THE BLOG

Lessons From a Social Media Phenomenon

09/09/2014 14:57 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In August The Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) well and truly took over social media, with a host of celebrities, business leaders and members of the general public jumping at the chance to film themselves pouring a bucket of ice cold water over themselves and making a donation to charity.

The IBC originated from the US charity ALS Association, with other associated charities like the MND Association in the UK benefitting from the donations made by its participants (ALS is a form of Motor Neurone Disease). For a period of two or three weeks it was just about impossible to miss this phenomenon, with Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds globally dominated by footage of their users taking the plunge, nominating their friends and family to take the challenge next. My Twitter feed was no exception, and it was fun to see business contacts, friends and relatives all over the world making their donations, becoming very cold and very wet in the process.

Inevitably, before long I had received a number of nominations from my social media network, which immediately led me to give some more thought to the charities that the IBC was supporting; indeed it is this that I consider to be the great end result of social media events like this.

A reminder of the importance of making donations and giving proper acknowledgement of the charity behind the IBC came from an unlikely source in celebrity and 'Jackass' star Steve-O, who pointed out that many celebrities were missing the point of the challenge by failing to give a proper reference to the charity they were supporting and by taking it as an opportunity to raise awareness for a very important cause: ALS, or more formally Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig disease.

Indeed this was a very pertinent message, with comments in response to Steve-O's including some social media users conceding that they in fact knew little or nothing about ALS or the ALS association. In my own case, I unfortunately was already familiar with ALS and the ALSA charity, having lost a friend and colleague to the aggressive and currently incurable form of motor neurone disease several years ago. The Ice Bucket Challenge gave me a good opportunity to reflect on the important work charities in this field do and indeed what an important cause this is.

The IBC has been a fun social media event, however it is also an excellent learning opportunity; alongside my own charitable donation I took the chance to reacquaint myself with the cause and with the important research work being undertaken by organisations like the ALSA and the MNDA in the UK.

At the height of the Ice Bucket Challenge's popularity, it was a topic of countless conversations, emails and social media interactions, with the subject of Motor Neurone Disease and its associated charities becoming highly topical. As a result of this and my own IBC, I learned of no fewer than 14 people within my network that had been affected by MND of one form or another, of these four of my current colleagues had lost parents to MND - which I did not previously know. Another connection, a former colleague, has an Aunt currently suffering from MND - and she too participated in the IBC herself last week. I was astonished and left somewhat ashamed I had not known - I do now & as a consequence have an even greater appreciation of the disastrous consequences of the illness that currently has no known cure.

Though the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign as a whole was not without its flaws, and of course it drew its fair share of criticisms for one reason or another, I would suggest it provided an example of social media's potential to educate and highlight a cause or issue. A colleague asked me this week whether I ultimately consider social media events like the IBC to be a good thing; after giving the question some thought I came to the conclusion that 'yes' they are - however I say this with some reflective caution in that I believe it extremely important we (the social media community as a whole) do not overdo it. Clearly social media is a great way of reaching people, not only to fundraise but also to raise awareness and knowledge of charities and what they do.

From my own point of view, I learned something new about ALS and MND, as well as a number of other important causes that my network highlighted. Likewise I hope a lot of the people who have been involved with the Ice Bucket Challenge and charity projects associated with it have done the same. Social media is a very good mechanism or platform for communicating and creating awareness, however we must take care that we don't create a process where people become immune to the message because they see it too often, or because the core message behind a campaign takes a back seat to the campaign itself.