What can we learn from recent user-generated viral content?

Diminishing trust in charities, institutions and experts is widely discussed at the moment. As comms professionals how can we tackle this? We still have important messages to get out there.

I have seen a few examples recently where individuals on Twitter have shared important messages which have gone viral. What is it about these messages which have worked where charity comms just haven’t connected?

Here are some examples of when a charity’s message goes viral without the charity being involved or when an individual shares a public information message which a charity has been working on, and reaches more people. And finally some suggestions of what we can learn from this.

Time to Change’s beer mats

On 23 April @CarSeatArmRest with 3100 followers tweeted an image he’d taken of Time to Change’s In Your Corner campaign beer mats with the words “These beer mats are SO needed. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 49, killing three times as many British men as women. It’s time to talk about men’s mental health!!”

To date, the tweet has had 209k likes, 77k RTs and 300 replies and it is still going strong. It doesn’t contain any hashtags or @mentions. The beer mat / coaster art work was launched six months ago.

Tweet showing images of Time to Change beer mats

I spoke to Time to Change’s Seb Baird who said. “We had a little bit of social buzz when the coasters were launched. They were placed in selected pubs at campaign launch in October 2017 but the people we’re trying to reach with this campaign don’t tend to talk about mental health on social media. The fact that they went viral now speaks to the relevance of the message and the difficulty in predicting how things spread on social. It also shows how people respond to physical materials differently to digital assets: I don’t think a tweet with the same message on a social graphic would have been as popular!”

“When this tweet took off we decided to take a hands-off approach, only retweeting the original post and replying to messages in the threads where they were relevant to the product and our organisation. We wanted the message to come first and our brand to come second.”

“That said, we had a 4x spike in our new Twitter followers that day, which is pretty great given we didn’t get an @ mention. We’ve had about 50 downloads of the coaster so far – they weren’t originally on our materials platform because they’re quite a niche product, so we had to upload sharpish and send the link in our Twitter replies.”

“By sod’s law, this happened on the one day of the year where the digital team were all out at a conference together. This meant that we picked it up quite late, and didn’t get to have a live look at how it went viral. In my view, it’s a testament to the strength of the messaging and the urgency of the topic, and it shows how important it is to have individuals taking your message and brand forward themselves; that authenticity is invaluable.”

The viral campaign was covered in The Independent (note autoplaying video on load) giving it a further push. You can download the coaster for yourself on the Time to Change website.

Other examples

Cancer charities have been trying to educate the public about sun damage and sun screen for years. On a sunny day last week, Jonathan Hume tweeted a thread about how sun cream works getting thousands of likes and RTs. People were replying with questions about different brands of cream and how to ensure sun safety.

Jonathan Hume's thread about sunscreen ratings

I don’t know whether any cancer charities spotted or got involved with this thread but compare it with CRUK’s similarly timed sun safety message which didn’t get much interaction or this one from Macmillan.

CRUK tweet about sun safety. 49 likes, 34 RTs

Did you watch Stephen Fry’s announcement that he has prostate cancer? This HuffPost article argues that well-intentioned public information doesn’t work – Stephen Fry’s message about prostate cancer spurred me on to get checked.

Earlier in the year, blind Twitter user Rob Long’s plea for people to use captions / alt text on images on Twitter got 178k likes, 145k RTs. Seemingly doing more to boost awareness about accessibility on Twitter singlehandedly than other of the organisations working in this area.

tweet from rob long asking twitter users to activate and use accessibility settings.

However it is worth noting that RNIB’s request for people to capitalise the first letters of words in hashtags to make them easier to read did well later in the year.

RNIB: Simple tweet reminding people to CapitaliseTheFirstLetter of words in hashtags to make them easier to read.

(NB this blog post about how to get alt text right is worth reading if you are new to image descriptions. It was widely shared at the start of the year following Rob Long’s tweet.)

Lessons

1. People respond better to advice or requests from peers than authority figures

We’re in an age of fake news, distrust of experts and too much noise. No wonder we turn to our peers for recommendations and information. What can you do about this?

Bring more voices into your comms, let people tell their own story (rather than you presenting their case study). Some methods include hosting and sharing user-generated content (see blog post from 2016 on Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy and look at NHS Give Blood comms) and Twitter takeovers.

Listen to your community and those outside it. Do you read your organisation’s timeline or follow relevant keywords on your social channels? Use social media to be social rather than to broadcast. Join in with conversations but don’t dominate them.

Many charities also now reach out to influencers and find ways they can work together.

2. Simple content works best

What proportion of your content is information giving? Your evergreen content strategy probably involves big topics (“hey find out about symptoms!”) and a helpful link to your website. That can be daunting or disrupting to consume.

Think instead about micro information – what are your top tips or life hacks? What simple, practical tips or information do you have which might get uplift on a Friday afternoon? Think detail or niche but interesting and useful.

Think also about your tone of voice. Do you write in an approachable, clear, warm way? Are you writing as an friend or a parent or a teacher? Do your tweets include clutter? The messages which worked well above didn’t have hashtags or links to get in the way.

3. You don’t need to be involved in every conversation but you do need to make sure you can capitalise on the engagement

Time to Change decided not to get too involved in the beer mat conversations. They didn’t need to. The message was the important thing. But they did recognise that they needed to do more to make the artwork more widely available and quickly added them to their resource library. What do you need to do to make a message or resource fly even more?

Conclusions

I am not saying you should ditch your social strategy to use these approaches. You should do what is right for your brand, cause and audience. But it is worth reviewing your methods and impact and testing out how you can use social to really engage with people.

Any other examples?

Have you come across any other examples or have tips based on how you’ve tackled this problem? What do you think about these examples? Please do share in the comments.

See also:

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with digital copywriting, content planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes. I can give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection. I have some time in May and June. Drop me a line.

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Digital round-up – May

Photo of dinosaur skull appeaing to eat someone in a museum!

Had a busy week? Here’s my round-up of good reads about charity content and digital stuff.

The tireless fight to bring press releases into modern comms continues with this post by Dan Slee: Educate your client on how alive their press release really is.

I thought this gave interesting insights into groups who are digitally excluded: The Changing Face of Digital Exclusion: It’s not your nan. The post is about skills so it doesn’t mention how the design of websites, apps and software is digitally excluding those with disabilities because developers don’t know or care about accessibility.

Citizens Advice - card sorting exercise

The Citizens Advice digital blog is always a good read. The latest post looks at internal knowledge, especially the barriers caused by poor search, volume of content and inconsistencies of language used. The post talks about how they’ve run workshops to identify common user goals. It’s a big and important topic to tackle, especially in an organisation of this size where information management is their bread and butter. What Citizens Advice needs from a digital workplace – And what your workplace might need too.

Graph showing low engagement for early school education and high for pre-school

This is a useful reminder about language and avoiding jargon. Use the language used by your audience. See also What charities can learn from MailOnline which is about ensuring your content is audience-driven and data-driven.

'Off to bed. You really need to buy some books off us. We are seriously skint'

The Big Green Bookshop in London (the one who live tweeted Harry Potter to Piers Morgan) tweeted an urgent request for help recently and were bowled over with the response. Similarly, a food bank in Glasgow sent an urgent appeal. Useful food for thought who those who don’t think it is right to fundraise on social?

See also

Content and comms:

Process and management:

Other stuff:

What have you read this week? Please do share your nuggets.

(Cover image taken at the Grant Museum of Zoology)

How to share lived experiences using #rocur or Twitter take overs

Hearing someone’s story firsthand can build empathy, a sense of community and crush stereotypes or assumptions. But in a noisy world, how can we as charities get those voices heard?

Finding ways for people to engage with real experience is key. More charities are trying rocur (rotation curation) or media take overs. Find out how they could work for you.

colourful children's drawings of faces

Hearing lived experience

We’ve talked before about empathy and the power of stories (following Jude Habib’s amazing Being the Story event in 2016). Last week at the Social Media Exchange Lemn Sissay argued that charities shouldn’t be working to ‘give children a voice’ as they have voices already. Rather we should be working to find ways for their voices to be heard.

This idea was explored more deeply by Gemma Pettman in her blog post following the event in which she included reflections about the Expert Citizens programme.

We may feel like we are working hard to get the voices out there but your case study or a video probably isn’t doing this. As editors we are applying our own filters and key messages to these stories. Of course as comms professionals, we might feel like we know what makes a good story and we want to streamline the story so it ticks our boxes (we don’t want any other causes or issues getting in the way). But this isn’t the way people work.

It might feel scary or dangerous but how can we create a platform which we can hand over to the people we represent? Some charities are doing this through their blog or vlog. For example Mind invites anyone to contribute. Others are using social media to share user-generated content. For example read about Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy.

To actually hand the keys over to the channels is another level, with no editorial control! Here we look at some examples.

Rocur (or rotation curation)

According to wikipedia, rotation curation started on Twitter in 2011 with the @sweden account. Rocur accounts are usually managed on a weekly basis with each new person sharing details of their lives. An administrator manages the account, ensuring every week is covered.

The Sweden account (which itself says it started in 2009) is still going strong and has 104k followers. There are now many other location-based accounts including @LondonisYours, @WeAreXPats and HI_Voices.

In October 2016, the nhs account launched with Richard who shared his experience of living with cancer. The account is ‘manned’ by staff, trainees and patients and already has 10.6k followers. It is used from 8am-8pm, Monday to Thursday and from 8am-6pm on Friday.

text says: @NHS aims to celebrate the NHS by bringing to life the stories of staff and patients through their own words. To highlight the amazing stories that happen every day and the people involved. @NHS enables people with an NHS story to tell to share their experiences.

This account works so well because it is well curated with different voices each week. The weekly host tends to share a lot of personal information and they respond to questions and treat it as a conversation. It feels like followers are genuinely learning about someone’s job or condition from reading the tweets. Read more about the @nhs account.

In a similar vein, @Parkinsons52 is used by people who have experience of Parkinson’s. The account has been live since February 2016. It has been hosted by patients experiencing varying stages of the disease from across the world as well as health care professionals and staff from Parkinson’s UK including CEO Steve Ford. It was set up by David Sangster who saw it as a way to connect the Parkinson’s community, raise awareness and to show how the disease can affect people of all ages and backgrounds.

tweets from Parkinsons52

Take overs

Less of a committment is to host a social media take over, where someone outside of the comms team uses the account for a short time. This is generally less about lived experience and more about giving an alternative insight or perspective. Museums are good at doing this such as with their ask the curator sessions.

Kids in Museums drive an annual day where museums let children take over. Some organisations do this by letting young people use their social media accounts to share their experiences of the museum. The Teen Twitter Takeover is in August and there are useful factsheets about how to let teenagers tweet from the museum account. The guide says that the biggest benefit is that the teenagers feel really trusted to be allowed to do this. Read more about Take Over Day.

Take over day tweet from Helston Museum

Each year local government joins in with #OurDay. This is more managed than a take over but gives an opportuity for councils to share the stories of employees and locals who use services. Through the social media activity they can show the detail and breadth of what they do. See this Moment of #OurDay in 2016 for some examples.

Could it work for you?

If one of your goals is to raise awareness, then somewhere within your comms strategy should be a way to show rather than tell.  Finding simple ways to build understanding and empathy is key.

These examples are all about showing the detail of something, the everyday impact of a condition or situation. It is the detail which connects us. And it is the detail which is often missed in our corporate comms where we are often trying to show the bigger picture to make a point.

Giving a platform in this way can be daunting. Some of the barriers could be:

  • “it sounds too time consuming to administer and monitor”
  • “we don’t have access to a big bank of potential people who could contribute”
  • “we have a duty of care for children or vulnerable people – what if people ask probing questions or they get trolled?”
  • “is it really worth it – will people listen or engage? Will it actually change anyone’s minds?”
  • “our community has low IT skills or limited access to tech.”

A good plan, policy and support are key. Be realistic about what you can take on. You don’t have to sign yourself up to a year-long stint of weekly hosts. It is ok to take a pause. Why not start small, an hour on the first Friday of every month or a pilot project?

Of course, this method will not work for every cause and will be out of reach for many small charities. But as the examples show, they don’t have to be owned by a charity. Parkinsons52 works so well because it is about the disease rather than about the charity. PUK are occasionally involved but they don’t own or manage it.

For contributors it can be a real opportunity to share their experience and feel like they are helping other people to understand. It can be empowering. It can be a way of connecting with others in a similar situation.

If there are accounts out there related to your cause why not support them, promote them and even contribute to them?

Tips for recruiting and managing contributors

  • Recruit a good mix of volunteers to help you get started. This will also help to establish the tone. Think about people who have interesting stories or ideas and who are used to using social media. Once the account gets going, think about how you’ll find new people to contribute. Make it easy for them to sign up and keep good records of who has contributed and who is to come to make sure you have a good mix.
  • Produce tips and guidelines to give to contributors. Include an idea about how often to tweet (5 times a day is achievable for most) and best times of day to get a conversation. Be very clear about your posting guidelines (eg no obscene, offensive or self-promoting material) and what contributors can do (such as unfollowing or DMing people).
  • Provide instructions for the practicalities of using the account such as the handover between people and logging in. Will you change the password each time a new person uses the account?
  • Help your next contributor to prepare for their time. Ask them to think about what they do and don’t want to tweet about, what questions they will ask to prompt conversations and how they’ll deal with people they disagree with. Help them to think about a ‘message’ they’d like people to go away with at the end of their week if this is relevant. It is also useful to help them prepare for the lull days in the middle of their stint. Polls can be a good way to drive interaction. As can photos.
  • Be ready to step in if they need support. It can take a brave person to put themselves out there (especially on mega accounts like @nhs). You should also do some thinking about the things that could go wrong and have strategies in place to deal with these.
  • At the end of their time, think about how to support them – it can be hard to get used to normal life after having so many people listening and talking to you!

Tips for getting the most out of the content

  • Pin a welcome message for the new account holder so your followers can understand what is going on.
  • Personalise the avatar and username – the nhs account do this really well.
  • Curate the best tweets from the event or week. For example take a look at the @nhs Moment from Yvonne’s week and the full list of @nhs Moments. Think about how to showcase these on other channels.
  • Prime some friends, colleagues or family to ask questions to get the conversation going, especially as the account gets established.

screenshot from @nhs account

Share your examples

Have you seen any other good (or bad) examples of rocur or take overs? Are there any other charity or public sector examples? Do share them here.

If you are looking to experience a take over firsthand to get a feel for how it works, accounts like @LondonIsYours are always looking for new contributors. Why not see if there is an account you can contribute to?

With thanks

Big thanks to rocur users Leah Williams Veazey and David Sangster who shared their experiences for this post.

What can we learn from #nomakeupselfie?

On Wednesday (19th March) social media exploded with #nomakeupselfie. It was started by someone independent of any charity. It quickly caught on and was met with a mix of joining in and dismissal (‘what has this got to do with cancer’?). Two days later it quite clearly has got something to do with cancer as the meme has resulted in £millions being donated to various cancer charities (including £8m+ to Cancer Research alone), lots of self checking messages and widespread news stories.

Sample #nomakeupselfie tweets

Clearly viral explosions of this size don’t come along very often and are impossible to create (see this blog post from Social Chic on why you shouldn’t replicate #nomakeupselfie). What can we learn from it so that it / when it does happen (on whatever scale) we can be ready?

1. Be ready to react

The beauty of social media is that it is ever changing, fun, interesting – bringing unexpected challenges and opportunities to charities. When something big happens, you have to decide quickly what to do. If you have to put in a business case to react three days later, you are going to miss out. Sometimes the decision to ignore or get involved is obvious, sometimes not.

Your social media strategy can be your friend here as it should include some element of crisis comms planning (good and bad). You could create a flow chart like this one from the American Airforce which shows how they decide to deal with comments on blogs. Your social media strategy should also be loose enough that you can drop everything to run with a big event such as this.

2. Just go with it

It might not be on-brand or on-message but if your supporters are involved, then maybe you should join in? This event evolved and organically became a fundraising-related.  But charities helped this with strong messages and an easy ask.

BCCare tweet: We didn’t start it...but thanks #nomakeupselfie supporters! http://bcc.cx/1nDfA2W . Here’s how your support will help http://bcc.cx/1cqSuRi

3. Keep watching

A number of cancer charities chose to ignore #nomakeupselfie because the early message didn’t fit with them but didn’t join in when it did change. For the charities who chose to get on board with it, it has raised unexpected income.

On day 2 charities were better at joining in with the spirit of it, sharing their own photos. On Friday Male CEOs of Macmillan and Beating Bowel Cancer both shared their selfies.  And the meme was copied and evolved into #manupmakeup, #whataman and even #YorkshireSelfie. Macmillan’s male staff did their own Vine.

When the excitement showed no sign of stopping, charities started buying ad words connected with #nomakeupselfie. Clearly the world was searching for information so they spotted an opportunity to raise their profiles further. Clever.

4. Have your JustTextGiving details to hand

Make it easy for people to donate. Make sure your JustTextGiving details are easy for people to share. Giving a regular reminder of these details is useful.

You can’t watch every hashtag. This meme turned from fun into fundraising because people got frustrated at its sharing with no action. It was easy for them to share the JustTextGiving details and equally simple and short for people to donate this way. (See more about Twitter fundraising.)

NB, it is important to check and double check your details. See this BBC article: thousands make #nomakeupselfie donation error.

5. Say thank you and share success

People like to feel involved especially if it is something big. Donating £3 might be a small action but the collective effort has made the news. For every person who did something, it has been an important part of their day. So say a public thank you to everyone. Say how much has been raised and what difference this will make. This builds trust and makes people want to get involved again. (See more about transparency.)

This thank you tweet from Cancer Research has been RTd 14,000 times. And their brilliantly written FAQs post about how they’ll use the money (published on Tuesday 25th) is an important response to the millions of people who helped raise such a significant sum.

CRUK thank you tweet

#nomakeupselfie – what the charities say

Coverage and comment

Charity insider blog posts

What do you say?

What have you learnt from this week’s events? What do you think of #nomakeupselfie? Have you done your crisis comms planning for events like this?

This Nan selfie is my favourite:

Nan selfie RTd by Cancer Research

Can I help you?

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you review your crisis comms, digital fundraising channels or supporter engagement. I am a freelance web editor and can help you give your communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.

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