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August 21, 2014

How I Learned to Love the ALS #icebucketchallenge

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Unless you’ve been spending your summer hanging out alone in the woods, you have most probably heard of the ALS ice bucket challenge that has taken Facebook by storm. The idea is to raise awareness of and money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) through challenging friends to either dump a bucket of water over their heads or donate to the charity. 

Now, I have to admit- I have an aversion to this kind of viral social phenomena. I pretty much went on a Facebook detox during the days of the Harlem Shake. I find them cute at first, but being a cynical New Yorker, I quickly lose my patience by the third time they hit my feed. I felt no differently about the ALS #icebucketchallenge until I saw something interesting:

Bill Gates getting drenched…just like the rest of us.

Gates’ video made me realize several aspects of the challenge that are worth noting:

1. It’s the first time I can recall everyone from my aunt to former President George W. Bush participating in the same social campaign. There’s something magical about knowing that we can all find common ground and reveal our inner humanity through new media. When else could this have been possible?

2. Previously, the only way I was able to form this kind of “connection” to celebrities, even as a viewer, was on Twitter. This was the first time that I saw high-profile personalities posting videos that made them look less then glamorous to Facebook, particularly interesting to see after FB began automatically playing videos on the Newsfeed. Count this as a win for Zuck.

3. Advertisers take note; the campaign was a success precisely because of it’s simplicity and relatability. It crossed social boundaries because the action itself, the cause and the humor was universal. I also thought that the challenge from friends, combined with a 24-hour deadline ensured virality. While I’m not sure it would have worked if it was initiated by a company, as opposed to a charity, there are lessons to be learned.

4. Speaking of businesses, it was fun to see corporations reacting to a user initiated campaign for once instead of the other way around.

5. This is a testament that social media holds the potential to be used for something more significant than booty shaking (not to take away from booty shaking’s place in society). People want social networks to offer more and this campaign delivered.

Oh, and one last thing- the trend has produced some classic bloopers– enjoy!