In-depth: Viral social media campaigns help, but how much?

by Casey Diana

(Photo: Casey Diana)

At Pearly Pond, dozens of student-athletes jumped into the water as their peers cheered them on.

While the 70 degree weather helped, these student-athletes would have been going into the water no matter what the weather was on April 24th.  The Student-Athlete Activities Council (SAAC) selected a Polar Plunge for this year’s Make-A-Wish fundraiser.

With all of the athletic teams at Franklin Pierce donating to the cause, the event each year brings in a significant amount of money for the fund which helps children with cancer. Years past have seen the Franklin Pierce athletes participating in a Color Run 5k around campus, and last year featured an athletics-wide dodgeball tournament.

This year though, SAAC dipped into ideas on the internet, and decided to bring a wildly successful viral social media trend to campus, and over $1000 was raised by student-athletes, faculty and community members.

The Polar Plunge and the Ice Bucket Challenge are two of the most well known fundraising campaigns in the entire world.

Polar Plunges in general have no set fund or cause, giving the organizers the freedom to choose where to send the money raised. The Ice Bucket Challenge benefits the ALS Association. The challenge first took off during the summer of 2014 when former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates posted a video of him dumping ice water on his head and then calling out his friends to do the same within 24 hours or they would have to donate to the ALS Association. Frates suffers from ALS and has been shattering expectations set by his doctors following his diagnosis.

But just how effective are these social media campaigns?

During an eight week period in 2014, over $115 million was donated to the ALS Association, after the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral. This money has helped to fund research that has made major strides in fighting ALS, which is currently un-curable. There is no data on the success of Polar Plunges, as there is no one group or foundation that each plunge benefits.

Fundraisers such as Polar Plunges and the Ice Bucket Challenge are altruistic events, and according to Dr. Sander van der Linden, a professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge, “An altruistic event goes viral if it is a SMART campaign. Defined, a SMART campaign is one that can successfully leverage ‘social (S) influence processes, establish a moral (M) imperative to act, inspire (positive) affective reactions (AR), and translate (T) and convert social momentum into sustained real-world contributions.”

Van der Linden also noted that creating a viral movement is very difficult, and that many fail.

Junior Meg Schaeffer of the Women’s Lacrosse team said, “We tried to find something fun to do to raise money for a good cause.” Schaeffer is also the Treasuer for SAAC. “We wanted to change things up from the color run and dodgeball tournament, and we thought we could get a lot of interest from the student-athletes by doing a Polar Plunge.”


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