Unless you’ve been living under a icy rock in Antarctica for the past month, you’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I started hearing about it about a month from the time I’m writing this, but it didn’t really set in until I saw a few good friends on Facebook dump a bucket of ice over their head and nominating a few other people I knew. I’ve seen many viral campaigns like this in the past, but something about this particular campaign has made it a true social media phenomenon.

In this post, I want to break down exactly why this has become a phenomenon and how it drastically effects the future of your association in the digital age we live in. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge means much more than you think to your association. Let’s dive into 5 critical components of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that are critical to improve all major areas of your association.

Membership growth starts with close connections

One of the most critical components behind every viral growth tactic in social media is the source of the content being shared and how relevant it is to your life. According to (ALS’s association website), over 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. I’m sure we all know of someone close or through our connections that has somehow been effected by this crippling disease.

The emotional connection we make to those effected makes it relevant to our lives so we don’t just view the videos of people pouring ice over their head as a silly activity. In reality the ice pouring is simply an attention getter, but the real reason the phenomenon has grown is due to the connection you have to the people sharing the content. Think about all of your friends on Facebook or even celebrity figures that have taken the challenge. Without the association, it might not make as big of an impact. Below is a link to see exactly how the challenge got started.

The big lesson you can take from the exponential growth of the challenge and it’s major effect on donations is who you are engaging to grow your membership. Instead of looking outside to grow your membership, consider providing ways to empower your existing members to attract new members. There are many ways to make it happen.

Member Content and Sharing is Fuel for Mission Awareness

If you’ve taken notice, the virality of the ALS Bucket Challenge didn’t come from a message directly from ALS, it came from user generated content. Videos are being created from everyday people, celebrities to political figures. Each type of person has a network of people that has an email or phone connected to the social network where these videos are being posted.

Another factor is the part of the challenge to nominate 3 people to take the challenge. If you’ve taken notice, the type of people nominated are connected closer to the person actually participating in the challenge. For example purposes, let’s take Michael Jordan’s video.

Take notice he invites his dream team teammates. Each of these people have their own large network of followers. Get my point?

The lesson here for your association is to think of ways to provide your members a way to share relevant content. Maybe start by incentivizing them through a reward system (i.e. gamification) in an online community. Connect like-minded members inside of groups (i.e. committees, interests, etc.) to share ideas. The key is getting your members to talk more than you. Your job is just to provide the environment to do so.

Increasing Member Engagement Needs Context

One of the most critical factors in the undoubted success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is WHY it exists. The goal of the challenge is simply to raise awareness and funds to help combat this disease. Without purpose, it wouldn’t have influenced so many people and would be viewed as just a silly social media fad.

In order to engage the members of your association, you need to bring the element of context and purpose. For example, launching a Facebook page doesn’t necessarily bring context and purpose to your members. They might “Like” the page, but see no value besides just making sure they represent their association properly.

Creating a private online community that connects your members in the context of groups, committees, topics and interests could be very effective at encouraging participation. There’s one simple reason why this works. Your members know exactly why they are a part of it. Therefore they know what to share and who to connect with inside of the community.

Mobility Increases Your Mission Visibility

According to CNN Money in an article posted January 2014, 55% of internet usage in the United States comes from mobile devices. The platforms used for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge are mainly Facebook because of 1) the ease of publishing new content from mobile devices and 2) how easy it is to view the video content. Without the explosion in mobile phone usage for internet access, we might not have seen the rate of virality behind the challenge.

The lesson here for your association is to make sure all of your communication channels with members are mobile compatible. Your website, online community and even email campaigns need to be available and user friendly on mobile devices or you simply diminish the chances of your content making an impact not only with current members, but potential members as well.

Where You Engage with Members is Everything

As I mentioned, Facebook is mainly the social network of choice for sharing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos. It’s where people expect to go to engage with friends and family. I doubt the contest would have evolved the way it did on say LinkedIn. The way you are connected to people on LinkedIn isn’t tied to your personal network of family and friends. The relationship is just different.

The lesson here for your association when it comes to choosing the right platforms to communicate with your members is to make sure it’s purpose is clearly defined. For example, if you want to share important information to only members, you probably don’t want to share it on a Facebook page. The chances of that important information being viewed is highly dependent on the fact that your members even use Facebook, or at least pay attention to any business related activity on it.

Instead, you might want to create a private online community that exists for the sole purpose of connected members, groups, documents, etc. Connect that community with email and mobile notifications and you bypass dependencies on other systems. The goal, keep members feeling connected to increase member retention.

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