Kirsty Marrins: Will #MannequinChallenge break the charity meme dry spell left by Ice Bucket Challenge?

It looks like everyone is getting in on the mannequin act but how will it further charitable causes, asks our columnist

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

The #MannequinChallenge is the latest video craze to sweep the internet and is reported to have been started in October by teenagers in the US. The trend sees people frozen in time, depicting a scene, which is filmed and then shared via social media. Everyone seems to be getting in on the action from the This Morning and X-Factor teams, Adele, Destiny’s Child and NFL players to Hillary Clinton.

Naturally it’s drawing comparisons with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but there are a couple of fundamental differences – there is no nomination element and no donation ask. So how have charities got in on the action (or non-action, in this case)?

Friends of the Earth posted a "feel-good Friday" Facebook post of staff in its office, going about their day-to-day business (make sure you watch until the end). The call to action is not in the video but was posted as a comment, and it encouraged people to sign up to the Bee Cause. The video has had just over 4,000 views.

Muscular Dystrophy UK took the opportunity to turn the #MannequinChallenge into #mannequin4muscles and shared a tweet of supporters at an event taking on the challenge and asked their supporters to do the same and to make a £5 text donation – very much in the style of #IceBucketChallenge but without the nomination element.

The RNLI has a history of always being one of the first charities to take on a meme – remember the Harlem Shake back in 2013? Becky Steeden, social media manager at the RNLI, says: "Memes like #MannequinChallenge give us a great opportunity to attract the attention of people who otherwise might never have heard of the RNLI. Our tweet reached an audience of 18,387 Twitter users and our Facebook post reached nearly 139,000 people, of which almost 10,000 actively engaged with it."

It cost the charity nothing to make as it was filmed during a lunchtime on one of the staff’s mobile phones. So if it didn’t cost anything, but equally is not asking for anything, can #MannequinChallenge ever truly be a success?

"If every post on your timeline is an ask for donations, you’re going to lose people," Steeden argues. "You need to give them a reason not just to support you in the financial sense, but to follow you on social media. You need to share great content that earns its place in your supporters’ newsfeeds. A lot of what we talk about online has a very serious message (eg #RespectTheWater), so it’s great to get the chance to raise a smile now and again. If your tweets or posts enhance the time someone spends online, they’re going to come back for more – and be more inclined to respond to that future fundraising ask when you need to make it."

Sal Lalji, external affairs adviser at Muscular Dystrophy UK, agrees. "Although we had a text code, we think it's less about money and more about getting people to share our fun video with potential new supporters," she says.

As its video received almost 3,000 views on Twitter – almost 60 per cent more than an average post – it seems to be working.

JDRF, the Type 1 diabetes charity, used #MannequinChallenge to enhance an existing campaign called #T1DLooksLikeMe which focuses on raising awareness of type 1 diabetes. Supporters are encouraged to change their social media profile images to reflect that they are not held back by their condition and to help highlight that type 1 diabetes has no particular "look". The charity's #MannequinChallenge video shows a typical charity cheering scene with subtle references to the condition (for example, people cheering while checking their blood sugar and type 1 diabetes equipment).

Sarah Johnson, JDRF UK director of mission, says: "For the period around World Diabetes Day on 14 November, we've been running an awareness-raising campaign called #T1DLooksLikeMe. Our team jumped on the #MannequinChallenge to bring an added element of fun to our campaign. #T1DLooksLikeMe has already seen nearly 6,000 people share with us the date of their type 1 diabetes diagnosis and their "diaversary" is often an emotional time of year. Knowing this will help us contact them when they might most appreciate it."    

The video was posted on the charity's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn channels, with combined views of more than 32,000. On Instagram this video achieved the charity's highest-ever video views and impressions, and on Twitter the media views equated to 10 per cent of their audience. For a couple of hours of staff time and zero expense, the #MannequinChallenge has worked well for the charity.

Will #MannequinChallenge be the next #icebucketchallenge? I don’t believe so, but if this latest meme continues to grow there will no doubt be articles or comments from naysayers who believe that this is just slacktivism at its finest. As these charities have proved, creating fun, topical content can help you reach beyond your existing audience and, though it might not raise any money now, it’s laying the foundations for future fundraising or donation asks.

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