Should charities join in with mega-hashtags like #MontyThePenguin?

Some charities are excellent at using social media to join in with non-charity memes as these Twitter examples show. But is it right to jump on the bandwagon?

The John Lewis ad

On Thursday John Lewis released their 2014 Christmas ad. If you haven’t seen it, it features a boy and penguin. By lunchtime it had had 90,000 views on YouTube, just an hour later it was up to 300,000 and today up to 4.3m! Everyone was talking about #MontyThePenguin (he’s got his own Twitter account – @MontyThePenguin).

Charity responses

WWF who are in partnership with John Lewis responded by promoting their brilliant adopt a penguin page via this tweet which got 100 RTs and 97 favourites.

Tweet: Turns out @johnlewisretail love penguins too & support our work in Antarctica #MontyThePenguin

and followed it up with this one.

Tweet: .@johnlewisretail have sold out of #MontyThePenguin. Now's your chance to support a real penguins!

They also added a penguin to their homepage and paid for a series of promoted twitter ads which appear at the top of the search results for #MontyThePenguin. As the advert runs in the weeks heading up to Christmas no doubt there will be a huge serge in people adopting penguins. (See more about this in the UK Fundraising article about MontyMania.)

JustGiving joined in with a lovely picture and a plug for WWF.

Tweet: Do you love #MontyThePenguin as much as we do? Show us your heart hands for @WWF_UK and say #ICare about penguins.

Charities unrelated to penguins got involved too. Age UK used it as an opportunity to promote the Big Knit. It got 37 RTs, 14 Favourites and 37 clicks through to the website.

Tweet: Help our #MontyThePenguin find his mate this Christmas. Join the #BigKnit

And Save the Children UK used Monty to publicise their Christmas Jumper Day.

Tweet: We think #montythepenguin would look great in a #xmasjumperday knit!

Dogs Trust sent five rehoming tweets about dogs called Monty including one about Monty the Jack Russell. They each got between 36 and 67 RTs and reported that ‘weekly RTs were up 53% compared to week before and new followers were up 66% compared to previous week’.

Tweet: Just like #montythepenguin our sweet Terrier Monty from @DT_Shoreham is looking for love... and a forever home! #love

Many others used it as a chance to plug their Christmas shops or cards (such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer).


Joining mega-hashtag (or newsjacking) activities such as #MontyThePenguin can be a quick and harmless way of promoting something. It can help you reach new supporters and shows existing ones that you aren’t just wrapped up in your charity bubble. If it fits with your brand, it is good to do something fun. You have to act quickly though. Although people will no doubt be talking about Monty for a while, launch day and maybe 1-2 days after are the window for joining in.

However some argue that charities should stick to strategic marketing (see Charities should be leaders, not followers on social media – Third Sector article).

Personally, I think that an organisation’s content strategy should always leave room for spontaneity. If something big comes along, careful thought should be given about whether it fits and if it does, give some time to get involved. These examples all fit brilliantly with the spirit of the ad and are done really well. Hats off to them for responding so quickly and in a smart way.

What do you think?

Do you think charities should stick to their core activities and not join in with memes like these? Or do you think they give a nice boost if pitched right? Have you seen any other good responses? Or have any insights into the time it takes to respond and the impact it has?

Add a comment or tweet me your views, I’d love to hear from you.

#ThumbsUpForStephen and #YesAllWomen

Two big events galvanised people into social media action this week. What can we learn from them?


More than 18,000 people signed up to the Thunderclap at 11am on Friday to say #ThumbsUpForStephen giving the hashtag a reach of 6m. Many thousands more took a photo of themselves giving the thumbs up. On Thursday the JustGiving total exceeded £4m and continues to grow (currently standing at a staggering £4.16m). Stephen’s funeral and the social media activity around it was reported on the news and was the third biggest story on the BBC website.

Teenage Cancer Trust marked the occasion with a wall of 36 thumbs up pictures:

And many charities joined in with their own team efforts (storified here by @LondonKirsty).

The thumbs up was so brilliant as it mirrored Stephen’s final hospital picture which was the turning point for his story. Unlike the explosion of #nomakeupselfe earlier in the year, it didn’t feel forced or self-congratulatory. It was a positive thing to do to celebrate someone who had inspired and touched so many.


Over 600,000 tweets have been written using the #YesAllWomen hashtag which started in America on 25 May. It has been covered by Time Magazine and storified by many including the Wall Street Journal. Global VAW charity The Pixel Project joined in by RTing lots of messages. The volume of tweets sharing stories of rape, harassment and fear was shocking, even more so during a week of horrible stories about women in the news.

What can we learn from these events?

  • People like to join in – whether they are motivated by a person or a cause, people like to have a way of showing their support or sharing their views. Social media is a perfect mechanism for them to do this. As digital communicators, we need to facilitate the joining in. We need to come up with inspiring (and short) hashtags which are clear and easy to find (pinned tweets are perfect for this) and promote them across our channels (not just social media but email, homepage, internal comms etc). We need to make sure that the actions we are suggesting are appropriate and do-able.
  • Mass events like these happen organically – they can’t be manufactured or predicted. Only authentic events work (generally started outside of an organisation). These start small, spreading into the mainstream as they are accepted. To take off, they usually have mass appeal (such as cancer, children, dementia) or are a reaction to something on the news / telly / a shared experience. (Take a look at Leon Ward’s Civil Society article about 2014’s first four big social media events for some examples.) When events or their catalysts do happen, we need to know about them early on and know how to react quickly (even if this is not doing anything publicly). If your followers are talking about something related to your work or cause, even if you didn’t start it, you need to decide whether to join in. #ThumbsUpForStephen and #YesAllWomen show that charities can and should get involved in events like these. It helps show that you are part of the conversation. See the #nomakeupselfie post for more on this.
  • Social media is a big part of our culture – big events such as these reach mainstream press, raise big money and galvanise lots of people.
  • Slackavism works – a £3 text donation or a tweet sharing an experience when it is alongside thousands of others is powerful.

What do you think?

Did you join in with #ThumbsUpForStephen or #YesAllWomen? Did other campaigns suffer this week because of the volume of these events? What other things can we learn from how social media is evolving? I’d love to hear what you think.