The lessons that CRUK learned from nomakeupselfies

Cancer Research UK did not start the social media craze of sharing photos of faces without make-up, but it responded fast and made the most of it, as Susannah Birkwood found out

This photo of science information officer Kat Arney was seen by more than five million people after Cancer Research UK shared it on social media
This photo of science information officer Kat Arney was seen by more than five million people after Cancer Research UK shared it on social media

It's common knowledge by now that Cancer Research UK did not mastermind the #nomakeupselfie campaign, which almost accidentally raised £8m for the charity within six days earlier this year. It was good fortune alone that CRUK became the main beneficiary of the frenzy, in which millions of social media users shared photos of their make-up-less faces. But the charity did manage to capitalise effectively on a movement that started without it.

This is how CRUK used social media during #nomakeupselfie to maximise fundraising and awareness for cancer research.

1. Out-of-hours social media is vital

"Late one evening we saw people starting to post selfies and saying they were doing it for cancer awareness," says Aaron Eccles, senior social media manager at CRUK, of the night #nomakeupselfie began to gain traction. The out-of-hours team immediately tweeted that people who wanted to get involved should look at the charity's website. By morning, the message had been retweeted hundreds of times and traffic to the CRUK website had "gone through the roof", says Eccles.

2. Create simple, engaging content

The charity took a simple photograph the next morning of Kat Arney, its science information officer, holding a sign saying "We love your #nomakeupselfie" and including a text code for donations. It was shared so many times on sites such as Facebook and Twitter that it was seen by more than five million people.

3. Promoting text codes is key to driving donations on mobile

"We hadn't had much success with text-to-donate and social media campaigns up to this point," says Eccles. "However, because this was a mobile campaign, it felt right to use text instead of driving people to our website.

"So keen were donors to show proof to others that they'd made donations that they would screenshot the reply texts they received and display their selfies alongside them on social media."

4. Offline channels can amplify a digital-first campaign

"We gave interview after interview to the press," Eccles says. "We kept explaining that this wasn't our campaign, but they just wanted to hear about why it was raising money. Usually, you struggle to get the media to include your website address in an interview; now people were publishing our picture of Kat Arney with the text code. It was all over the place."

5. Instagram is a major player and should be used

The big success story of the campaign was Instagram, according to Eccles. CRUK had not used the photo-sharing application much before #nomakeupselfie, but there were 130,000 public mentions of the campaign on the app. "We realised that this was something we needed to do more of," says Eccles.

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