Perhaps one of the greatest viral phenomena -- the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- has dominated social media channels for the past month, raising an impressive $70 million to date, compared to $2.5 million typically raised by the nonprofit during the same time period. What's more, the campaign attracted more than 1.3 million new donors. These are astounding numbers for a one-month fundraising campaign promoted largely via social media with what can only be assumed was a relatively small campaign budget.
While you can't count on replicating any viral marketing success -- as that would require all of the planets aligning in just the same way -- there are certainly lessons learned you can apply toward your organization's marketing strategy.
The Ice Bucket Challenge was a guerrilla strategy known as viral marketing. It's an electronic form of buzz marketing, where your message passes from person to person without your direct involvement. It's the technological equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising. So what makes one attempted viral campaign, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, more successful than another?
There are four basic messaging strategies that have a higher-than-average likelihood of viral success: incentive driven (something in it for the person sharing), entertainment based, cause related or controversial in nature. You're looking for a built-in incentive for the average social media user to be motivated enough to share your content in light of the vast volume of material vying for their attention every day. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was both cause related and entertainment based, making it doubly enticing for social media users to share -- and they did just that, in droves.
It was certainly that entertainment and cause combo which made it appealing to celebrities. Taking the challenge allowed them to entertain with a charitable twist -- a bit of self-promotion that didn't necessarily come across as self-serving.
Plus, video has the ability to more deeply engage users than static photos ever did, as it's simply more of an experience. It was only recently that video became a mainstream form of content on Facebook. If Facebook hadn't changed their newsfeed to automatically play video, without any user interaction, the campaign might have fizzled out.
Lastly, this ALS fundraising campaign was simple to understand. It didn't require much back-story, and it resonated with those of all walks of life. Most everyone can empathize with the life-altering diagnosis of a deadly disease.
In the end, the social chain reaction realized from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was the result of a perfect storm -- the right message simply communicated through a highly engaging channel at a time when video content is receiving unprecedented social attention.
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