Did you see an ice bucket video this week?
How about tweets or Instagram photos about #Ferguson?
What about the Downton Abbey philanthropic photo response to its historical snafu?
You probably saw at least one of these--if not all three.
What do these three social media viral moments have in common?
A purpose beyond simply entertainment, attention, and 15 minutes of fame.
Let’s start by analyzing the #ALSIceBucketChallenge. Why did it work?
1. Whether watching or participating--it’s fun. Watching friends’ reactions the moment after cold water is dumped on them is priceless. And continues to be as long as people you actually know and like are participating. I’ve enjoyed watching the varying levels of theatrics that occur as people mentally prepare for the deluge and after it's been poured.
2. It’s a strange equalizer. Ok, so you’re not nominating Steven Spielberg like Oprah did. But this #ALSIceBucketChallenge is an opportunity for people to act out being the celebrity of their own social network for a day. How often do you and Jennifer Lopez and Bill Gates and Lady Gaga all do the same thing in a given day? It’s like a strange game of “celebrities, they’re just like us.”
3. It’s doable. The #ALSIceBucketChallenge is a fairly uncomplicated endeavor. What you need: a bucket, ice water, a friend with a camera, and the ability to name three friends to do it next. This mode of philanthropy may be mildly inconvenient (getting wet when not taking a shower can slow your day down a little) but difficult, it is not. Mark Zuckerberg can do it and oh yeah, so can you.
4. It’s for a good cause. Who doesn’t want to be a helper, giver, public servant, hero? Whether it seems obvious to you or not--this is a way to get the do-gooder euphoria without having to do very much (nope, you didn't dig a well in Africa, you poured water on your head). A lot of times philanthropy sounds like it is something for people who have all the time in the world or all the money in the world. But to participate in this, all you need is water, a bucket, and a camera (and hopefully a little cash to donate).
5. It’s goofy but has merit. Few adults would jump on the bandwagon of teenagers pulling pranks and posting them online (Planking? Hitting each other? Trying to drink a gallon of milk? Please stop.) But somehow the lure of a good cause (and the fact that nobody wants to wimp out on a worthwhile dare--especially if Matt Lauer was brave enough to do it) and your silly prank has gone viral.
6. People love their friends and doing good (and getting a little credit for doing good.) This is why Facebook has 1.23 billion active users--people want to connect with loved ones. The Ice Bucket Challenge pairs bonding with friends with doing something philanthropic and fun (and showing it to the world). So people get a trio of highs: shared experiences, doing something good for someone else and showing the world they are generous/fun people.
Whether or not you’ve embraced what some are calling “slacktivism,” the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has spread an astounding amount of awareness for the debilitating and fatal disease as well as raised millions of dollars. None of that would’ve happened without social media.
Bottom line: social media is THE way people are connecting with their communities and networks. They are sharing what’s important to them and hopefully beginning to realize that we can all make a difference--no matter the size of our platform.
So did you take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Were you a skeptic? Did you change your mind?