What Radio Stations Can Learn About Promotions From The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
August 26, 2014
By now, you've probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The concept is very simple: The ALS Association, which fights Lou Gehrig's Disease, is challenging people to either make a donation, or post a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water onto their heads and posting it to social media. Then, challenge other people to do the same.
The Ice Bucket Challenge has become a viral phenomenon that has raised over $70 million. Hundreds of celebrities, from Jon Bon Jovi to Michael Jordan to Will Smith, have participated.
So what made this phenomenon go viral?
If we take a closer look at the challenge, we can identify several key characteristics of the challenge. Think about these factors when you create your next on-air contest, and you just might find your radio station's next promotion going viral as well.
In other words, enlist your audience members to create entertaining content. For example, with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALS Association isn't creating the viral videos; instead, they are encouraging other people to do so. You can do the same; create a contest that asks other people to create content to post online.
2. Keep it simple.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is ridiculously simple: Write a check, or pour a bucket of ice water on your head. The concept requires very little explanation, and the execution is something that anybody can do. Keeping it simple allows anybody to participate.
When you run contests that require people to know specific trivia or have a particular skillset, you limit the number of people who can participate. This limitation decreases the chances of your contest going viral.
3. Allow people to show off their creativity.
One of the great things about the simplicity of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that everybody can put their own unique twist on it. One of my favorite examples is actor Patrick Stewart's Ice Bucket Challenge video.
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters turned his Ice Bucket Challenge video into a parody of the classic scene from the Stephen King movie, Carrie.
4. Strive for the "Play Along at Home" Factor.
When I was a Program Director, I had a simple rule for contests: they had to be just as interesting for a person who is listening as they are for the contestant. I called this the "Play Along at Home Factor." Great examples of this are game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, which are enjoyable to watch even if you are not competing. Contests that reward "Caller #9" don't meet this criteria.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has a great "Play Along at Home Factor," because it is fun to watch even if you are not the one getting ice water dumped on your head. In fact, it's probably more fun if you're not the one getting soaked.
5. Use video.
Unfortunately for our medium, audio rarely goes viral. Videos, on the other hand, spread virally all of the time. This is because YouTube is a fantastic hosting platform, and social media channels -- especially Facebook -- are a great way to share videos. Most people now have a video camera in their phone, so it's easy for them to create video content. So if you want your radio contest to spread on the internet, find a way to incorporate video.
You may also want to consider incorporating images into your contest, which can also spread virally. (Think about the famous LOL Cats meme.)
6. Use a two-pronged ask.
Last year, I successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce an event. I realized early on that when I asked people for help, I was really asking them for two things: (1) to make a monetary pledge, or (2) to share my Kickstarter project with other people. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the only way people can support you is by giving money. But in fact, raising awareness is often just as useful.
The Ice Bucket Challenge employs the same two-pronged ask: give, or post a video.
In radio, we usually structure our contests with only one goal in mind: to encourage people to listen to the station. It's time to create contests that encourage people to do either of two things: 1) Listen to the station, or (2) Talk to other people about the station. Create contests that specifically ask for people to share station content on their social media channels.
7. Encourage people to "tag" others.
It's one thing to post a video of you pouring ice water on yourself. It's quite another to post a video of you pouring ice water on yourself, and then challenge other people by name to do the same.
One of the reasons the Ice Bucket Challenge is so successful is because it puts very pointed pressure on other people to respond. Interestingly, some people have used this as an opportunity to challenge their rivals. For example, Charlie Sheen challenged Chuck Lorre and Jon Cryer from his former TV show Two and a Half Men. Likewise, British comedian Russell Brand challenged Sean Hannity of Fox News, who Brand frequently criticizes online, to participate.
So when you set up your contest, don't just ask people to share their own content online. Give them specific instructions to "tag" other people in their content.
8. Use hashtags.
Hashtags make it easy for people to search for and identify content. This increases the chances that your content will spread. The ALS Association wisely instructed people to use the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge when posting their content to social media. Do the same to increase the likelihood of your contest going viral.
9. Help out a good cause.
Everybody likes to support a good cause. Despite some rumblings about the pitfalls of "slacktivism" or the impact on California's drought, the Ice Bucket Challenge has an overwhelmingly positive vibe to it. People enjoy knowing that they are both doing something fun and helping a good cause at the same time. That goodwill increases the chance that people will support the cause and share the content. So if you can find a way to tie a charity organization into your contest, you'll increase the likelihood that your contest will go viral.