This week CSR Central focuses on the charity phenomenon that has been sweeping all before it on social media: the Ice Bucket Challenge in aid of ALS / Motor Neurone Disease.
Even if you haven’t already dunked a bucket of ice cold water over your head, you’ll undoubtedly have seen the Ice Bucket Challenge on your Facebook and Twitter feeds over the last week. The initiative has so far generated over €600,000 in donations from Irish contributors for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and over $50 million in the U.S. for their sister organisation, the ALS Association.
Earlier this year, we reported on the #nomakeupselfie online campaign where Women took self-portraits of themselves without make-up as a way of showing their support for cancer research. The success of the #nomakeupselfie phenomenon could be attributed to its simplicity, its shareability and its reliance on user-generated content.
The Ice Bucket Challenge works on similar principles to the nomakeupselfie and the Donate A Drink initiatives that CSR Central also featured earlier this year, in that the campaign has grown organically across social media without being started or centrally coordinated by any charitable organisation. But, the Ice Bucket Challenge has far surpassed these earlier campaigns, both in terms of the donations it has raised and the number of people who have taken part in it.
Explaining the Ice Bucket Challenge social media phenomenon
How do we explain its success? Firstly, the campaign is emotive in that it is fighting a degenerative disease (ALS / MND) for which no cure has yet been discovered. Furthermore, the campaign has a condensed time decay (nominees must respond within 24 hours) and has a fun call-to-action built into it – two aspects which have accelerated the virality of the Ice Bucket Challenge. This virality is further heightened by the fact that the campaign has a catchy hashtag (#icebucketchallenge) to assist its diffusion across Twitter. And because each person who accepts the challenge has to nominate three other people, this leads to a multiplier effect which enrolls new participants across social media.
Lance Ulanoff writing in Mashable last week asserts that initiatives like the Ice Bucket Challenge represent a growing trend in “episodic giving”, where donations spike on social media in response to events such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The flipside of “episodic giving”, of course, is that the uplift in donations often doesn’t last and, as Mashable report, participants in the social media challenges rarely convert into long-term givers. So, while the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign has been phenomenally successful, it does pose a challenge for charity marketers as to how they retain these donors, and whether there is a follow-up activity they can initiate in 6 or 12 months’ time that builds on the current media attention.
Another issue with the campaign is that not every person who takes part in the challenge – perhaps not even a majority of participants – is mentioning ALS / MND during their Ice Bucket videos. Certainly, very few of the participants in these videos are supplying substantive information about the disease or relaying specifics about how donations will help the fight against it. This could partly be due to the organic viral way the campaign has developed which means the rules for donating during the challenge are not strictly codified.
The implications for Charity Marketing
This ambiguity has led some critics to claim the challenge is cannibalising funds from other charities, and for other observers to level a charge of ‘Slacktivism’ against the trend. In the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the accusations of ‘Slacktivism’ come from a perception that some participants are posting an attention-seeking, self-aggrandising message on social media in lieu of an actual donation to the ALS/MND charities.
The obvious counter-argument to these criticisms is the amount of money that the Ice Bucket Challenge has amassed for organisations dedicated to ALS/MND research. For example, the American ALS Association say the Ice Bucket challenge has raised over 50 times more donations within the last fortnight than in the equivalent period last August.
Despite these caveats, the Ice Bucket Challenge has achieved something that a standard pledge drive for donations could not do: raise awareness all around the world about a disease that heretofore has not received the attention (or funding) it deserves.
A €2 donation can be made to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association by texting MND to 50300.