Causes and Opportunities

Last month, a million campaigns were launched on Facebook by a million different brands and companies. Most were likely following “foolproof” plans for raising brand awareness through comments, “shares” and “likes.”

[Yes, I rounded up on those numbers. But probably not all that much.]

Out of nowhere, though, came the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It jumped out of the cluttered Facebook wall landscape, and we all took notice. Many of us participated in it, by pouring a bucket of ice water (and ideally making a donation) to raise awareness and funds for the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, and sharing a video of it.

While many marketing efforts on Facebook garner response percentage rates in the low single digits, the Ice Bucket Challenge smashed expectations. Over 1.2 million participant videos were shared, and in one month, from July 29th to August 29th, the ALS Association received $100 million in donations.

So what was behind the campaign’s success? And what can marketers, especially of causes or non-profit organizations, learn from it?

1. People Are (and Build) Their Own Brands 

Social media profiles give people a way to carefully craft a persona, through the pictures they post, the comments they make and share, and the pages (of bands, teams, movies, celebrities, organizations and more) they like.

Additionally, statistics and studies of Millennials indicate that even the edgiest, goofiest, most over-the-top or most eager-to-seem-disaffected of them want to be seen has having causes they care about and support.

“Be sure to plan and employ social media tactics
that build awareness and audiences patiently…”

2. Embrace the New Form of Activism

For better or worse—it’s frequently argued both ways—Facebook has allowed “contributing” to a cause to require less of a contribution (meaning less commitment, time, donation or action) than ever before.

That does, though, make it the perfect medium for cause-related marketers and non-profits to build awareness and audiences, even if it won’t necessarily lead to donations, at least not right away.

3. Just the Right Level (or Kind) of Involvement

Pour a bucket of ice water over your head. Then challenge three friends of yours on Facebook to do the same in a 24 hour period. The Ice Bucket Challenge put forth those directions, but gave Facebook users control over everything else: location, wardrobe, co-stars, script and length.

It’s important for marketers to not ask for too much of their audiences, in terms of action or participation. It’s important to create a premise (like that Ice Bucket Challenge) that gives participants the chance to play up their favorite personal qualities—their humor, their heartfelt feelings about a cause, even their macho side—and be themselves.

4. The Message’s Authenticity is All About Its Source

One thing that made the Ice Bucket Challenge so compelling, authentic and effective was the spokespeople—regular members of the Facebook community and their friends. Only a little later did it become celebrities. Being spoken (and even marketed to) by friends is often so much more effective than being spoken to directly by brands.

The ultimate goals should be to give your audience a way—or better, a reason—to speak highly of your brand to their friends, without directly asking them to do so.

5. Set More Achievable Goals that “Viral”

Dream wildly that your brand—especially if it’s that of a hardworking (and cash-strapped) non-profit—will become wildly popular because of something you put forth on Facebook. “Creating a viral sensation” is possible! But remember that it’s unlikely. Be sure to plan and employ social media tactics that build awareness and audiences patiently, and than ask them for enjoyable but short-and-simple levels of interaction.

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