smartphone, a social media platform of choice, and a bucket of ice and water. Everyone from next-door neighbors, to giant corporations and A-list celebrities have taken the chilly plunge, and from a marketing standpoint, this works on several levels.

First, the Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the most creative ways I’ve seen user-generated content at play. By making the content personal among one’s own friend circle makes it much more relevant and much more likely to be viewed.

Why it works: Content generated by peers is one of the best ways to target and engage the ever-elusive Millennials demographic. Crowdtap reports that Millennials spend 30% of their time consuming peer-created content, which they find to be 20% more influential than any other type of media.

Second, the facts that brands have engaged in the challenge is a fantastic way for companies to show a philanthropic and humanizing touch to their corporate message.

Why it works: I’ve previously blogged about how personalization positively affects a company’s sales and consumer engagement. When it comes to the ice bucket challenge, what better way for companies to show a fun, yet caring side, than by getting soaked for a great cause?

Finally, the fact that big names—from Bill Gates to Charlie Sheen and even Kermit the Frog—have participated puts the power of celebrity influence and endorsement behind the campaign to reach fans and inspire further awareness and/or engagement.

Why it works: Celebrity names sell. In just a week, Bill Gates’ and Charlie Sheen’s ice bucket challenges have received nearly 12 million and 16 million YouTube views respectively. Kermit has reached over 4 million views—not bad for a amphibian who’s heart could stop from freezing cold water.

Enforce the Call to Action

Let’s face it: simply dumping a bucket of ice water over one’s head and tweeting out #ALSIceBucketChallenge doesn’t a make a person a social activist. Arguably, this is one of the biggest criticisms brought up by naysayers—that Ice Bucket Challenge videos gratify the narcissistic nature of its poster rather than incentivize donations to the cause or actually raise awareness for ALS. No doubt you’ve seen many posted videos that don’t provide related information about the disease or a call to action on how to donate to ALS.

For brands and content marketers, this is an important takeaway: when trying to craft viral marketing, make sure there is some sort of follow-through action for your audience. For example, if you’re thinking of participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, why not leave viewers with links to continue engaging with your content? After all, as research shows (unsurprisingly), the more a consumer is engaged, the more likely they will drive sales and repeat purchases.

Campaign Success

At the end of the day, there’s no denying the Ice Bucket Challenge has been an enormous success for those afflicted by the disease. As of this writing, the campaign has contributed to raising nearly 80 million dollars towards the ALS Association, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. As content marketers, we should all be encouraged by these results and actively brainstorm ways we can incorporate or initiate viral campaigns into our own content strategies.

Have you done the Ice Bucket Challenge? Share your comments (or better yet, show us your video) below! How have you seen user generated content create buzz about a campaign or good cause?

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