I need to clarify. Yesterday on my Facebook wall I posted a status: "Can everyone STFU about the ice buckets? Just be a good person and support good causes with or without cold water."
I didn't mean this as an attack on the #ALSIceBucketChallenge, which some read into due to the vagueness of which audience I was directing this status to. Actually, I meant quite the opposite.
The #ALSIceBucketChallenge is probably one of the most successful viral campaigns in recent dates yielding multi-millions of dollars to better fund research and help those affected by the disease.
This is why I love social media. Sometimes a hashtag seems empty, but once you follow a hashtag up with action in real life, it can change the world.
My status was in response to all the haters out there, those who decided to post statuses and judge people who decided to engage in a viral PR campaign when it's for a good cause. I had some articulate friends who had nuanced and interesting responses.
Social media is a breeding ground for moral superiority or environmental righteousness. However, in the explosion of information that social platforms perpetuate and create, people don't often weigh in with the intention behind these campaigns.
Engaging in viral campaigns for a good cause isn't vain, stupid, wasteful, or self-reverential. Why do viral PR campaigns (for a good cause) garner moral or environmentally superior haters? Isn't good intention intrinsic in accelerating a good cause via social media? When did we become so cynical to believe that everyone is trying to be a bunch of martyrs?
There's no way to measure "intention" on social media. How can we know the motives of a person when everything on social media is self-edited? We can only trust that people are doing things for the right reason.
Skeptics of the Social-Media-for-Social-Good School of Thought may proclaim that people "like" or "post" only to receive the virtual pat-on-the-back, to make them feel good about themselves, that everyone is undoubtedly and at all times self-interested. This "I post therefore I am," mentality, creates a virtual world of solipsism. It's important not to believe that all the time because it only causes cynicism.
To whatever your theoretical thoughts are, we can share them or keep them to ourselves, but at the end of the day, the only "truth" is that raising more than $22M dollars (and counting) is an incredible feat.
As a PR professional, I've stepped back to watch the virality unfold, and there were three main components that made this campaign very successful, something to really admire and remember. Each tactic demonstrates how social media perpetuates social good. Philanthropies should remember these tactics when building their next fundraising campaign.
- Video builds accountability and engagement. When you see it you often believe it a bit more than when you read it. It's not just about the testament you document as proof of your own actions, there's something about video content that deeply engages an audience rather than just the written word by itself on social media. It's more experiential and causes visceral reactions, which more often than not, is more persuasive than convincing people through text.
Video, what's considered to be "visually rich content," also allows people to experience social content differently and at higher rates. Video can have five times the higher engagement rate, two times the reply rate and, if on Twitter, two and a half higher the retweet rate. Intrinsically, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge campaign used the right medium to get people's attention, and to share it wildly.
- Challenging others is a good thing. Embedded in the #ALSIceBucketChallenge's viral PR campaign was for the Ice Buccaneer (see what I did there?) to challenge his or her friends to do the same. This causes the "pay it forward" effect, publicly, tagging them on Facebook to make sure he or she and all his or her friends are up for some friendly challenge for a good cause, keeping people honest.
Social pressure is a precarious force; people cite the dangers of the "mob mentality" but, obviously, when discussing a viral campaign for fundraising, this "mob" is good. It could also be deemed a grassroots groundswell, in terms of campaign-speech.
When channeled in the right way, social pressure, or the social media effect, can perpetuate social good. A viral campaign can get people to do things they wouldn't be compelled to do otherwise because they hadn't heard of a cause until it was thrust onto their newsfeeds and they had a call to action to live up to.
- Create a ritual for people to share, and at the end of the day focus on what your actions yield. Whether or not you want to roll your eyes at a person's perceived "intention" behind someone's social media postings, social pressure is a good thing when it's for a good cause. Instead, maybe participating in a social media ritual can do some good.
Now, some may say, "well what's empirically a good cause?"To that, I'd say, "This isn't a time for semantics and philosophical arguments." (Note, I realize this article, may be just that.) Doing something to support the raising of money/services/aide to help the sick or less fortunate is always a good cause. Judging people for engaging in the social good isn't. You are no better or worse as long as you have the right intention and take action to do good.
People know when something is "good," when there's the intention to be generous and commit to betterment. It's also a "good cause" when it's an accredited organization that can properly funnel the funds to the right place.
What does judgment do anyway? Nothing.
The point of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge was to get people's attention, challenge them to demonstrate their dedication by pouring ice water over their heads. The intention of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge campaign wasn't to give people the option to dodge the ice or dodge the donation. It was asking you to do both, or at least donate and pay it forward by getting others involved.
The ice buckets were here to incite a movement, to fight for something. The ice bucket, the ritual, bonded people together and made things happened.