The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the Impact of Social Media

“The Ice Bucket Challenge.” For several weeks during the summer of 2014, it seemed as though you couldn’t go a few hours without hearing those four words. Facebook newsfeeds were filled with video clips, millions of videos were posted to YouTube and hashtags such as #IceBucketChallenge were trending on Twitter. Social media helped transform a simple concept into a national phenomenon in the blink of an eye.

The concept of the ice bucket challenge, is that those who partake pour a bucket of ice cold water over their heads and film it to share on social media. In turn, they then nominate some of their friends or family to also take the challenge. The idea is that if the challenge is not accepted within 24 hours and posted on social media, then those who were challenged need to donate money to a chosen cause. While numerous charities were named throughout the myriad of videos, the cause that seemed to become synonymous with the challenge, was raising funds and awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The challenge became known to many specifically as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The origins of the ice bucket challenge have been credited to various different sources, however the trend peaked between July and August of 2014, after Matt Lauer participated in the challenge on the Today Show and promised to donate to the Hospice of Palm Beach County1. After hearing of the concept as means to raise awareness, Pete Frates who is now often closely associated with the challenge, decided to incorporate the challenge as part of a cause he himself was passionate about. A native Bostonian and former college baseball player for Boston College who himself had been diagnosed with ALS, Frates posted his video on Facebook in hopes of gaining awareness and donations for the ALS Association. Although Frates did not actually dump the water over his head citing that “ice water and ALS are a bad mix”1, he did bring attention to the trend, and challenged others to partake in order to help him with his goal.

Frates was already active on social media and had a large social network and had even been awarded the Stephen Heywood Patients Today Award in 2012 for his efforts in fundraising in the past2. Frates began tweeting about the challenge to gain more exposure, and his network of friends began to participate, share and tweet as well. Through Frates’ efforts, and the efforts of others like him, as well as the involvement of well-known public figures and celebrities, the challenge took on a life of its own. There were over 2.2 million tweets about the ALS ice bucket challenge between July and August and over 1.2 million videos posted to Facebook between June and August1. The power of social media was certainly prevalent during this time.

Many people criticize the concept of the challenge, because they feel too many people use the option to post a video in lieu of donating any money, rather than focusing on what the point of the challenge should be, which is to give to worthwhile causes. While this may be true in some respect, there is no denying that the challenge did in fact have a positive impact on fundraising and contributing to the ultimate goal. The ALS Association confirmed that it had received over $13 million in donations between July and August, compared to a little under $2 million during a similar time period in previous years1.

The ice bucket challenge is just one example of the social media phenomenon. While some of this may result from peoples’ need to participate socially and follow suit with what is trending, there is something to be said about the power of social media. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide a platform for individuals that they would not otherwise have. People can share with all of their friends or followers, who then share with their friends and followers and the pattern continues with the multiplier effect amplifying the results. Traditional forms of publication and advertising would not be able to achieve such results, which speaks to the power of the social media. The important thing to consider is how this power will be utilized going forward in the age of social media.

1http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/business/ice-bucket-challenge-has-raised-millions-for-als-association.html?_r=2

2https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHdVDZMEhi4

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