Power of Social Media and Non Profits

I am sure by now everyone has heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and most have probably participated. This was an ingenious idea that was made possible by the connections and overall size of social media. So what made this campaign so successful?

Let’s Take a Look Back

Let’s look at two of the most noted nonprofit social media campaigns of 2013. Water is Life chose to use a common hashtag #FirstWorldProblems, to grab the attention of social media users. The organization used individuals who are in need of clean water and aligned these images with first world problems in a series of videos which were shared over social media platforms. The reality of what is really important in life was enough to supply over a million days of clean water to those in need.

UNICEF used a campaign based on a common social media term “like it”. This campaign was honest and bold, but delivered a message that could be heard from miles away.Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 6.12.09 PM

According to Tom Khazan, a writer for The Atlantic, these ads called out the “slacktivists”, activists in symbolic action rather than action and made people realize action is more than a simple “like it”.

While both of these campaigns were bold and moving, neither produced the results of the ALS challenge, which as of August 2014, has increased from $2.5 million to over $70 million in donations from this time last year.

What did ALS do right?

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge called out the social media users in a similar manner as the UNICEF campaign, but the challenge required action, and better yet, videos of action, which turned viral, very quickly. The challenge also encouraged competition. Challenging one’s friends, on video, to compete in a challenge that is for a good cause provides the classic call to action so many marketers have learned about over the years.

The Water for Life campaign was successful at creating a call to action, without the same directive language as the ALS Challenge.   But the ALS’s message was simple and direct with a clear call to action: donate or get the ice bucket, or for most participants, match your predecessor and do both.

According to Eric Carson, the magic formula is hard to finalize, but a few key ingredients have helped with this incredible challenge:

  1. A compelling message
  2. Peer pressure and competition
  3. 24 hour call to action
  4. Clear and simple instructions

I am sure many copycat campaigns are to follow, but the ALS campaign has created a new relationship between social media and nonprofit organizations. ALS has worked hard for many years to promote their organization through traditional media and emerging media. This hard work is what made their organization known to the beginners of this challenge. Credit for this challenge should be given to both the hard workers of this nonprofit and the devoted friendship of the challenge originator.

Thank you ALS for working hard to save lives and assist those living with this disease.


3 thoughts on “Power of Social Media and Non Profits

  1. Do you think the fact that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was organic, that is, not constructed by the marketing department, played a role in its success? From my experience, friends and family hesitated to participate until they learned that it wasn’t a marketing gimmick. Once the story of how it came to be, which was by a regular person not affiliated with the organization, it seemed that more people were willing to get on board. Do you think the origin of the campaign impacts results?


    • Yes, and that is a great point to add to this blog. Organic campaigns, especially in the nonprofit sector, often tug on the heartstrings of individuals in a different manner than “commercialized” campaigns. I think many individuals feel as if marketing departments word too hard to promote a story, whereas an organic story is “real”. No marketers, no psychology, just simple people helping people.


  2. Do you think that part of it was that the UNICEF and Water is Life campaigns were designed to make people feel bad/guilty about their life and choices where as the ALS ice bucket challenge was fun and carefree? I think that both UNICEF and Water is Life had very strong messages that should make people appreciate what they have and maybe take a closer look at their priorities and motivations, but lots of people saw that and then didn’t want to watch it again because it would make them feel bad/guilty. In fact I have seen may people use the hashtag #firstworldproblems in a mocking way clearly not meant to in anyway promote the charity.


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