8 Lessons on Engagement that We can Learn from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge


You’ve most certainly heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds for the ALS that went viral this summer. You might have even participated!

This brilliant initiative turned out to be a huge success and brought more than 100 million dollars to the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) association. The concept of taking up a challenge and then nominating your friends has been quite trendy on the socials since a while, but the Ice Bucket Challenge went to whole new level, involving thousands and thousands of people around the globe and becoming the hottest social network topic of the summer of 2014.

Everything started when Pete Frates, a former baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, challenged a friend to donate $100 to the ALS association or film himself dumping ice cold water over his head. The idea was so simple and fun that it caught on like a wildfire. As this action spread, it changed somewhat because even though people were more than willing to donate, they didn’t want to miss out on the experience of pouring a bucket of ice on themselves, so they began to do both. Totally understandable!... ;)

The rules:

It's very simple... If nominated, dump a bucket of water and ice on yourself and then make a free donation to the ALS association within 24 hours, and of course, challenge your friends to do the same.

What was the trigger that made this initiative go viral?

This challenge was huge among celebrities, everyone from pop culture celebrities like Justin Bieber all the way up to the Bill Gates participated and spread the news. Also, the challenge was completely user driven; the ALS association did not start or promote it in any way.

Many businesses can learn valuable lessons on engagement from this initiative. As it was plain to see, It was definitely not the prospect of making money or winning a prize that drove people to participate. Money is more than often the least effective incentivate to get people to take part in these types of actions. People participate for personal satisfaction, they want to receive public appraisal for what they do and they want to belong to something bigger than themselves.

Let’s see what we can learn from this campaign

Here are some points to pay attention to if you want to create a contest or game to engage your community:

- Thinking out of the box pays off! Surprise people! Nowadays people are overflooded with tons and tons of requests from people begging them to participate in one thing or another. You need to stand out! Think about all the risks and ‘what if’s’ and then deliberately ignore them. If you can think up something new and out there (like throwing a bucket of ice on yourself) you’re much more likely to catch peoples attention.

- Give the participants credit for their actions: As already mentioned in a previous post about how to  Crowdsource, one of the biggest rewards for the participants is the feeling of satisfaction they get from it. The Ice Bucket Challenge is the perfect contest in the era of the selfies where people love to show their faces in the internet. If the challenge consists in a simple status update or post to write, it will certainly be less effective.

- Tap into the community feeling: You need to get the opinion leaders of your segment to participate and then everyone will want to. The ice bucket challenge was such a success because the big shots in every category were participating. People were therefore very proud to be nominated and film the proof to make sure everybody new. This brings me to the next point:

- Use all the socials wisely to promote the initiative: Engage your community on every level! This type of action was very ideal for facebook because it involved short videos (1-2 minutes) and these share great on this social, also youtube became overflooded with videos of people dumping ice on themselves. It’s important not to ignore the main online socials. If you want your campaign to go viral, make it easy to share across platforms. For example, a challenge involving photos can be shared everywhere, on twitter, instagram, pinterest.. you name it!

- Find a broadly relevant theme: Although the challenge must be unconventional, it must also be widely easy to relate to. Find something that can get people from all over the world emotionally connected.

- Relate it to a cause: People love to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They like to feel good about themselves, and they also want to be able to show the whole world that they are good people. If there is a cause, it’s more likely that the campaign goes viral because people are incentivated to spread the word and show all their friends that they were a part of it. 

- Keep it simple and fun: If the task is complicated many people won’t be bothered to participate. It’s got to be something people can do very quickly and get a laugh out of it. It’s entertaining for anyone to watch people scream or cringe when they get ice poured on them. Try to impose as few restrictions as possible, a long list of rules and conditions dissuades people from participating. This campaing became viral because people could film themselves easily from their phones, and they could do essentially what they wanted.

- Give your campaign a sense of urgency: When someone was nominated to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, they then had only 24 hours to dump ice on themselves and make a donation. By giving people a limit of time to participate you can avoid them putting it off for later and then forgetting about it.

Let's not forget that the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge came totally unexpected.

Of course all these tips are easier said than done and realising the reasons of success after an event has taken place is much easier than planning it.

So don’t get too caught up in planning the perfect initiative. A safer solution would be to consistently produce quality content and just be out there experimenting! This alone will help a great deal in making your business a success. And then who knows?

Maybe one day you’ll hit the right button and see something go viral!