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 http://po.st/LENAiF

and followed it up with this one.

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

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).

Conclusions

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.

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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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