Social Media Challenges: Jump on the Bandwagon and Go Viral

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Heidi Lang

Instagram 101 | Feb 16, 2024

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If there’s anything that pushes people to do crazy things and post them on the internet, it’s social media challenges. From the classic ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to the precise choreography of trendy TikTok dances, challenges always reel people in. They’re entertaining to watch and even more exhilarating to join in on.

But what are these online challenges for in the first place? Are they gimmicky and unnecessarily outrageous, or do they actually help brands and online communities grow?

Today, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest challenges the internet has seen. We’ll zero in on the good, the bad, and the ugly and how these trends have evolved over the years. Keep reading to discover all these and more!

A group of friends filming a dance challenge video for social media.

What Are Social Media Challenges, and Where Can You See Them?

If you’re chronically online, you might be asking, “What are social media challenges anyway?” Why do people go ga-ga over them?

Internet challenges are trends that involve recording a video of oneself while doing a specific task or “challenge.” They’ll then post this video online and call on others to challenge them to do the same. The goal is to engage a large enough audience so that more people get inspired to do the challenge, too.

Plenty of challenges end up with thousands of videos of people all around the world taking on the trend’s task. Many of them are trends meant to showcase people’s talents, like dance or art challenges. Others are funny, lighthearted, and done for the LOLs, making them an integral part of social media meme culture. However, some challenges promote brands, charities, and important advocacies.

But where do you find these internet challenges? The answer is, well, anywhere on social media. From Facebook posts to long-form YouTube videos to short Instagram Reels and TikToks, internet challenges are everywhere.

As these trends spread across the internet, they quickly gain popularity. Even if a challenge starts on Instagram, it’s not surprising to see it spread like wildfire to other platforms.

A young influencer setting up her camera to film a challenge video.

Why Internet Challenges Are Fantastic for Brands

People create most challenges to express themselves creatively or humorously. But challenges can also be mounted and launched by brands to make noise about their business and products. When executed right, challenges can be awesome brand promotion tools to increase engagement and brand awareness among social media users.

There are plenty of challenges you can create to urge others to showcase your brand in their posts. For example, beauty brands can promote transformation challenges by showing before-and-after shots of their products. Fitness brands, on the other hand, can create motivational exercise challenges. If you have a food brand, challenge your followers to come up with the best recipes using your products.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to branded challenges. You just have to think of a task that is interesting enough for your target audience to want to try.

Challenges thrive when people participate in the trend. When you attach a brand name to a challenge, and it takes off, people who join in are essentially engaging with your brand. This can boost your engagement rate on social media, which can help push out your content more.

Posting videos of your brand’s challenge pushes it to a wider audience when people share them with their followers. This extra user-generated content helps boost your social media visibility, which can lead to higher brand awareness. Later on, this can translate to conversions and sales.

One way to make your branded challenge even more viral is by creating a special branded hashtag for it. It’s a terrific way to remind people that it’s your brand that came up with this trend that they love. You can also tap your brand ambassadors to join in on the fun so your challenge can gain more traction. 

Hall of Fame: Viral Challenges on Social Media Through the Years

People have always loved viral challenges on social media. But with the rise of new platforms and creators getting more and more creative with content, challenges have evolved, too. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see the challenges that have captured the hearts of netizens through the years. 

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (2013)

The challenge that started it all is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which made waves on the internet in 2013. Its purpose was to raise awareness about ALS, a disease that impacts the brain and spine.

The challenge was simple but very impactful. People had to record a video of themselves “accepting” the challenge. Then, either they or someone else with them will pour a bucket of ice-cold water over their head. After that, they end the video by nominating other people to do the challenge as well.

This trend went viral very fast. Even celebrities and high-profile personalities such as Matt Damon, Mark Zuckerberg, and Kim Kardashian posted their videos. In just a few weeks, over $40 million was donated to the ALS Association, according to the New York Times. This was incredibly impactful in the fight against ALS as the money helped fund more research on the disease.

People gathering as a woman pours water over a man’s head as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Spicy Noodle Challenge (2014)

Another challenge that arose in the mid-2010s was the Spicy Noodle Challenge. In this trend, food influencers and YouTube vloggers would try to eat instant noodles that were super spicy. Most of them cooked and attempted to eat the much-loved Samyang Buldak Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen.

Audiences loved watching these entertaining mukbang videos because of people’s reactions to the intense spice level of the noodles. Those who loved spicy food took on the challenge themselves. Some people were successful in the challenge. However, plenty failed and gave up a few forkfuls because of how unbearably spicy the noodles were.

A hand holding up some cooked instant noodles with a pair of chopsticks.

The Bottle Flip Challenge (2016)

In the summer of 2016, the Bottle Flip Challenge was born. This trend involved people trying to flip a water bottle and make it land upright. It sounds easy, but it wasn’t. People filmed themselves attempting to do this seemingly simple task dozens and even hundreds of times before finally doing it.

This challenge appealed to people’s competitive nature to take on a tricky challenge. It also made for entertaining content. The challengers’ intense reaction when they finally flipped the bottle perfectly was always priceless! 

The Mannequin Challenge (2016)

A few months after the Bottle Flip Challenge came the Mannequin Challenge. The premise of this “prank” challenge was simple. Big groups of people would freeze and stay completely still, like mannequins, for a prolonged time. Then, someone would film them with a moving camera.

This doesn’t seem like an interesting challenge when you first hear it. But it’s hilarious to see huge rooms full of people where no one was moving a muscle. Challengers uploaded large-scale Mannequin Challenges in places like corporate offices, schools, and even sports arenas. The outrageousness of the setting made the challenge even more amusing. 

The “In My Feelings” or Kiki Challenge (2018)

When Drake’s hit song “In My Feelings” came out in 2018, people were quick to turn it into a dance challenge. It was one of the first of its kind that really blew up on the internet. However, it wasn’t your typical choreography. Often, this challenge involved getting out of a slowly moving car and dancing alongside it on the road. Sounds scary, we know, but it definitely made the challenge super interesting.

Plenty of influencers and dancers hopped on this trend, making it among the most viral challenges that year. These include Steve Aoki, Will Smith, Dua Lipa, and many more. Sure, not all of them danced beside a moving car. But it still catapulted the challenge to virality! 

TikTok Dances at the Start of the Pandemic (2020)

Finally, we have the rise of the many TikTok dances at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. When the world was on lockdown and everyone was stuck at home, more people became glued to TikTok. Soon, people started filming themselves dancing to specific choreographies and popular songs and uploading them to the app. And so, the plethora of TikTok dance challenges was born!

One of the most popular challenges at the time was the “Savage” dance trend. Everyone was dancing to this Megan Thee Stallion song online. Even celebs like Keke Palmer and Marsai Martin danced to the viral tune and posted about it. The challenge became so viral that Keara Wilson, the creator who started the trend, had the dance moves copyrighted.

Popular dance trends of the year also included the “Renegade” challenge and the “Say So” challenge, among many others.

A person filming their friend doing a dance video for TikTok.

Current TikTok Challenges Taking the World by Storm

We’ve covered the most popular online challenges from the past decade. But what challenges are people tuning into today?

Because TikTok has become bigger and more popular in recent years, plenty of challenges start there. From dance challenges to creative party ideas, there are many fun, timely TikTok trends you can participate in.

One of the current TikTok challenges everyone and their mother has been doing is the “Water” by Tyla dance trend. This trend involves energetic and sensual choreography that allows dancers to show off their best moves. 

Another popular challenge is the trend of making cute videos while your phone is positioned a few feet above you. People film themselves taping their phones to the ceiling. They’ll then stitch that footage together with the videos their phone actually took from that bird’s eye view. Sometimes, people will be dancing from a few feet below. Other times, they’re just making cute and silly poses from the flattering angle above.

A smartphone with TikTok’s logo on the screen.

Trendy and Timely Challenges To Do With Friends

Do you want to hop on trendy challenges with your besties? Here are some ideas for challenges to do with friends!

A popular holiday-themed dance challenge right now is the group choreography for the new Ariana Grande’s “Last Christmas” remix. This challenge features what looks like just one dancer at the start. Snappy dance moves that go with the beat of the song reveal other dancers behind the first one. It’s an awesome challenge for friends to do over the Christmas season. Don’t forget to wear your coziest holiday outfits to stay on theme!

But it’s not all dance challenges on TikTok. There are also charming trends that challenge people to do specific tasks with friends and family.

One popular challenge nowadays is to bring food that starts with the first letter of your name to a get-together. Then, everyone shows the camera what they brought to the party. It makes for a fun challenge that isn’t as demanding as dancing complex choreography. 

Join In on the Fun: How To Find Challenges on Instagram

Are you trying to find Instagram challenges specifically? Luckily, there are viral challenges left and right on Instagram. So, it’s pretty easy to stumble upon these challenges on the app. Here are our top tips on how to find challenges on Instagram:

  • Lurk on the Instagram Explore page. If you engage with Instagram challenges often, the algorithm might push out similar content on your curated Explore page. Check out the recommended posts and Reels on this page from time to time to see if challenges pop up.
  • Search challenge hashtags. Plenty of challenges use a specific hashtag. Try searching generic tags like #fitnesschallenge or #dancechallenge and sift through the top posts. You might see some fun challenges you might want to hop on there. 
  • Follow creators who love joining challenges. If you follow people who love challenges as much as you do, you’ll discover more of them easily. Follow popular dancers, artists, comedians, and other types of creators who might partake in the challenges you find interesting. Make sure to engage with these creators’ content so that their posts come up more often on your feed!

A Word of Warning: Steer Clear of Dangerous Social Media Challenges

While online challenges are typically harmless, there have been a few that were detrimental to people’s health and safety. It’s always important to steer clear of these dangerous social media challenges. The last thing you want is to join risky challenges and get hurt. Or worse, you might end up inspiring someone else to do it and see them get hurt.

One of the deeply questionable, risky challenges that have graced the internet in recent years is the Tide Pod challenge. It involved kids and teens deliberately biting into Tide detergent pods and ingesting the liquid that comes out.

As one would assume, this posed very serious health risks, including indigestion and burns in the mouth and throat. Social media platforms began removing videos connected with the challenge to avoid promoting it.

Another dangerous challenge that had everyone in a chokehold a few years back was the Kylie lip challenge.

Influencer and reality TV star Kylie Jenner is known for having full, plump, pouty lips. Overlining your lips with makeup so they look like hers is one thing, sure. But years back, there was a challenge that involved sucking on shot glasses and water bottles to achieve the look.

The pressure and suction forced blood to flow onto people’s lips, making it look pouty and similar to Kylie’s. However, this process is also very painful and can lead to injury. It was an extremely dangerous social media craze that many health professionals warned young girls about.

It’s very important for everyone on social media not to promote challenges like these online. It’s our responsibility not to post anything that might encourage others to put themselves in harm’s way. If you love challenges, stick only to the fun, creative, and silly ones to maintain a safe, enjoyable environment online.

A close-up shot of someone’s full, pouty lips.

Challenges Are a Terrific Way To Boost Engagement on IG

Setting up online challenges is awesome for brands that want to boost awareness and engagement on social media. It allows you to put your brand under the spotlight while encouraging people to have fun and let loose online. It’s also amazing for raising awareness about certain causes and advocacies.

People love watching and creating content to join these popular challenges. That means challenge videos and posts will likely always reel in tons of engagement. So, if you’re a content creator, always be on the lookout for the next big internet challenge. To stand out, be creative and put your spin on the challenge to keep it fresh. Your followers will love that!

Do you want more people to see your content when you bite the bullet and join viral social media challenges? Let Path Social help you out!

Our proprietary AI-powered algorithm helps you find your niche audience on Instagram. Then, we’ll organically push out your content to ensure the right people see your posts. As a result, you’ll get tons of likes, comments, and new followers. Dancing your heart out and joining quirky challenges seems like a small price to pay for all that, right? Get your content seen and grow your online community today with Path Social!