3 social media ROI lessons from the Ice Bucket Challenge

Two years after going viral, the campaign that asked participants to dump ice water on their heads offers insight into how social media marketing can make an organization serious money.

Nearly two years after the Ice Bucket Challenge took the internet by storm, asking millions of people to pour ice water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS (and donate to the cause), the ALS Association has proven the value of social media. Research funded by the challenge has led to the identification of a gene responsible for the disease.

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $115 million in eight weeks and engaged numerous celebrities. Social media users posted 17 million videos online.

As the movement grew, so did awareness of ALS and its debilitating effects. Not only did the Ice Bucket Challenge introduce new audiences to ALS and build a case for funding research, but it led to an important scientific discovery that many herald as a breakthrough.

That is ROI worth talking about.

How do you create the next Ice Bucket Challenge?

For many nonprofits, engaging 17 million people in eight weeks would be a dream—as would raising $115 million in the same amount of time. There isn’t a foolproof process to ensure your social media campaign will go viral, but there are several lessons marketers can learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge:

1. Keep it simple. The campaign didn’t ask people to walk on the moon or set a world record. It asked them to fill a bucket with ice water and pour it on themselves. This was a free, simple task—aside from bearing the chills.

2. Make it shareable. Challenge participants shot videos on their smartphones and uploaded them to social media. This didn’t require any editing or post-production tinkering. Participants could easily share their videos across social networks, and their friends could participate with just a few clicks.

3. Close the loop. What better way to keep participants and donors engaged with the cause than letting them know how much of a difference they made? Two years have passed since the Ice Bucket Challenge craze, but it remains relevant. It is a case study in successful social media marketing and an online fundraising success story. Plus, social media users are discussing the research the campaign funded.

As nonprofits hone their fundraising strategies and social media marketing programs, they should find simple ways to create shareable, digestible and actionable content. Every nonprofit has the opportunity to engage existing and new audiences with their cause.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Co-Communications blog.

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