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As the creator of The Women’s Code and an avid user of all things social media, I find it fascinating to watch an idea go viral. As business owners, we want our ideas to go viral, too. Understanding the principles behind a successful campaign can teach us how to apply them to our own businesses for better social media exposure or to start our own meme. So let’s investigate the principles that made the ALS challenge become so popular.

(If you’ve forgotten why you need to participate in social media, here’s one of my own viral articles to remind you.)

In case you have been asleep for the past two weeks, big names like Bill Gates, Justin Timberlake, and Mark Zuckerberg are taking the ALS ice bucket challenge. And it’s not just celebrities—all kinds of people from all over are dumping buckets full of ice over themselves to raise awareness and money for the ALS Association.

Here are the five incredibly simple principles that made this idea go viral, and they can work for your idea, too:

  1. Familiarity: The idea feels familiar because we have seen sports players pour Gatorade buckets over the heads of many coaches. Maybe it’s even happened to you or you’ve done it to someone else.
  2. Winner mentality: We know that in sports, the ice bucket only gets poured over a winner’s head. Who doesn’t want the attention that a winner gets? The coach is the type of winner who works in the background and suddenly he or she is propelled in the forefront.
  3. Having fun: Who doesn’t want to do something outrageous or slightly stupid once in a while? Now we have a simple idea and a good reason to do it, so let’s have fun with it.
  4. Sense of belonging: The ALS challenge is about recording yourself, posting your video, and challenging three other people to do the same. While anybody can do it, being personally invited makes us feel special. If we go through with the challenge, we belong to an exclusive club that includes notable celebrities and we all become part of team ALS.
  5. A good cause: Any idea, no matter how ridiculous or silly it may be makes more sense when it’s for a worthy cause. This challenge is a good-natured approach to raise awareness and a great excuse to do something outside your norm.

How can you apply these five principles to your big idea? You may not be able to hit all the points, but formulating and applying a strategy to your social media approach will help get you noticed.

The amount of money raised through the ice bucket challenge for the ALS Association is currently at $11 million. This is a smashing success for any fundraising program, and especially for a relatively unknown illness. Whoever came up with this idea is a marketing genius. Marketing genius, whoever you are, when can I have lunch with you?

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