Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy

A content strategy can be used to look at the overall publishing messages and processes for an organisation. Or it can be focussed to one particular channel or element of delivery. In this post we look at the brilliant Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy and see how they went from mainly ‘housekeeping’ type posts / sharing news stories, to using first-person, authentic storytelling with dramatic results.

L-R Before and after the content strategy

About Anthony Nolan

Anthony Nolan is a national charity who match people “willing to donate their blood stem cells or bone marrow to people with blood cancer and blood disorders who desperately need lifesaving transplants”.

The small digital team had built up a healthy following on their social media channels. Inspired by the NHS Blood Donation’s approach to storytelling and some successful trials, they wanted to refocus their Facebook comms.

August 2015

  • 45 Facebook posts to 50,000 followers.
  • 30 posts were niche or transactional ie ones requested internally to promote an event or news item or fundraising activity.
  • 15 posts were story-led about stem cell donation, transplants or blood cancer. These performed better.
  • Average of 279 engagements per post.

The team recognised how powerful stories could be but there was no overall direction or resources to find stories. They also identified that there was internal pressure to promote department-specific needs.

The change

The team had been watching how NHS Blood Donation used Facebook to celebrate and inspire donors.

In January their own patient appeal (#Match4Lara) flourished on social media leading to copycat appeals from other families. Previous campaigns had been press-media focussed. Their approach needed to change to be able to respond to and support donor searches using social media.

A myth busing campaign (#DonatingIsntScary) in October 2015 used first-hand donation stories on social media. This worked well and encouraged the team to trial new processes to encourage donors to share, which they did.

This helped to prove that storytelling should be the main focus on Facebook. The team analysed their stories and did lots of thinking about the roles and goals of stories. This included looking at Joseph Campbell’s The Hero and Age UK’s use of positive storytelling.

The strategy

They developed their own profile for stories which would support the goals of the organisation.

Anthony Nolan strategy

This documented four types of story (pillars) and their purposes:

  1. The hunt (urgent) – (someone needs to find a donor). The story raises awareness and educates a cold audience about matching. This is a real, human story that inspires people to help.
  2. The hero (informative) – (someone amazing is donating their stem cells). The story demonstrates how donation works and reassures potential donors about the process. It creates positivity and shows donors are heroes.
  3. The happy ending (celebratory) – (a donor and recipient meet or exchange letters or a recipient or family member reflects on their life since the transplant). The story underlines the positive impact a transplant can have and demonstrates the amazing relationship that can develop between a recipient and donor.
  4. The heartbeat (informative) – (stories about AN’s heritage or about new research breakthrough).

To support the guide, they developed three basic content principles to put the strategy into action:

  • the four pillars should form the foundation of daily Facebook content
  • stories should be varied
  • pillars should be the majority in comparison with niche posts, at least 1:1.

Stories are repurposed or re-shared from posts shared by the community.

They launched the strategy with a series of internal comms including:

  • lunchtime workshop explaining about Facebook’s algorithms, showing that it was everyone’s responsibility to come up with engaging content
  • working with colleagues to create posts which combined niche calls to action with storytelling. These were used to inspire and encourage other colleagues when these did well.
  • communication and compromise. They spent time working with colleagues to think about which channels could be used as an alternative when their posts wouldn’t work on Facebook.

Results

  • In the second week of September 2016 there were 5 posts, each used one of the pillars (all four were covered).
  • Each post got more than 3000 engagements.
  • The posts reached over 1 million people organically.
  • There were 16.2k engagements. The team were excited to benchmark this against NHS Blood Donation who got 16.3k in the same week.
  • The average number of engagements in August was 1267. This was a 450% increase on August 2015.

Why it works

AN post showing a donor

Take a look at Anthony Nolan’s Facebook. It is brilliant because it is all about people rather than ‘the charity’. The organisation is the facilitator, unifying the message but it is the people who are doing inspiring things or the ones needing help from others.

The pictures are not stock images, but of people doing something, a picture capturing a moment.

The stories are from the people rather than about them.

And AN do a great job of responding to questions and explaining things. They are part of the community, not owners of it. The five people working on social media are seen to provide customer service (there are also three in the digital team).

The stories are written in an immediately engaging way. Just look at the first lines of a few posts:

  • “I told her she wasn’t going to hospital and she asked why. So I had to tell her she didn’t have a hero any more.”
  • Robert Duff really is an extraordinary human being.
  • This is just heartbreaking
  • “The day I got the email was very exciting. A few blood tests to confirm and the ball started rolling!”

Posts are concise but engaging. They are written in a warm, urgent, persuasive way. People want to comment / like / share. Anthony Nolan have inspired their community to be one which doesn’t simply passively read but are connected and active.

These stories do everything to link people who are going through similar experiences. They help people who are going through horrible times to feel that they are not alone. They also inspire people to become donor heroes. The community thanks donors and the donors feel loved. Which makes more people want to donate.

By being brave and strategically refocussing their Facebook content they have created a community which is supportive and content generating. Their work on Facebook is helping to deliver the goals of the organisation.

Is this replicable?

It can be a brave thing to make a significant change like this. Clearly for Anthony Nolan, the instinctive change to focus on storytelling has proved to be one which has significantly increased engagement and awareness.

I don’t think this approach would work for everyone. It works for Anthony Nolan because they were able to distill their key messages down to four types of stories. It also works because their audience of donors and patients (plus their family, friends and supporters) wants to share and read and react to these stories because they reflect their own experiences. As as story the search for a match works, as there is an urgency and potentially a solution which anyone could contribute to. Finally the community is lively and active and AN have nurtured it with their own engagement by thanking, sharing and recognising contributions.

Most organisations don’t have the capacity to find stories to share in this way. And there will be many causes where there are sensitivities which mean that stories have to be anonymised or people don’t want to or can’t tell their own stories via Facebook. Setting a target for user-generated stories for these causes or for organisations without a super-engaged community is unrealistic.

Saying that, many organisations just use Facebook for housekeeping / noticeboard comms (eg fundraising / news / #mondaymotivation etc). It is hard to reach people when posts don’t get the organic traffic generated by the likes / shares / comments etc. So in order to use Facebook to its potential, posts should always be engaging. Stories are one way to do this. Many charities could do with a think about how to use the channel to be inspiring and supportive, seeing it as a service rather than broadcast.

Content strategy

Is your organisation ready to make a drastic change to the way it writes, produces or shares content? Does one of your channels need a re-think?

Doing content strategy work is an opportunity to ask questions about whether your approach does need a refresh. Messages get stale, audience needs evolve and the popularity and usefulness of channels ebbs and flows. Charity comms also go through trends. Storytelling and video are big now, but live streaming or Virtual Reality might become the next big thing.

Any process looking at content strategy (whether org-wide or channel specific) would start by looking at the organisational strategy and analysing how content should support this – messages first with channels and delivery methods after. Ideas for change would be tested by looking at the processes, impact and audience for the content.

To get the most out of your content, it is a process worth doing.

Your experience

Have you made a similar change? Have you done a large or small-scale content strategy? What impact did it have?

What do you think of Anthony Nolan’s use of Facebook? Why does it work? What can you learn from it?

Please do share in the comments.

Credits and links

With big thanks to Jon Ware who shared Anthony Nolan’s journey with me.

I will be presenting this case study as part of my workshop on Content Strategy at the Charity Writing Communications conference on 25 October 2016.

Read more about Content Strategy and various posts about storytelling.

Oh and find out about the 8 ways you could save a life.

Content strategy / digital innovation – good reads

I have found it hard to keep up with all the great blog posts, events and resources about digital strategy tasks, transformation and charity content in recent weeks. There has been so much! Here for your viewing pleasure is my pick of the crop. Many give useful tips on research methods used as part of digital or content strategy work.

Research / digital strategy

Great post on How people look for things on Citizen Advice’s super interesting and helpful blog. They did an open card sorting exercise with 54 clients and advisors. The post shows the analysis they did and explains that they got results they weren’t expecting. This will help them to build navigation which will make sense to their users.

CitizensAdviceResearch

SIFT Digital recently did a digital transformation project with the Canal and River Trust. This case study shows some of the work they did including one of the personas they produced. Their guide to Map your experience – helping to explain customer journeys is also worth a read.

SIFTcanals

How to do a content audit in four easy steps – JustGiving. If you have ever done a content audit, you’ll know that it can be a long arduous process, especially if you have a large website or multiple sites.  This post looks at how to do a user-focussed audit.

This week I have mostly been designing a survey. It’s a long process to get right. This How to design and use free online surveys is a very thorough guide if you are just starting out. There’s also a guide on How to run a website satisfaction survey.

Other research / digital strategy reads

Digital innovation

Good content

This blog post I wrote for CharityComms on producing graphics on a budget also went live this week.

Your recommendations

Have you seen any other good reads this week? Please add them here in the comments box.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their digital comms. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or input into your content or digital strategy, please get in touch.

How to illustrate difficult causes and subjects

Images are an important part of web (and social media) content. But for many organisations using images is problematic. There are thousands of charities who cover sensitive or difficult to illustrate causes. Many therefore don’t use images at all which makes their message hard to engage with. This post focussing on websites looks at some ways around the problem.

The purpose of images

A web page without images can feel overwhelming. Images help skim reading as they break up the text and work as shorthand to help the user make sense of what the page is about. Therefore images play an important part in boosting the usability of a page.

They also help to soften difficult subjects. Websites with no photos can feel cold and impersonal with no human connection. Using a photo in a case study or an information page about an issue or condition can help to bring the subject to life. On a donation page it makes us feel empathy. We relate to text more if we can picture the person or issue being described.

For example, here is Albert’s story from St Joseph’s Hospice, shown here with the image taken out. It has good headings and an engaging first paragraph.

Case study with no image

Here is the same story again but as it appears with an image. The image instantly connects you with Albert and the care he received at the hospice. It draws you in to the story as you can relate to him straightaway. It also brightens up the page and humanises a potentially upsetting story. It helps that it is a beautiful picture clearly showing care in the setting of the hospice.

Case study but with image

“We can’t use images”

But what if Albert’s story was so sensitive that he couldn’t be shown? Or the page was one about a medical condition or dealing with bereavement – much harder to represent? It can be tempting to just not bother because it is too difficult. A culture of “we can’t use images” can develop and become the norm without anyone challenging the fears or trying out some creative solutions. It is understandable that worries about alienating readers or lack of time, budget or skill create barriers to solving the problem.

I looked at hundreds of small charity websites while researching this post. The vast majority didn’t contain any images at all. In a competitive market, having a dense text-only website where users can click on to something more friendy within seconds, means you can’t afford to ignore images. Images perform an important function and there are creative ways around the problem.

What makes a good image?

Images can appear at lots of different sizes depending on how they are formatted and what type of device is being used to look at them. Images that work well online are therefore clear and uncluttered. They are unambiguous. They instantly tell a story and are emotional where they need to be.

It can be tempting to use a literal image; something which shows the obvious and is easy for everyone to understand. But being too literal can help to reinforce stereotypes. Time to Change’s Get the Picture campaign provided alternatives to the standard ‘headclutcher’ which they argued stigmatised mental health. To date they say that their bank of alternative images have been downloaded 17,000 times. And this blog post by Patrick Murray from NPC called Do charities need a ‘Gran test’ for fundraising argues that stereotypical images of beneficiaries used in fundraising material are doing much to reinforce negative views in order to raise funds. He cites a few examples of organisations who are consciously not using obvious images.

But even if you aren’t working to change attitudes, showing the same type of literal image over and over again can lose impact. If you are medical condition charity how many pictures of people wincing in pain can you show?

Images don’t have to be literal – the actual person going through the actual thing being discussed. They can instead create a tone by showing the context of a situation. Or they can help to reinforce your brand by showing images of the work you do and the people you help. How you do this depends on the style of image you use. Finding your own “tone of voice” for images should be part of your branding (for example Parkinson’s UK include their image style in their brand description) and your content strategy.

Remember that what works offline might be different from what works on your website or Facebook. And what works on your donation pages might be different from the images you use in your services section.

Images of people

Stories which describe the work you do can be very powerful. For many organisations there will be sensitivities around privacy. There are lots of different ways to illustrate a story if you can’t directly show the person involved.

This case study from drug and alcohol charity, Addaction tells the story of Alison, a young mother. The image preserves her anonymity as it only shows the side of her face. It could of course be a model rather than Alison but it helps us to connect with her story. It feels like an appropriate image to use.

Addaction: Case study image of woman looking towards a window. We can see her hair and cheek

Images don’t always need to show a face to give impact. Showing a personal object or situation can be just as effective. This survivor’s story from Women’s Aid uses a close-up of women’s hands holding mugs. It suggests warmth and support.

Woman's Aid: close up two women's hands around tea cups

Images of children have to be handled sensitively. If you are a children’s charity you can’t avoid the issue. Options include using images which protect anonymity, making use of very clear model release forms or good stock photography.

This page from Adoption UK about aggression in adoptive families uses a very strong image. It is quite brave but having an image of an aggressive child might help to normalise or reassure families going through the same thing. The page wouldn’t feel as supportive without it.

Adoption UK: page about aggression showing a young angry boy shouting direct to camera

Other images

Images don’t have to be photos of people. This Prisoners Abroad case study includes an image of a quote. It helps with skim reading and to highlight the important message.

Prisoners Abroad: use an image of a quote to break up the page

Images of things can also bring your work to life. These stories from Make Lunch use a thank you letter and an image of the food cooked.

Make Lunch: close-up of a thank you letter and an image of pizza

Illustrating difficult subjects

Illustrating shocking stories can be really hard – how much should or could you show? It’s always a judgement call based on the topic and the culture of your organisation. But storytelling is much more effective with images and shocking ones are sometimes needed to show the gravity of a situation. For example, the shocking image of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi in September changed many views on the refugee crisis. Read more about why images trigger empathy.

Images illustrating shocking stories don’t always have to be graphic or shocking themselves. Showing the situation can be really effective. This blog post from British Red Cross on the refugee crisis uses lots of images taken in the camps in France. This picture of a muddy toy is really powerful.

British Red Cross: blog on the refugee crisis showing a muddy teddy in a refugee camp

Simple graphics like this page from NE Child Poverty Commission can work well especially if used sparingly. (See previous blog post on illustrating data.)

NE Child Poverty: graphic showing one in five childrenin the UK live in poverty

Photos from an image library can be a life-saver when illustrating common-place but sensitive subjects. This example from a page on sex by Diabetes UK is a good example.

Diabetes UK: sex and relationships page using a stock image of a couple in bed

Using graphics, illustrations or stylised images can also be used instead of photographs. They can be a good way to illustrate a complex idea or situation. See this blog post from Mind which uses an illustration. Kelly’s story from Crisis is an example of using an illustration to tell the whole story rather than just illustrate it.

Mind blog: illustrated with a cartoon about taking compliments

Filling blank spaces

When your website has a space for a photo on every page, it can be a real challenge to fill those spaces especially on “subject” pages. In these cases it can be tempting to be literal. But images which show detail or pattern or a general mood can work well here.

For example, this navigation page about seizures and the brain page from Epilepsy Society uses a close up of brain scans. The picture doesn’t actually teach us anything but helps to lift the page which would otherwise be very functional.

Epilepsy Society: image of brain scans

Practical tips

  • Sourcing images – can you find an expert volunteer or talented member of staff to take photos of your work? If not, it is worth investing some budget into producing a portfolio of quality images you can use across your work.  Plan your shoot so you maximise the time and resources you have.
  • Model release / photo consent forms – if using images of ‘real people’ you should always get signed permission from them which specifies how and where you will use the image. Take a look at Macmillan’s photo consent form and this one from Parkinson’s UK (Word). Diabetes UK have an open form for people to share theit story.
  • Stock photos – images of ‘real people’ always feel more authentic than stock photography but for some organisations or situations stock images are a good solution. There are lots of free sources available (see below) but remember that the images you choose may be being used by other organisations to illustrate other topics.
  • Alt text – when including images you should always include alt text. Alt text is important for people who can’t see the image due to accessibility or technical reasons. See the 5 golden rules for compliant alt text (AbilityNet).
  • Manage your images – plan where you use which images. Using the same image over and over again means it will lose impact. Build a database or manage your images online (see below).

Useful links

Don’t miss the Social Media Exchange on 8 February, this practical event is a change to develop your skills. There are a few sessions on photography and images.

In summary

If you need alternatives to literal images or find it difficult to find people to represent your cause there are lots of creative ways to use images. Why not experiment with some of the following and see what works for your brand and cause:

  • close-ups of people
  • images of things or text
  • images which show the siutation
  • stock photography
  • graphics or illustrations.

Your tips and examples

Have you seen any good examples of images? Have you done creative things with images to illustrate a sensitive subject? Got tips or thoughts to share? Please join the conversation in the comments box. I’d love to hear from you.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their content. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or  input into your content strategy, please get in touch.

Do I need a content strategy?

contentstrategy1

  • “We don’t really know who our audience is.”
  • “We use too many digital channels – we can’t manage them all.”
  • “Colleagues keep giving me rubbish content to upload to the website.”
  • “Our content is boring – no one reads it, let alone interacts.”
  • “We just don’t get social media.”
  • “We waste time by producing fundraising emails which only result in a few donations.”
  • “Our competitors are better at content than we are.”

If you have any (or all) of these content problems, going through the process of developing a content strategy could help.

What is a content strategy?

A content strategy is a plan for the content (text, audio, video, images etc) produced across all your channels (web, social, email, print etc) by your organisation. A content strategy can formalise and give a framework to your content production. For many organisations, content is produced in a haphazard way leading to issues of quality, accuracy, tone of voice, engagement and volume.

A strategy documents these weaknesses and identifies new working methods. The complexity and scope of your strategy depends on what you want it to do. It can be an aspirational strategy or a working / planning document or both.

The four stages

1. Identify the problems you want your strategy to address. Write down a list of your content ‘issues’ (such as those above).

2. Gather data to assess the extent of the problem. Think about the data which you could use to evidence your thoughts from stage 1. Surveys, interviews, focus groups, statistics and benchmarking analysis will help to build up a picture of the effectiveness of your content.

3. Planning and goal setting. Analyse the data to build up a picture of your content. What is really working well or not? What trends does your benchmarking data show? Use this information to identify your priorities.

4. Implementation and launch. Getting internal buy-in for your strategy is crucial to its success. Presenting the strategy to trustees and staff can help develop a sense of ownership. If you are recommending big changes, it can be easier to push these alongside a process change which can’t be ignored (such as a new content management system, email tool or brand relaunch).

Do I really need a content strategy?

Going through the process of developing a strategy can be just as useful as having the official strategy. It forces to you stop and assess the way content is produced and used in your organisation. It makes you ask lots of questions and gather data to back-up your assumptions. Your research may in turn identify new areas you need to address.

Producing an actual strategy gives you something official to shape your work. If it has been signed off by managers or trustees, it gives you an authority to say no. A good strategy will give you a framework to reach your goals.

We are in the golden era of content. There are so many different ways of using content and so many channels to feed to ever sophisticated audiences. Recognising how to use your limited time and resources to maximum effect is vital. A content strategy can help you to do that.

Need help?

I am re-running my Content Strategy course at Media Trust on Thursday 17 September. Book your place now.

As a freelancer I help charities with their digital strategies. Doing a content strategy shares many of the same processes as the development of other comms strategies. I have recently produced content, digital comms and social media strategies for clients. Please get in touch via Twitter or email if you would like to talk more.