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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge shows the random nature of social virality

Senior Director, Social Media

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By this point, everyone in healthcare digital marketing knows about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Last week we reported on it in the Klick Wire but during this week it just kept growing. On Friday, August 22 there were over one million tweets (1,030,761 to be exact by Sysomos) that mentioned the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The public mentions were overwhelmingly on Twitter (most of Facebook is limited to friends) but this drove substantial news and blog activity as well. The real results, however, were financial. The ALS Association reached 53.3 million in donations as of Friday, August 22 compared to 2.2 million from the same period in the previous year.


ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - Twitter

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Twitter

News Outlets

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - News Outlets

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – News Outlets


ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - Blogs

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Blogs


ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - Forums

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Forums


As a comparison for these results, we can look at a promoted campaign: The Big Blue Test. This campaign for a very common condition, diabetes, has paid media behind it with a lot of promotion and the promise to donate when patients take the test. It manages to create just over 20,000 tests. For whatever reason, this campaign produces good results, but nothing on the order of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

It’s important to note that the ALS Association did not start the Ice Bucket Challenge, that honor is given to a pair of golfers from Morning Drive on the Golf Channel.

The Takeaways

As healthcare marketers this case study is fascinating. The main lesson seems to be that viral activity needs a number of factors to coincide to be successful:

Easy: the activity has to be fun and easy for the participants, more than just sharing, but less than a full workout.

Timing: the activity has to come at a time when people are ready to respond, time of year, other news items, and a lot of just plain luck have to be right.

Social purpose: the activity has to have a clear social purpose outside of oneself. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been criticized for not being charitable enough, but it seems to be proving the critics wrong for the ALS Association.

Forcing something to “go viral” is not really possible, but if all the variables converge then being ready to “ride the wave” is essential.

More About the Author

Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Senior Director leading the social practice. His group ensures that clients get the best bang for their buck on the social platforms.

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