The Ten Million Dollar Hashtag

Suresh dumps a bucket of ice water over his head as part of the #ALSIceBucketChallengeIn the past month, the ALS Association has received more than $11.4-million in donations, thanks to a fundraising campaign in which celebrities pledged money, doused themselves with a bucket of ice water, then tweeted about it using the hashtag #ALSIceBucketChallenge. The association, which finances research and provides care services to assist people with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), raised only $1.7-million in the same period last year.

[ Updated August 21, 2014: The hashtag campaign has now raised more than $41-million for the ALS Association.]

It’s interesting to observe how the campaign went viral, and the crucial role of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge hashtag. I’d seen the ice bucket challenge mentioned on a number of tech industry blogs and twitter lists over the past week, often with video of some celebrity dousing themselves with ice water – Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Timberlake, even Ethel Kennedy. (My favorite was Bill Gates, who welded together a cool contraption to suspend the bucket for maximum drench time.)

One of the key vectors pushing the campaign forward was that each participant challenged three of their colleagues to also take part – within 24 hours.

At first I was a little skeptical about the whole deal, given the tenuous connection between an ice water shower and support for research on a devastating neurological disease. And although the company I work for makes enterprise data storage systems, we don’t typically hang out with Zuckerberg. Or Oprah.

But then late last Friday, I was perusing our social listening system when up popped a tweet from a competitor, with a link to a video of their CEO dunking himself, and challenging three others, including our company’s CEO. We had no choice, which is one reason this campaign is so brilliant.

I emailed our CEO, Suresh Vasudevan, and the key people on the corporate comms team to let them know we’d been challenged, and by early the next day Suresh had shot a terrific video (YouTube link). Naturally, he extended the challenge to three other leaders in the enterprise data storage industry (including the CEO of one of our largest competitors), further increasing the campaign’s reach. We uploaded the video to YouTube, then tweeted and posted to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.

The response has been amazing. In less than two days, Suresh’s video has gained 1,300+ YouTube views and more than 120 Facebook Likes, both of which are way higher than normal results.

Our company pays a lot of attention to “soft factors” like measuring employee satisfaction and engagement, and I’m convinced that moments like this are key to building and maintaining that engagement, because people today want to be part of something bigger than themselves – a force making our communities and our world a better place.