What Makes the Ice Bucket Challenge Go

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 2.12.12 PMIn the midst of a dreary summer of war and disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge has popped out as an opportunity to have fun and support a cause collectively. The essence of the challenge is that people post videos of themselves pouring buckets of ice water over their head and challenge three other people to do the same – or give money to ALS or another cause.

The effort started as a friend-to-friend campaign a few weeks ago and has hit the celebrity circuit this week with Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart (a lame effort at her hairdresser’s) and LeBron James. (here is a compendium of some celebrities getting cold and wet.)

There are lots of reasons to love this effort:

  • It is just plain fun to watch someone have a cold bucket of water poured over their head (in summer, not winter!)
  • It was started by individual free agents rather than an organization. These are always my favorite kinds of events because they reflect what people want to do not what organizations want them to do.
  • It’s a wonderful cause to support.

But there is something very specific to this effort that makes the Ice Bucket Challenge different. One of the most powerful aspects of social media is the ability to tag specific people publicly and make them both known and accountable. Naming three people and giving them just 24 hours to take the Challenge or give a donation is the real go-go juice for this effort. And it is what makes this effort both a viral campaign and what I call an action cascade.

An action cascade is the ultimate goal for any cause. It is more than a viral video that people watch and pass on to friends, it is an effort that engages a lot of people to do something very specific in support of an organization or company.

There is never any way to know when or why an effort will go viral. Most simply don’t go anywhere at all. But for those that do, it is imperative for the potential recipient of an effort that it includes very specific, bite-size and time limited tasks for people to do to show their support.

Bravo to the free agents that created the Ice Bucket Challenge!


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Allison Fine

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