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4 Online Community Lessons from the #IceBucketChallenge

The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association, or ALS Association, received donations totaling over $100 million dollars because of the #IceBucketChallenge.

Several months earlier, Cancer Research UK received over £8 million for breast cancer awareness and research because of the #nomakeupselfie movement.

The awareness and funds raised for these worthy causes are not just examples of the power of social media, they’re also examples of the power of online communities.

Social media has made it easier than ever for people to find and join communities. Both campaigns tapped into strategies many online community managers know makes online communities successful.

  1. Create low barrier to entry: When it comes to causes, it can seem that the only way to make an impact is with a lot of money or time. For many people, even giving a small amount or a couple of hours is difficult. Both challenges circumvented that by inviting people to give nothing or something so long as they passed along the message. Creating awareness is a low barrier to entry that anyone, so long as they had a device that could take pictures or video, could meet.
  2. Invite active participation: Writing a check or slipping money into a collection jar typically happens without any fanfare and is quickly over. The #IceBucketChallenge and #nomakeupselfie movements required planning, setting the stage, and shooting a video or picture. The finished products invited others to like, comment, and share. Each challenge gave people the feeling they were doing something to create awareness of terrible diseases. When you consider that there is still a way to go until a cure is found for ALS and breast cancer, it can feel incredibly powerful to know you’re doing more than just standing still.
  3. Let the community lead the way: Neither the #IceBucketChallenge and #nomakeupselfie movements started out as fundraising movements. They were fun memes that became fundraising vehicles as each meme grew. They grew because they weren’t top-down corporate initiatives. Both became trends became fundraisers by people who wanted to tap into social media to do more than just share and do something good. Cancer Research UK and ALSA took no credit for creating either campaign and simply embraced what was happening.
  4. Create avenues to level up engagement: As the #IceBucketChallenge and #nomakeupselfie movements continued to grow, some participants began to ask others not just to generate awareness but to give. Both ALSA and Cancer Research UK responded by creating text-to-give codes and short links. Anyone who was moved to give could text the code and/or direct others to by sharing the short link. The text code and short links made it easy for any awareness campaign participants to become donors.

The success of the #icebucketchallenge and #nomakeupselfie exceeded anything any fundraiser or marketer could have hoped for. However, both ALSA and Cancer Research UK leverage online community building and management techniques any organization can use to meet their own goals.

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