Why Mathematically #IceBucketChallenge Went Viral

I remember listening to an NPR interview years ago on something called the 6 degrees of separation, which initially sparked my interest as a germaphobe. In reality it was actually about social media. Now, many years later with the recent virality of the #IceBucketChallenge and Cokes “share a coke with a friend” I can clearly see why the 6 degrees of separation was so revolutionary. This is a concept that everyone, especially in business and marketing, should keep in mind if they plan to have successful future partnerships, marketing campaigns or acquisitions.

Share a coke

The concept was first proposed around 1970 by Micheal Gurerich; who at the time was a mathematician at MIT working on his dissertation. He decided to investigate how intertwined our society really was, brought on by his observation of the exponential increase in communication and social networking, clearly he was on to something. Dr. Gurerich concluded that, "it is practically certain that any two individuals can contact one another by means of at least two intermediaries. In a [socially] structured population it is less likely but still seems probable. And perhaps for the whole world's population, probably only one more bridging individual should be needed."

Later another pre-doctoral mathematician by the name of Stanley Milgram, working underneath Dr. Gurerich, decided to test the same theory under the “whole world’s population” parameters. Dr. Stanley published what came to be the “small world” experiment where he showed that everyone is actually only separated by 6 degrees of separation. Essentially stating that we are all connected to the Dali Lama provided we use the correct 6 contacts.

6 degrees of seperation

If you have been living under a rock, then you may not have heard about the ALS challenge. The challenge was adopted by the ALS Foundation and requires you, when nominated, to dump a bucket of ice water over you head or donate money to the ALS foundation, analogous to a dare or bet. The kicker was that after completing the challenge you can nominate 3 people to replicate the challenge. As you can image this is were the virality component comes into play as well as a perfect example of how the 6 degrees of separation works.

The ALS challenge actually started with pro golfers who, for the sake of competition and thrill, did the #IceBucketChallenge; later the ALS foundation then put a monetary spin on it. The reason for the #IceBucketChallege overwhelming success could be attributed to many things; however, if we were to narrow the factors down to one we would see that the “challenge” aspect was the reason for it’s viral success as each person nominated 3 people. Basically saying, “ Hey, I did this challenge for charity, don’t be a coward” and naturally after enduring such cold agony one would want to challenge many others.

The ALS challenge did a great job incentivizing the user to share and it was the key to becoming a viral campaign, especially since it only takes a couple users to catch the attention of a famous influencer, who then will connect to other similar influencers. This recently was also seen during Coke’s “share a coke” campaign where they printed individual’s names on the bottles, incentivizing people to share. So next time your trying to conjure up a new marketing campaign make sure to focus on what incentives you are providing the user to share your product or message with their friends.

Written by: Edwin
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