8 Ways the #IceBucketChallenge Has Changed Social Media Marketing Forever

8 Ways the #IceBucketChallenge Has Changed Social Media Marketing Forever

It started out small, a challenge between friends to raise awareness and funds on behalf of someone they knew who was suffering with ALS. It became the viral fundraising event of the summer, raising over $ 100 million in one month (and going strong). 

Everyone, both nonprofits and for-profit businesses alike, wants to replicate the success of the #IceBucketChallenge. But is it possible to do that? Only if you’re willing to adapt.

Here are a few things the challenge is forcing us to rethink.

Social Activism

Hashtag activism, “slacktivism,” “clicktivism” – call it anything you want but ineffective. Over three million people donated to the ALSA in the month of August, raising over $ 100 million. That’s 36 times over what was raised last year in the same period. And it all happened because donor after donor shared their videos on social media, inspiring others to do the same.

The Power of Video

In case you ever questioned it, imagine a bunch of still images of people with wet hair holding signs promoting ALS awareness. Would you have noticed them, much less clicked through? Video offers so much more, especially when you want someone to take action themselves.

The Power of Fun

There are a lot of serious issues in this world that need dealing with, and ALS is only one of them. To catch the attention of the world at large and inspire them to make a difference, offering something fun is clearly the way to go.

At least it is in the middle of the summer, when most people are thinking of enjoying life while the weather is warm.

The silliness of the challenge allowed for a balance against the seriousness of ALS, even as it moved people to write check after check. They could give back while having a laugh at their friends’ expense.


Not everyone loved the #IceBucketChallenge. With California into its third year of extreme drought conditions, and many other parts of the world continuing to lack clean water for basic necessities, there were those who criticized challenge-takers for wasting clean water so recklessly.

While not everyone understood or agreed with the critics, many did opt to perform a modified version of the challenge, or to simply write a check – still sharing their actions on social media. It probably didn’t hurt that celebs like Matt Damon and Charlie Sheen offered modified videos themselves.

The goal for anyone attempting to replicate the challenge’s success should be to add “eco-friendly” to their list of considerations.

The Power of Celebrity

Even as Facebook comments slammed celebrities for taking the challenge to “get out of paying $ 100 dollars,” the stars continued to get in on the fun, and the numbers posted daily by the ALSA continued to increase, indicating no one was trying to get out of anything.

Though the challenge started as a grassroots campaign, it was aided early on by the extensive network of pro athletes who were personal friends of Pete Frates, who is largely considered responsible for the thing really taking off.

From there word spread, until everyone asking “What Would Oprah Do?” had their answer, and the likes of Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg posted videos and made donations, calling out their high-profile friends and making the challenge even cooler than it already was. Just another reminder of the impact of celebrity endorsements.

Clarity of Message

In the early days of the challenge the message seemed muddled; were people supposed to donate AND dump water over their heads? Or did dumping the water mean they could donate less? Or not donate at all?

Usually you’d want your message to be as clear as possible, but in this case the mystery and confusion seemed to add to the appeal. All the people scratching their heads or bashing the challenge only helped to further promote it.

Within a week the ALSA had jumped on board, offering banners and hashtags to assist in the social media sharing, as well as information on the disease, the way they use their funds, and how to participate responsibly.  


Things like the cinnamon challenge certainly prove that the people of the Web don’t always use the best judgment (especially adolescents). No company or organization wants to be the driving force behind a viral campaign gone wrong.

Two people died by taking the challenge to extreme levels, and countless others had near misses by using oversized buckets that were too heavy to lift, or dumped from too high a height. While the YouTube mix of ice bucket “fails” is amusing to many, it’s surely cringe-worthy to anyone who’s ever suffered a spinal cord injury or concussion.

The ALSA didn’t initiate the challenge, but they did co-opt it as donations began flooding in, and rightly so. They also wisely posted an advisory, reminding people to use good judgment, as the challenge might not be appropriate for small children, the elderly, those in poor health, or pets.

The Power of Making it Personal

There’s no way to know if the #IceBucketChallenge would have been as successful if it had been started by the ALSA. What we DO know is that Pete Frates, an individual who was relatable and real, motivated people to do something, and to keep the chain of generosity going for as long as possible (it’s still going).

Inspiring someone to do something on your behalf can be even more effective than doing it yourself. Putting a human face on any cause can only ever help it.

As everyone moves forward, hoping to find their own ice bucket gold, remembering these eight points can only help as well. 

Did I miss anything? How do YOU think the #IceBucketChallenge has changed social media marketing? 
IMAGE CREDIT: Hot Gossip Italia