By now you’ve heard of The Ice Bucket challenge.

It’s very straight forward.

  1. Fill up a bucket with cold water and ice
  2. Dump it over your head
  3. Nominate three friends to do the same
  4. They then have 24 hours to accept the challenge or donate to ALS to raise awareness about Lou Gehrig’s disease

Friends, celebrities, politicians, business leaders and everyone in between are stepping up.

The speed that this latest internet meme has spread amazes me. Even more interesting is how it’s transcended any demographic I can think of.

At the risk of hyperbole and abuse of the word “literally”, literally everyone is doing it.

So let’s take a closer look at why this campaign has been so successful. This might teach us a few things about how our software can share some of these same viral characteristics.

5 Viral Characteristics That Make The Ice Bucket Challenge So Successful

1. Lack of Bodily Harm

Some internet challenges are dangerous at best and borderline Darwinian at worst. I’m looking at you “light yourself on fire challenge”.

One of the origins of the Ice Bucket Challenge – the Cold Water Challenge – suffered from this flaw by requiring participants to jump into a body of cold water in the middle of winter.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is harmless, appealing to a much wider demographic of participants.

2. It’s Easy

The barrier to entry is so low.

Supplies? Basically a bucket and running water.

No extensive setup either; you can complete the challenge from start to finish in under five minutes.

3. High Viral Coefficient

This is a key characteristic. By requiring each participant to challenge three more people, it helps ensure a high viral coefficient.

That’s the same reason those “good luck emails” your Grandma forwards you tell you to forward the same email to 10 more people or be cursed with eight years of loneliness.

4. Socially Conscious Penalty

It’s one thing to wimp out and face ridicule for not having the gall to complete a challenge. But the Ice Bucket Challenge is so (relatively) easy.

On top of that, it’s all for charity.

So if you skip out you come across as a real scumbag. Don’t underestimate the power of the social pressure.

5. Sense of Urgency

You only have 24 hours to complete the challenge.

Participants can’t wait idly for a week and hope their challenger forgets about it. The limited timeline creates a sense of urgency that encourages quick action before nerves, laziness or forgetfulness set in.

Which Factor Matters Most?

There’s no single factor here that matters more than the others. The combination of them is what makes this internet challenge so viral.

I haven’t been challenged yet – for better or worse – but that doesn’t mean I can’t still donate. I encourage everyone to donate to ALS too or pick a charity of your own.

Hopefully this post raises more awareness of ALS. I also hope you’ve taken away a lesson on how to make your software more viral.