27 Jan Has the friendship between charity and social media gone (ice) cold?
I think of the New Year as a giant seesaw. We’re all balanced on the pivot, with the year that was and the year to come at either end. It’s an opportunity to look both forward and back, to resolve and reflect in equal measure. At the turn of the year, the media is awash with stats and lists summing up all the major events, significant news stories, trends, tragedies, births, deaths, marriages and celebrations of the past twelve months. In 2014, social media continued to dominate our personal and professional lives, and it shows no signs of stopping any time soon. In today’s world, more and more companies are taking notice of social media and harnessing its power for spreading a message, whatever that message may be. One such group who, particularly in 2014, recognised its influence over the masses is the humble charitable organisation.
I began as one of the deniers – why would anyone want to douse themselves in ice water for the sake of a Facebook video? How is a selfie going to help cure one of humanity’s biggest killers? And I’ve started to notice an abundance of ‘taches on my social media feed come November too. To me, many of these campaigns looked like an excuse for self-promotion or narcissistic vanity. However, over the weeks, it became hard to deny that these seemingly bizarre campaigns were raising a bucket load of money for rather worthy causes, and that could only be a good thing.
Around 25% of the UK population took part in a charitable social media campaign this year. This method of fundraising probably didn’t begin with Cancer Research UK’s #nomakeupselfie (hashtag obligatory), but it was certainly the first to enter the public domain on a mass scale. Back in March, frantically finishing my undergrad dissertation, I happened to notice a surplus of selfies appearing on my social network feed. Selfies clogging up my news feed is nothing new (I am friends with plenty of 20-something modern women who value their intelligence but are also keen to flaunt their youthful beauty), but something was a bit different. Banished were the flushed cheeks, gargantuan lashes and bambi eyes, replaced with… well, nothing. It turns out that each #nomakeupselfie posted equated in a donation to charity, resulting in £8million raised for Cancer Research in six days.
A few months later, in the heat of summer, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge arose. Taking the globe by storm, the campaign began with an American ALS sufferer, and the ‘challenge’ soon snowballed. It was as simple as tossing a bucket of ice-cold water over your head, and filming your reaction. The campaign raised an unbelievable $100million for ALS Association.
It is impossible to deny that actually, these social media campaigns are pretty great. Raising millions in a matter of weeks is pretty much unheard of, but tapping into the accessibility and prominence of social media in our daily lives made this possible. A whole bunch of celebrities got involved too, which only gave the campaigns more momentum.
Nevertheless, these ‘slacktivist’ methods of fundraising elicited some unease amongst many. One in six Britons took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, but only one in ten donated. An air of competitiveness underlies much of social media, and these campaigns were no different. Participating became more about how many likes you could garner, rather than how much money you donated. Additionally, a level of peer pressure was present; with each campaign, the participant is encouraged to nominate other members of their family and friends to take part via a ‘tag’. However, if you choose not to continue the spread of the campaign, you must be an awful person, because after all it is ‘for charity’. Taking part in a campaign lets everyone know that you’re such a good Samaritan because you’ve donated money to charity, but people do this everyday and find no need to shout about it. Are we not able to live charitably without letting the world and his wife know?
I wonder how many people, like myself, helped fuel these campaigns despite feeling a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, perhaps the best thing about the #nomakeupselfie and #ALSIceBucketChallenge is that neither were started by a charity, but by people in an honest act of goodwill. Amongst all the trolls, rape threats and abusive language, it’s oh so refreshing to hear a positive story coming out of social media.
For all those looking to replicate its success, who am I to say if the ‘trend’ is over. Social media is a fickle master, but with an imaginative campaign and a stroke of luck, you may just achieve virality.
By Annie Quinton
(PS. There are many wacky and wonderful Ice Bucket videos out there, but perhaps no-one sums up the intention of the campaign more than Charlie Sheen. Take a look at his contribution below)