This summer, Facebook feeds were filled with everyday people partaking in – and challenging their friends and family members to complete – the ALS ice bucket challenge. (On the off chance you were living under a rock this summer and escaped all mentions of the challenge, check out the campaign here.) Needless to say, it may be the biggest example of viral marketing we’ve ever seen – and with that kind of scale comes many lessons learned. Here are a few of the things the ALS ice bucket challenge taught us about going viral.
The great thing about going viral is that, well… what’s not great? Tons of viewers, lots of exposure, big results… etc. However, the very nature of going viral means that your content is placed in other peoples’ hands – hands that you cannot control. We can’t even count how many challenges landed people in the ER – but true accidents aside, many were a result of carelessness or plain stupidity.
Lesson learned: You can’t plan for everyone. Focus on creating something truly memorable and desirable to get maximum traction – but try to make your challenge reasonable and take care to consider the safety of your followers.
There’s always a cynic in the bunch
No matter how worthy the cause, there’s always going to be someone out to spoil the fun – like this guy who tried to thwart the fun by focusing on all the wrong things (and skewing the facts in the process). ALS chose the way of staying relatively quiet on the issue, keeping the focus on their viral campaign and providing thorough information on its site. Well played, ALS, well played. The ice bucket challenge lived on and, though a few followers may have been dissuaded, many more continued to participate. The lesson learned? There’s always going to be a cynic – don’t let them thwart your true efforts. Stay classy and stay focused.
Make sure to tie things back to the purpose
Part of the genius behind this viral is that people challenged had a choice: either take the challenge and promote the organization and its recognition or donate to the cause (giving money = win). Of course many people did both. Both were a win-win for the organization which raised unprecedented amounts of money and recognition.
However, as with anything entertaining, it was tempting for those who evaded the challenge to enjoy the amusing videos and learn the term “ALS” without ever actually donating or learning what ALS stood for. That said, while you can’t guarantee that something will go viral, make sure that there is a clear connection for anyone who might come in contact to learn what you’re promoting. Lesson learned: Take every step possible to make a clear connection to the call to action and destination.
Virals can't be planned
On an inspirational note, people always talk about how you can’t plan for something to go viral – you can hope and try, but there’s no guarantee. However, in the case of ALS, the challenge started with a few committed individuals who gained buy-in. And perhaps the best lesson: virality can come from anywhere – it doesn’t need expensive marketing or crazy planning. The best viral campaigns start small, growing so that you can better support it once it’s taken off.