How the #icebucketchallenge Beat Healthcare Brands at Their own Game

How the #icebucketchallenge Beat Healthcare Brands at Their own Game

By Alex Panagiotopoulos
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How the #icebucketchallenge beat #hcmktg #hcsm at their own game: @hcmarketingpr

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Friday, August 22, 2014 - 1:00pm


The #icebucketchallenge has taken over social media. It matters for healthcare companies and charities who use social media, and not just because our own Beth Bengtson and Zoe Dunn completed it.

By getting freezing water dumped on their heads, Beth and Zoe were part of a trend that saw 1.2 million other videos posted to Facebook and coincided with $41.8 million in donations to the ALS Association from July 29 to August 21.

How did it start?
The origin of the ice bucket challenge is still debated, but it wasn’t always tied to ALS research. A “Cold Water Challenge,” where participants would jump into a freezing-cold body of water for charity, was a minor hit on social media in the spring. That evolved into a more reasonable ice bucket challenge promoting a variety of different causes across the world. One example is the New Zealand Cancer Society, which used an ice bucket challenge to raise over $120,000 since July 4.

The idea of an ice bucket challenge started to gain more traction in the U.S. in June and July, when celebrity athletes began ice-bucketing for the Kay Yow Fund, which raises money to fight women’s cancers (Kay Yow was the former coach of the North Carolina State University women’s basketball team). On July 15, it got national TV exposure when Matt Lauer accepted a challenge from pro golfer Greg Norman and performed a challenge on air.

These previous efforts showed that the concept of a social media ice bucket challenge for a good cause is a great idea that can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars.That doesn’t explain how over $40M was specifically raised for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research in about three weeks.

The ALS ice bucket challenge, as most people know it, started on July 31, when a 29-year-old ALS patient and former Boston College baseball player named Pete Frates made a video, co-opting the ice bucket challenge to raise money for ALS causes.

The power of social media influencers
The Atlantic published some work from the Facebook data team asserting that Frates was the catalyst for the ice bucket challenge going from viral curiosity to full-blown outbreak. Once he posted his challenge to friends and celebrities in the Boston area for ALS charity, it spread like wildfire to the rest of the country, with millions of comments, shares, and likes.

Frates’ strong presence in the ALS community and local connection to celebrities and other ALS influencers made it happen for his cause, dwarfing the other ice bucket challenges in money raised.

Matt Lauer has 353,000 followers on Twitter and is on national TV almost every day. But when it came to spreading a viral fund-raising message for a specific cause, Frates, with just over 7,000 Twitter followers, made a bigger impact than Lauer.

What can companies learn from this?
As the Wall Street Journal reported on August 20, healthcare companies, non-profits and charities are using the runaway success of the Ice Bucket Challenge as an inspiration to create their own “viral” hit. Although there will surely be some fatigue to “me-too” attempts at creating the next sensation, it’s never a bad thing if organizations try harder to create novel, sharable and fun content that empowers users and has a call to action.

Are you thinking about getting more visibility for your company on social media with a challenge or contest? Here are some tips:

·        Make it easy for people to participate: Every extra step that you add (downloading a special app, authenticating on a website, sending an extra email) will make people less likely to do what you want.

·        Involve community leaders: Facebook’s data implies that ALS advocate and local Boston celebrity Pete Frates doing the ice bucket challenge had a bigger impact than Matt Lauer. Getting the buy-in of key people aligned to your cause can be more valuable than trying to mass-target everyone.

·        Be fun: One of the reasons the ice bucket challenge got so big: No stodgy, overly-sensitive brand team or agency was around to disqualify people, impose rules, or hand-wring over how the videos were made.

·        Make everyone a winner: The beauty of the ice bucket challenge is that everyone who participates gets something out of it. Everyone either gave money or made others give money, raised awareness, and had something fun and positive to post on their feed.