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 – March

With more wintery weather heading our way, poke your head out from under the duvet for some of the highlights from March 2018. It has been a bumper month (snow, data abuse, more snow, lots of hashtags) so this round-up has lots of gems.

coloured bear heads poking out of a seaside game.

Campaigns

image from Dog's Trust Pawtrait campaign

Comms good practice

infographic of the 500 most popular passwords

Also, catch up with the slides from CharityComms’ content strategy conference and read Eleanor Dean’s blog with her key takeaways – Three thoughts on creating better digital content for your charity.

Social media

Digital evolution

Have you read the Charity Digital Skills Report? How you does your organisation compare? Do you have a digital strategy? Do your trustees ‘get’ digital?

screenshot from the digital skills report

I went to the DigitalAgenda Impact Awards and heard about lots of brilliant Tech for Good projects. Here’s a blog post from Ross McCulloch about some of the winners (4 examples of digital innovation) and a blog post about the Citizen’s Advice case management system which won an award. Is tech for good on your radar? Are you working on projects or know who is in your space?

Tech trends

Charity reads

And finally….

If you are looking for some cheering up, try these:

What else?

What were your good reads in March? Please do share.

If you want more, 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. Can I help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection?

 

Digital round-up – Jan/Feb 18

In case you missed them, some of the best reads on crisis comms, digital strategy and charity content from last month.

red boat. blue sky. sign saying: DANGER. intense sound signal operates without warning

Crisis comms

Charities have been in the headlines ever since the start of the year (Oxfam, President’s Club, Oxfam again, Jo Cox Foundation). There’s lots we can learn from these events in terms of how we need to respond to a crisis and rebuild trust.

Read, then review your crisis comms plan. Does it include the right people? Have you got clarity about the messages? Do they work across all channels? Have staff done media training? Are there enough people with social media skills to be able to respond to comments? (NB Oxfam put a call-out to staff for help and drafted in 40 colleagues to help with front-line messaging.)

It’s worth noting that it’s not just Oxfam who have been effected by this story. NCVO have been working tirelessly to share safeguarding best practice and represent the sector in media interviews.

Digital skills, design and strategy

Content

Still from Macmillan video - "it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done"

#WorldCancerDay is a big day for lots of health charities. Macmillan launched this lovely #LittleActsOfKindness video. I really liked the way they displayed the subtitles.

In addition to the usual fundraising and bad poems, there were some harder-hitting Valentine’s Day charity comms. None quite as cringy as the DWP’s festive message though thankfully.

Tweet showing the mental health foundation video - vox pops on Millennium Bridge in the rain

Other charities joined in with #TimeToTalk day. This gentle video from the Mental Health Foundation makes us think about answers to ‘how are you?’

How can you use your archive to connect with topical stories? There were lots of charities marking the 100 years since (some) women got the vote. Age UK told the story of one of its founders Eleanor Rathbone.

I am a sucker for maps and data. These examples of (non-charity) content marketing campaigns using maps could give food for thought. How can you use your data to tell a bigger story?

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

This blind Twitter user’s plea which has now had 179k likes seems to have done so much more to raise awareness about image accessibility than any charity or Twitter themselves. Have you changed your settings? This guide to getting alt text right is a must-read if you are new to describing images.

Good to see Doncaster Council’s Chief Executive maintaining the gif standards in her comms.

And finally…

What did I miss?

I spent January doing an interim comms manager role as well as going to BarCampNFP and SMEX18 so might have missed other good stuff. What did you read / watch / produce this month? Please do share.

 

 

Digital roundup – October

My top reads for October. Catch up with this bumper month!

Images from some of the content covered in the post

October was hashtag-tastic! We had #WorldTeachersDay, #WorldMentalHealthDay (see Third Sector’s series), #WorldOsteoporosisDay, #InternationalDayOfTheGirl, #WorldHomelessnessDay, #WorldSightDay and #WorldPorridgeDay. It was Breast Cancer Awareness month, #HospiceCareWeek,  It was also the month that the #RoundPound went out of use and many of us got our #FirstTenner.

It was also a month of great charity content and useful reads.

Great content

Headless weather presenter gives the forecast for Halloween

Useful stuff

Flowchart showing how to decide how to respond to trolls

Want more? Read JustGiving’s 10 things you should read this month.

Blog posts

Surprising content

Macmillan tweet about their charity number 261017

Coming up

November is sure to be busy too with #TrusteesWeek (13-17 Nov), #OurDay (for local government on 21 Nov) and #GivingTuesday (28 Nov). Plus all the preparations for Christmas fundraising and fun. If you are thinking about seasonal content, read my post about digital advent calendars.

Examples from WCHP, MS Society, Royal Marsden, New Mills Food Bank, Bliss, Bookstart, Family Holiday Association

What have you seen?

What did you read or see in October? Do share your highlights.

January’s charity content highlights

Come out from underneath your desk / duvet and catch up with some of the latest creative charity content.

L-R Dave the Parkinsons Worm, contactless giving Zurich Insurance post, Street Support video, National Lottery gif

Innovation

Cancer Research are continuing their trend of using World Cancer Day (this Saturday – 4 February) to launch new uses for contactless fundraising. Ten ‘smart benches’ across two London boroughs will take £2 donations.

Are you planning to look in to contactless fundraising in 2017? NSPCC recently announced impressive results of their contactless fundraising and many other organisations are using it too. I gathered some examples of contactless giving in my blog post for Zurich Insurance and spoke to Haven House Children’s Hospice who are running trials at the moment.

Not sure what the technical term for this is but the National Lottery did a very smart bit of Twittering by launching this 7second video and inviting people to RT it ‘for a surprise’. The surprise was a personalised video, with the RTers’ Twitter profile image in a gold frame, with the words ‘National Treasure’ underneath. Nice! This was similar to a thanks reply from Save the Children I got in December.

National Lottery video of interesting doors / walls

Today it is Time to Talk Day (#timetotalk). Why not use Time to Change’s template to make your own graphic?

Time to Change's interactive graphic maker

Good reads

If you get a moment, don’t forget to fill in the Charity Digital Skills Survey which is open until 17 February.

And follow #smex17 on Monday if you are not going to the Social Media Exchange in person.

Re-brands / new websites / charity content

Action for Children's error message - cheeky boy with magnifying glass

To brighten your day

Meme of badly drawn pictures 'pasted' on top of a video of Donald Trump's policy signings

What have you seen?

What have been your charity content highlights from January? Do share! I’d love to hear from you.

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.

Content Curation – how to use Storify and live blogging

Got a big social media campaign or event coming up? Or want to tell your story in a new but authentic way? You need to get up-to-speed with content curation. Here’s how to capitalise on all the great content, comments and good feeling around your charity.

What is curation?

Curation is a fancy way for describing how you bring lots of different assets together to tell a story. In the old days you may have written a press release or general page about what happened. Now you can show what happened by including the tweets, videos, links etc. The storytelling is more authentic as you are doing it through the voices of other people, not just your organisation.

Curation can be done manually through your blog or you could use free sites such as Storify or Pinterest.

Campaigns and awareness raising

Time to Change produced a live blog through yesterday’s massively successful #timetotalk campaign. It gave them a place on their website to collate and share all the news coverage, tweets, pictures and messages of support as the campaign spread.

Live blog from #TimeToTalk

Curation is a good way of collecting everything together after the campaign, to say thank you and to celebrate achievements. Take a look at this example from Girlguiding of their Say No to Page3 campaign. They used Storify to share messages of support for the campaign as well as links to the petition and press coverage.

Curation is also great for telling a linear story, ie this is what happened as it unfolded. A great example of this is Mind’s Storify about the #MentalPatient outcry last year. They produced it really quickly after the event so once the twitter noise had died down, the media had somewhere central to look for information.

Other inspiring awareness-raising uses of Storify

Selection of DiabetesUK Storifys

Events

There are lots of examples of charities using curation to gather content around a fundraising event (runs / cycles / jumps etc). These are great ways of connecting with the fundraisers doing the event as well as their supporters. Take a look at BHF’s London to Brighton Bike Ride 2013.

Events such as conferences, meetings, parties, lectures, galas are prime for curation. You can add so much value to an event by showing behind the scenes, what participants got out of the event as well as general comments and pictures.

SoundDelivery produced an excellent Storify of the Social Media Exchange, not just the usual collection of tweets and resources from a conference. It punctuated the sections with a couple of sentences giving context. They included video, photos, Vines and audio to bring the day to life. They also added links to other useful resources which had been mentioned on the day. It is quite long but it’s the kind of Storify you’ll go back to again and again for inspiration.

Grayson Perry’s Radio 4 Reith Lecture last year was a brilliant example of live blogging. Links, pictures and comments were all being added in real time alongside the 40 minute programme. It generated a rich experience.

Other curation examples

NCVO's Pinterest boards

Top tips for content curation

  • Have fun and be creative. You don’t always have to produce content which is related to your cause (for example Beat Blood Cancer’s Laugh for Leukaemia joke competition). Reward your supporters with content they’ll like.
  • Do you have any linear (success) stories you could tell? Think about Rethink’s Find Mike – this is perfect for curation as it started small, got lots of press and social media coverage and then had a happy ending.
  • Think about the stories and messages you have within your organisation, which would work told in this way? What assets (video / photos / comments etc) do you have which could be collected together to tell a story? Curating just tweets isn’t enough.
  • Does your audience use Storify (or other similar sites)? If you don’t know, ask them. Also look at how many views and followers similar organisations have if they are on Storify. If your audience are not there, would you reach more people by using your blog for curation?
  • Invite supporters to contribute. Don’t forget to tell them they’re included and ask them to share.
  • Be selective about what you include. It’s not curation if you include everything.
  • Devote time to get the skills within your team. Look at lots of examples to help you understand how you could best use curation.
  • Don’t underestimate how much time it takes. It’s hard to get it right.
  • Include a donate link / button if this is relevant (eg Save the Children’s Philippines response).

Don’t forget to promote your Storify channel (if you have one) prominently on your website. If you have share follow us / join us buttons Storify should be included alongside all your other social media channels (NB I didn’t find anyone doing this, even those with successful channels). People won’t follow you if they don’t know you are there.

Oxfam's share buttons on their homepage

Conclusions

Curation is generally free but time consuming. It takes practice to do it well but it is a great way of re-using content which has a short lifespan.

Further reading

Please do share your examples and top tips as a comment or via Twitter and I’ll add them here. There must be loads of examples of other museums or galleries doing interesting things with curation.

Can I help you?

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you think about how to use your content. I am a freelance web editor and can help you give your communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.