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Word of Message: Summer 2014

Summer 2014 was full of viral messaging, complete with unique memes for fundraising (the Ice Bucket Challenge), a Kickstarter campaign for potato salad (huh?) and ended with CeeLo Green’s twitter ‘oops’ about rape which caused such a stir from the feminist group Ultra Violet that networks cancelled the celebrity’s Reality TV show.

The power of viral media is strong and continues to chatter-eclipse mainstream news stories, enter collective minds and conversation by osmosis. Could we ignore the Ice Bucket Challenge? No. Did we revel in witnessing big names self-dousing in the name of charity? Yes. And did anyone miss Sir Patrick Stewart’s classy approach?

Sir Patrick Stewart's Ice Bucket Challenge

Sir Patrick Stewart’s Ice Bucket Challenge

Matt Damon, using toilet water instead, helped garner attention for Charity:Water.org and raised the issue of a scarcity of clean water globally.

But did everyone pay as much attention to the charity itself? ALS raised over 100 million dollars for the cause through this viral campaign which featured the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah, Kerry Washington. But backlash always follows viral success, an afterthought packaged as outrage by those who do not pre-question their own participation in the trending. Investigations into ALS’s high six-figure salaries for top executives arrived in the past few days, with questions about what the research money for the disease actually achieves, and how many are served by the organization. (For more on this topic, see The Daily Dot‘s excellent coverage of the charity’s record). And, even more important, did those watching and sharing the ALS videos know that ALS stands for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord? Maybe not…but given that the disease affects approximately 5,600 people per year, why did this effort hit the sweet spot for viral activity this summer, while others remained little known? Such are the mysteries of viral media…

Yet some key elements to the ice bucket challenge were its social components: friends challenged friends and through the power of smartphones, posted short, videos of themselves being doused via social media. The story was simple, the visuals had mini-shock value and the acts for charity were by and large selfless. Altruism on display. Add money flow to the tune of millions. And celebrities got in on the fun factor. Also key: the season. It was summer in the Northern hemisphere! Could you imagine this ice cube campaign working in the winter? It coursed through a season of vacationing and beachwear, with ice buckets close at hand.

Word of mouth, rumor-messaging and wildfire ideas have existed as long as humans have communicated. And yet the speed with which Internet messages can now travel is unprecedented, meaning that fundraising campaigns can tip, videos can reach millions of views and careers can end overnight. All due to the power of viral media.

Another unexpected but highly welcome arrival of a viral media event for an industry slow to adapt to one-liners came in the form of an IndieGogo campaign for “Solar Freakin’ Roadways”.

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The goal? 1 million dollars to build the first solar roadway template in the Midwest of the United States. The tipping point? A video so fun, it coursed through Facebook and Twitter, gleaning $2.2 million for the campaign, with over 48,000 funders. Add to that a renewable energy audience eager for good news in a world still dominated by the oil industry, and campaign producers who knew their statistics, willing to engage in healthy debate through their Facebook page. At every step of the way they provided factoids for naysayers, which only amplified the activity on their pages.

So, how did we arrive here at viral media land? And how have we adapted so quickly to this form of word-of-mouth and word-of-click messaging? Here is the latest edition of Erik Qualman’s meme-worthy video series, The Social Media Revolution, filled with graphics-driven, tweet-worthy tidbits about how quickly social media has grown.

Pass it on? What’s your takeaway on the wow statistics?




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  1. Omar Hantash

    The ALS ice bucket challenge was pretty ingenious. I had a friend of mine who has no social media presence ask me why people were dumping ice cold water on their heads. I would go on to explain why, which in itself is raising awareness even though they weren’t donating to the cause.

    Soccer players, basketball players, pop stars and politicians took part in the als ice bucket challenge. My cousin doesn’t really care for Britney Spears or Matt Damon, however he loves basketball. He at first mocked the pop stars for partaking in “attention seeking shit”, but once he saw his favorite players partake in this, he did as well. So fans of each respective profession took notice of this disease and ice bucket challenge.


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