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The #nomakeupselfie campaign has helped to raise more than £8m for Cancer Research UK. This money will fund 10 clinical trials, an astonishing achievement.

Many articles have commented on just why the campaign was so successful, from its mobile nature to the emotional triggers pulled by shared photographs.

What hasn’t been covered is just how Cancer Research UK dealt with such a large amount of social action. How does the team to react and capitalise on what some may think amounts to a black swan event?

I spoke to Aaron Eccles, senior social media manager at Cancer Research UK and asked him about the campaign. Here’s what I learned.

The team

There’s a core social team of four or five people with community management run in shifts. Crucially, there’s a rota for out-of-hours, too.

The #nomakeupselfie trend was noticed late one evening and the team jumped on it, making sure they were front of mind early on. This helped to clear up some of the confusion around what charitable activity the selfies were encouraging, as some of the early social activity didn’t specify a charity or a way to donate.

The community management shifts are undertaken by senior exec level staff or higher, so the team is well skilled in responding appropriately to a range of questions.

If unsure about what response to give, there’s an email address to solicit advice from colleagues across the team. As is best practice for responding on social media, the team is encouraged to acknowledge direct questions even if an answer may be delayed. Out of hours, the team can confidently let users know that a question will be looked into and a conversation picked up again in the morning.

Audience led activity

The community management team try to be audience led. For example, there may be a storyline on a soap opera involving cancer.

Noticing these kinds of trends allows the team to work more on the front foot, making sure they are visible around topical conversations.

Cancer Research UK will be asked questions around the subject matter and they will respond, often directing the majority of enquiries to information already available on its website.

The Cancer Research UK website has plentiful content on a range of issues. Audience questions are often recurring, hitting subjects that have been discussed or detailed on site already. That means the job of the social team is often to educate users with information already available.

Most of the early questions around #nomakeupselfie asked of Cancer Research UK were ‘Is it your campaign?’ That leads us on to the next point.

Agile content formats

It can be slow adding new content to the website, getting approval and creating the pages. So, the blog team often writes a post up quickly, answering some key questions that are asked repeatedly on social media, such as questions about #nomakeupselfie.

Q&A patterns emerge, such as people asking how the money from the selfie campaign is being spent. These questions are answered, see this blog post as example, and even represented in an FAQ format.

Involving the marketing team

The vast public response was unexpected by the Cancer Research UK team, and they were caught unawares, as the campaign was not theirs.

After meeting with the broader marketing team to discuss how to best respond and capitalise on the trend, several decisions were taken. Among these, for example, was making sure that search share was taken by using PPC.

Reacting quickly

On seeing that too much traffic to the Cancer Research donations page was preventing people from donating, the team decided to push some people towards the charity’s JustGiving page, as well as to text donations.

Mobile becomes integral

In the end, the majority of the donations were given via mobile, by text message.

The mobile nature of the phenomenon has been documented already. It’s a key trend for charities, not only can donations be made by mobile (that’s not necessarily new) but content is increasingly consumed on phones, and social interaction takes place there.

The ability for photographs, sharing, nominations and donations to be managed by a smartphone is something that the team expect to continue to greatly influence charitable giving.

Social network use and demographics

Twitter is useful to the team because it is so responsive. #nomakeupselfie was first spotted here, almost in real-time.

Facebook is the most successful social network for Cancer Research UK, through scale and demographics. Generally, an older demographic donates to charity than that which uses Instagram, for example.

Having said that, in the event of such a popular campaign, the charity found there were indeed many donations from Instagram users, as young people were reached and affected by the cause.

Dealing with negativity

Fighting fires is something that isn’t as much as an issue as one might think. As previously suggested, there are many responses already signed off for persistent questions. Many questions asked on the back of #nomakeupselfie were already familiar, for example a small group of people suggesting cannabis is a cure that is being ignored.

Again, if the team felt that a response was necessary, when asked a question, they could direct the person to content already on-site.

Mostly, the sentiment around this campaign was so positive that the public did the fire fighting, making clear to negative commenters that the campaign was positive and not the place for cynicism.

Nominations key to amplification

Celebrities played a big part in getting press coverage for the selfies. However, the key to the enormous number of donations and the sizeable amplification on social was nominations. The fact that social media users were tagging friends and encouraging a chain reaction of donations was more important than any other dynamic.

Aaron Eccles, Senior Social Media Manager at Cancer Research, will be speaking at our Festival of Marketing event in November, a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more. 

Ben Davis

Published 28 March, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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