The Ice Bucket Challenge Phenomenon

The Ice Bucket Challenge Phenomenon


Have you taken the ice bucket challenge? Have you watched a video of someone you know taking the ice bucket challenge? Have you donated money to ALS because of the ice bucket challenge?

I’m willing to bet you answered “yes” to at least one or more of these questions. At the time of this writing, ALS has received $53.3 million dollars in donations.

There is already debate about the origin of the challenge. There are assertions that people spend more money on ice than they end up donating to ALS. There is concern of wasting water when it’s scarce and desperately needed in other parts of the world. There have been injuries to people participating in this challenge and some people are worried that other worthy causes, organizations that need donations are now being overlooked.

As with everything there is a positive and negative side. I’m sure the negative ramifications and controversies will continue for sometime before this ice bucket challenge runs its course and finally comes to an end.

However, I want to talk about another part of this challenge that is fascinating to me – the social media movement and the psychology of leveraging and motivating people from all walks of life (age, gender, socioeconomic, professional, political, geographical, religious, sexual orientation etc) to engage and unite them in the same task and action. This is not a small feat, especially in our otherwise polarized world.

My undergrad degree is in communications and since our modern day communication is very reliant on social media I choose to participate in it at a fairly high level. For the work I do and the message I want to get out I need to understand the platforms and interfaces in which I can communicate with my audiences, so I dabble and experiment with a lot of social media. Like everything, social media has its downsides but when used to influence positive behaviors, outcomes and connections i.e. engaging a couple million people to collectively give $53 million within a few weeks time we need to step back and understand how this happened.

The other reason why the ice bucket phenomenon is interesting to me is from the motivational, behavior change side of things. I work in corporate wellness and I coach individuals on diet and lifestyle change. People fundamentally know what they need to do to “be healthier” but how do you get them to do it? How do you motivate them to change?


People do not want to be told what to do. They want autonomy, they want to feel they are in control of their choices. Motivation must come from within for sustainable action and change. So the question isn’t, “How can I get you to change?” The question should be “What conditions can be created to motivate you to change?”

The ice bucket challenge is a brilliant example of creating the right conditions for change and the method is called the Dragonfly Effect. This model shows us how to successfully call people into action in a short amount of time to make positive changes and impact the world around them. If you are a coach, work in organizational development or corporate wellness this is a model you should study and understand. While the basis of the Dragonfly Effect is for social media campaigns, the psychology and principles can be used by anyone who wants to inspire change in large groups of people.


The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, effective, powerful way to use social media to drive social change.

Why a Dragonfly: It’s the only insect able to propel itself in any direction when its four wings are in harmony. Small actions can produce big effects, especially in social media.

Dragonfly Symbolism: The dragonfly has long been a symbol of happiness, new beginnings and change across cultures.

Where did this idea come from: Husband and wife team, Andy Smith an experienced tech marketer and Jennifer Aaker a social psychologist and professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business wrote the book called the DragonFly Effect in 2010.


The Dagronfly Effect Model





These principles below are written about in detail in the Dragonfly Effect book. I added my thoughts to show how the ice bucket challenge created a Dragonfly success model and case study.


1. Focus – Raise money and awareness for ALS.

  • Humanistic – Many people know someone with ALS and they felt connected and included when nominated to complete this task.
  • Actionable – Dump a bucket of water on your head.
  • Testable – There is a 24 hour deadline for everyone to complete the task.
  • Clarity – Complete the task within 24 hours of your nomination or donate to ALS or both.
  • Happiness – Everyone felt included when they were nominated and felt immediate gratification (happiness) after completing the task.


2. Grab Attention – Dumping a bucket of ice water on your head grabs people’s attention!

  • Personal – Anyone can do it and they personalized their locations, bucket size, videos, etc
  • Unexpected – A cold bucket of ice on your head is unexpected to both you and the audience.
  • Visual – Everyone has their unique reactions to the ice water and we all visually experience those reactions.
  • Visceral – Cold ice water is one of the best ways to provoke a visceral reaction!


3. Engage – Getting large masses of people to engage in almost anything at the same time is never easy. People are not logical and they make decisions based on their emotions, here are ways to evoke emotions:

  • Tell a Story– Compelling stories with an arc, less is more. Most videos were 15-60 seconds. The “story” is all about the moment of impact with the water.
  • Empathy – Many participants have personal stories about loved ones with ALS and mentioned that on their video.
  • Authenticity – The more real you are the more people can connect with you. Soaking wet hair and clothes builds a common ground, no one is photoshopped and everyone can identify with that just-out-of-the-shower-look.
  • Media For Your Message – Everyone made a video.


4. Take Action – The transition from being interested, or knowing you should do something to actually following through and doing it.

  • Easy – It’s incredibly easy to stand in your backyard in the summertime and dump a bucket of water over your head while someone videotapes it on their Smartphone.
  • Fun – It’s playful and makes people feel childlike again.
  • Idiosyncratic – People want to feel like something is tailored for them, they have the advantage to do well and have impact.
  • Open–  All inclusive, no one wants to be left out, everyone wants to be part of something, and this is a task anyone can do.


From an organizational development, personal health coaching standpoint these points are worth noting. Whether you’re trying to develop a corporate weight loss program, or individual behavior changes i.e. people taking the stairs, or drinking more water, The Dragonfly Effect is something to consider. If I tell you to stop drinking soda right now you probably won’t do it and you might even become resentful and annoyed; remember people want to feel like they are making their own decisions and have autonomy around those choices. So when various 30 day health challenges and programs are offered that are engaging, fun and personal with a clear defined (what’s in it for me) focus, people are much more likely to participate and positively impact themselves and those around them.

The ice bucket challenge is an interesting example of intrinsic motivation which is something wellness professionals need to study. After all, our work revolves around motivating individuals and groups on things that are simple but not always easy. And controversy aside, the ice bucket challenge has been wildly successful in getting a large mass of people from all walks of life to take action on exactly that – a request that is simple but not always easy to follow through on – donating money to charity!


For more information on the Dragonfly Effect read the book flip through this slideshow or watch this video.