The past week or so my Facebook and Instagram feeds, likely just like yours, have been completely inundated with posts of friends pouring buckets of water mixed with ice upon their heads. Without sizzling temperatures nationwide this summer, it was apparent to me that the sole reason it seemed like everyone was doing so was to raise awareness for ALS, a disease that I often feel is either misunderstood, or worse, completely unknown to many Americans.
While I saw a few posts on my social media outlets that didn’t include any information about ALS, I was amazed by the number of people who chose to include information about the disease, how to donate, or used the hashtags like #ALSIceBucketChallenge that are trending worldwide. As a communications major, I immediately saw the value in creating awareness about a disease that, as I said before, is often overlooked by more common diseases.
While I thought everyone felt the same way about its value, my feed began to fill not only with the ice bucket challenge, but also with numerous statuses about the uselessness of the activity. While I can understand this point of view, so often in public relations we are not trying to raise any money, but instead draw attention to something in order to create buzz. Think of all the crazy things that Miley Cyrus does, for example, the purpose of so many of her stunts is just to get people talking about her, all completely free publicity.
I cannot begin to say how many times I’ve been challenged to come up with an idea that can go viral, but simply put, this is impossible. While some things are catchier than others, the ice bucket challenge during the summer, for example, nothing like this can be forced and when an idea like this “sticks” there is no amount of advertising dollars that the ALS Association could invest to get the same level of buzz that this simple, yet “sticky,” idea created.
But the funny part of this all is that while the idea was intended to create buzz, it also has created incredible value for the ALS Association that will go into countless hours of research. An article that Times released stated that just last weekend alone the organization raised over one million dollars. The amount of exposure it created, in addition to the monetary value it stimulated, is something that will effect the organization for years to come. Additionally, those suffering from symptoms of the disease who weren’t previously aware of them before the viral challenge may be able to seek help earlier. If that isn’t proof of the power of unpaid publicity (public relations) than I don’t know what is.
All that said, I just got nominated by my friend Katie and will be both donating and adding to this incredible publicity effort. I challenge you to as well.
All My Love,