When a Good Cause Meets Social Media – Why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is Worth More than $100M Raised

While we know that video plays a critical role to successful marketing and sales, the ALS Association knows better than any organization on how viral video can raise awareness—and cash—for a great cause. But more than that, the Association’s ice bucket challenge-turned-meme has proven successful for a few other reasons—mainly, its grassroots campaign genesis and because it’s shown the true spirit of community.

The #icebucketchallenge was not some PR gimmick devised by flacks or a well-meaning ALS Association board of directors. It was the brainchild of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 2012. Pete and fellow ALS patient Pat Quinn began challenging their friends on Facebook to pour ice water on themselves or donate $100 to an ALS charity of their choice if they didn’t want to partake in the plunge. As a rule, participants also had to nominate at least three friends to take the challenge within 24 hours—and video record and post it online—or donate cash, thus creating a viral and true word-of-mouth video campaign. What began as a friendly competition among a close network of friends evolved into a global fundraising and awareness social media campaign, raising more than $100 million in just 30 days.

The ice bucket challenge for the ALS Association has wildly exceeded expectations in terms of money and awareness raised. Yet it’s also underscored what online communities have long known—that social media, at its best, can make a difference in people’s lives. With the ice bucket challenge, celebrities and commoners alike have joined the fun; it has allowed anyone with a video camera to support the same worthwhile mission, engendering a genuine sense of camaraderie. Without this welcoming community spirit, the ice bucket challenge probably would not have been as successful and in so short a time.

The success of the ice bucket challenge is a testament to social media. Facebook and Instagram provided a platform for the ALS Association to make public the need for awareness and also, money to fund research in finding a cure to the disease.  If only social media could guarantee the latter.