Ken Mandel
Aug 25, 2014

No, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t a waste of time (or water)

A small backlash doesn't detract from what the challenge has achieved, nor what it says about the way technology has changed the way we rally around social causes.

Ken Mandel
Ken Mandel

I guess it was inevitable. It was only a matter of time before detractors of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge would emerge, calling all things foul about the campaign, which aims to raise awareness for the debilitating illness almost entirely via social media. 

Don’t get me wrong, I welcome alternative point of views. We should always encourage them as a society. There is also some logic behind these emerging anti-Ice Bucket Challenge views: It’s not environmentally friendly melting all that ice. There are children on the planet who don’t even have access to clean drinking water yet people are carelessly wasting valuable ice instead of sending it to Africa (in a refrigerated container?!).  

However these critiques, though well-intentioned, are entirely missing the point. 

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was reportedly first detected by British neurophysiologist Augustus Volney Waller in 1850 when he became the first to describe the degeneration of severed nerve fibers, now known as Wallerian degeneration. Nearly two decades later, in 1869, French doctor Jean-Martin Charcot began talking about ALS symptoms in his autopsy patients. But it wasn’t until over half a century later, in 1939, that the debilitating disease finally made headlines when baseball player Lou Gehrig gave his famous “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech at Yankee Stadium.  

See also: Ice-Bucket Challenge hits Asia's media industry

Why the history lesson? My point is that painful, debilitating but rare diseases like ALS often only enter the spotlight when famous people like Gehrig, or physicist Stephen Hawking, are struck by them. This unfortunately does not scale. Nor does it tell the story of thousands of everyday people suffering from this horrible disease.  

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is an example of how technology is now changing this for a great number of important causes. These types of online, social-media campaigns will change the way we rally around causes, and will help us raise global massive awareness and money in ways that we have never been able to do before. Gamifying a cause through social media like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge worked well because it’s got an element of fun. It encourages people to participate and get their hands dirty, and engage their existing networks of friends. It also doesn’t hurt anyone (well, except for these people) and while it might be slightly annoying to have your social-media feeds filled with people throwing ice over their heads, it certainly can’t be any worse than Cat Videos or Farmville requests, which as far as I can tell have not raised any money for anything worthwhile.  

If you’re still not convinced, look at the bare facts: as of this writing the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised a whopping $53 million since July 29th. On the other hand, the ALS Association raised only $64 million for the entire year of 2013. Plus, there’s no doubt more money will be raised for ALS as the contest continues to penetrate new regions and circles. 

When the challenge does inevitably slow down, I hope the ALS Association embraces social media to continue to drive donations and awareness. For example, they could take advantage of the now well-established hash tag #ALSIceBucketChallenge to keep track of people who’ve been involved in the challenge, and nicely remind them over social networks like Twitter, to continue donating. The ALS hashtag represents an amazing social media database of potential donors and a way for the ALS Association to continue communicating to people about ALS once all the buzz calms down.

As more and more organizations start to take advantage of social media in similar ways, it will be interesting to see how the culture of fundraising evolves and grows. Please donate here. If you are still not convinced that hating the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is not a complete waste of time read this

Ken Mandel is APAC managing director for Hootsuite

Free social-media webinar tomorrow morning

Ken Mandel joins Thomas Crampton, global managing director of [email protected]; Jamshed Wadia, head of social media, APAC & Japan, Intel; and Jason Wincuinas, managing editor, Campaign Asia-Pacific, for The Hashtag Syndrome: Building Your Social Media Brand.

This free webinar takes place tomorrow (26 August) at 7.30am India time, 10am Singapore/Hong Kong time, and 12 pm Sydney time. Register now.


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