Charities: Don't ask "what is our #nomakeupselfie?", just be ready for the next social media phenomenon

Charity PR professionals up and down the country have been faced with bosses posing the same question.

Be ready for the next social media phenomenon, says Simon Francis
Be ready for the next social media phenomenon, says Simon Francis
Trustees, fundraisers and chief executives have been grilling their social media and PR teams to come up with a quick fix to their charity’s finances. 

Everyone wants the same success from social media that motor neurone disease charities saw with the Ice Bucket Challenge and which Cancer Research UK had with #nomakeupselfie.

But, as a joint PRCA charities and digital group event heard last night, asking "what is our no make-up selfie?" is fundamentally the wrong question.

Charlotte Beaty-Pownall, Cancer Research UK’s social media manager, described how the success of #nomakeupselfie was a fortunate accident.

However, there are always contributing factors to accidents. 

In CRUK’s case, it was the fact that the charity’s senior management had already bought into the idea of social media contributing to the success of the charity. 

This support meant that the social media team was already trusted, worked with autonomy and was able to act quickly. 

Crucially, the team operated an out-of-hours rota and was integrated into the wider comms team. 

This enabled a quick response and meant the marketing operation could swing into action behind the social team. 

Working fast with the digital team to maximise the website, mobile response and online assets was vital and, as the campaign grew, the press office and media team made sure mainstream media opportunities were maximised.

But the overriding lesson of the CRUK story is one of humility. 

Despite being one of the country’s biggest charities, the team was respectful of what #nomakeupselfie was – an organic, natural, social phenomenon.

And, as specialist charity and society journalist Hannah Fearn pointed out, the media and the public will quickly see through any artificially constructed hashtag hijinks.

Instead, Fearn urged campaigners to embrace the fact that in social comms, you have to accept a certain lack of control and this is precisely why mainstream media love socially led campaigns; because the public participation is genuine, authentic and sudden.

While spontaneity is vital, former Twitter consultant Richard Barley advised that there are tactics campaigners can deploy to give hashtags a boost.

Barley’s advice was not to think that any one strategy is the key to success every time: activity could be promoted through a ‘top-down’ model of identifying key influencers and securing social endorsement from them, or a ‘bottom-up’ approach – working with communities to spark many smaller conversations. 

Successful social campaigns deploy many different marketing strategies to make them work and in social media, more than anywhere else in comms, there are simply no set rules for success. 

But success is more likely where there is support from an organisation’s leadership for social, thorough planning; dedicated marketing professionals ready to work with each other and a touch of luck. 

#nomakeupselfie raised more than £8m for Cancer Research UK and is now helping fund ten new clinical trials.

The question campaigners and charities should ask is not "what is our #nomakeupselfie?" but "are we ready to make the most of the next social media phenomenon?"

Simon Francis is vice-chair of the PRCA’s Not-for-Profit and Charities group and director at Claremont Communications

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