Social media has a vast array of uses- it’s used for people to trumpet successes and post pictures of tropical vacations. It’s used to post little witticisms we think of while in the shower. It’s even used systematically to raise awareness for certain causes. Businesses rely on social media to promote their businesses. Popular brands are investing in social campaigns to get their messages across to their audience. People of all walks of life have embraced social media as a means to show their work to the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most widespread and memorable use of social media for awareness purposes was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of this past summer. For the unfamiliar, this challenge entailed a person making a video in which he or she was doused in icewater. The person then challenged other people (typically friends, though celebrities often challenged each other) to complete the challenge.
The rules of the challenge mandated that a person must either donate $100 to the ALS Foundation or complete the challenge within 24 hours of being nominated. However, many participants opted to complete both parts.
The challenge was featured prominently on such shows as The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and it also made itself virtually impossible to forget due its near-constant appearances on Facebook newsfeeds. It was started by a college baseball captain to raise money for a local ALS organization, but the campaign quickly went viral and began to raise funds for patients across the country.
Understandably, this method of promoting awareness for a devastating condition met with its share of criticism – some people thought that this method of awareness promoted “slacktivism,” put too much pressure on people to donate, or trivialized the experience of living with ALS.
However, SolutionReach, a company specializing in online promotion, noted that, during the summer challenge, Google handled more keyword searches for “ALS” than it did for “ice bucket challenge.” In the 75 years preceding the Ice Bucket Challenge, virtually no progress had been made in research moving toward a cure for ALS. The challenge, however, raised an astounding $100 million for the cause over the summer alone (compared to $28 million the year prior).
The fact that the Ice Bucket Challenge raised impressive amounts of money is a major success of the campaign, but the benefits didn’t stop there. The Challenge promoted ALS awareness in major ways – 2.4 million Challenge videos were uploaded, logging over 28 million likes, shares, and retweets.
It’s possible that this innovative way of raising both money and awareness has inspired a new generation of social media activists. A Digital Persuasion study conducted by Georgetown University found that 55% of Ice Bucket Challenge survey respondents were inspired to engage further with social media to create a difference. Of that 55%, 43% attended an event, 52% donated food or personal items, 53% volunteered, and 68% donated money.
Thus, while detractors of the Ice Bucket Challenge would have viewers believe that the campaign was simply an exercise in frivolity, the opposite has been proven true – the challenge inspired many to donate in order find a cure for ALS, but it also inspired a desire for social change and a shift toward activism in over half of the people who participated. Through the growing momentum of group effort, ALS patients were able to gain new hope.