Decoding social media challenges. Why are they so effective?

If you haven’t spent the last 10 years living under a rock, you have come across the new fad sweeping social media in the form of challenges.

The newest craze taking social media by storm is the 10 years’ challenge. In essence it entails sharing a picture or a video of yourself from 10 years ago and now.
Although it might be tempting to just notch these challenges down to a frivolous fun, the vast scope and engagement that it has garnered can’t really be ignored. It is enough to say that one of the most popular examples the Ice Bucket Challenge garnered more than 100 million dollars for people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. These numbers show the potential of such challenges and it would seem they are here to stay. So what exactly makes this phenomenon so successful?

Spontaneous and natural

We should begin by saying that these things usually happen very naturally in a spontaneous fashion. Oftentimes the initial impetus and original creator of a challenge is a mystery to many. With an obvious beneficiary absent, psychologically it makes it easier to join in because you do not feel as if your actions are serving to benefit a specific group or company.
This makes sharing the material amongst friends easier, since the noticeable discomfort associated with participating in a commercial game is absent, as these are usually seen by everyone as just a different type of unwanted spam.

Peculiar and unique

Another pivotal aspect comes in the form of these challenges standing out by being unique. Social media has opened the possibility for each and every one to become a source of news and information. This in turn flooded the average newsfeed with pictures of fluffy kittens and old cliché and often out of context quotes and phrases by long gone philosophers and writers. In this, to put it harshly, cesspool of trivial information, something original and unique becomes a sought after prize.
If person comes across a video of someone dumping an entire ice bucket over their heads while browsing their social media, at the very least it should peek their interest to look into it a bit more and find out why exactly was it being done in the first place. After all, anything and everything that is usual and mundane does not work in the realm of social media challenges. The opposite is true, as this phenomenon is marked with acts that could be described as fun, unique, daring, silly and in times outright disgusting.

If Bob can do it, why can’t I?

Another important aspect that pulls people into these challenges is the idea ‘if THAT GUY can do it, why can’t I?’. A challenge in itself is a motivating factor and if the gauntlet is thrown at you, there is a natural instinct to take it up. The drive to prove yourself motivates people to join in. Participation in activities out of the norm for us is a way to show ourselves as brave, honorable, strong or just plain interesting. After all, one of the reasons for using social media in the first place is to show ourselves to our friends and sometimes one-up them while doing it.
Obviously, friends and social circles are not the last things to entice engagement. When a challenge goes viral, it becomes very difficult to ignore it. Suddenly everyone is talking about it and, naturally, you want to become a part of this insider community. By beating the challenge, you officially become a part of the aforementioned community and can share in chuckling or actually being proud of it. The desire to belong to the popular group or at least not to be an outsider strongly sways people towards participation.

An honorable goal and celebrities

If the challenge levied against you has the aforementioned traits and there is an honorable goal that has already enticed celebrity participation, then it is destined to become viral. The Ice Bucket Challenge took the internet by storm not only because of its uniqueness, a major draw became the social awareness aspect as well.
You put something wacky and fun together with a wish to help people out and it is no surprise that it exploded the way it did. Amongst the many participants we can find one of the richest people in the world Bill Gates, Facebook’s own founder Mark Zuckerberg, singers Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, a basketball superstar LeBron James and many more people with a global following.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is joined by other virial and socially aware projects like No shave November that tries to bring awareness to men’s health or the No make-up selfie challenge that is garnering funds for cancer research.

Plain and universal

The last ingredient that makes viral challenges so popular is their simplicity. The more rules, regulations and limitations are put into place the lower the participation rate.
Social media is meant for easy and quickly digestible content, not long winded conversations or complicated and hard to understand stories. Nowadays people don’t want and often simply don’t have the luxury to watch a 30-minute video. Because of this, viral challenges rarely last longer than a few minutes. A manageable video like this can easily be squeezed into a coffee break, a walk in the park or during your commute to work. After all, it is intriguing to see what is that new thing that everyone is talking about.
Finally, successful social media challenges do not discriminate you by your age, race, sex or socioeconomic standing – everyone is welcome. This perhaps is one of the most important yet difficult to achieve principle for success.

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