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Gabriella Okon

Snapchat logo with QR code background

Get snap-happy

If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing a dog-face or rainbow vomit lens and felt scared, confused, or indeed delighted, you have Snapchat to thank for that. Social Media Officer, Hayley Devlin explains the who, what, and why of Snapchat – the five-year-old chat app that’s surprised everyone.

Snapchat is having its moment in the sun. Since launching in 2011 the platform has grown rapidly and is hailed as the go to app for teens and millennials. In 2015 Snapchat’s estimated project revenue was $50 million and its creators turned down an offer of $3 billion from Facebook. Not bad for disappearing images.

But why? What is it is about Snapchat that’s taken it from faddy-app to social media powerhouse? And why is it that ‘old’ people just can’t seem to get on board? (As of March 2015 over 71% of all Snapchat users were under the age of 34).
On a personal level, Snapchat is great fun and is a growing platform; in 2015 it had 100 million daily active users. It’s a platform that businesses and organisations simply can’t choose to ignore.
Snapchat is like being the star of your own reality TV show. To me, that’s why so many teens and millennials can’t seem to put it down. Thanks to the ‘My Story’ function, we’ve been able to film our lives in 10 second clips and pictures and leave them for all our friends to see for 24 hours. Snapchat gives users the chance to share intimate/funny/personal moments with the people they care about in a way that feels more personal and private than Facebook or Instagram.
Snapchat is creative. The ‘draw’ feature (the pencil icon that appears in the top right corner when once you’ve taken a picture) allows users to turn their pictures into works of art and ‘face swap’ has turned into a craze. If you haven’t had a play with the face filters yet, I’d highly recommend entertaining yourself for 15 minutes or so. Simply switch to your front facing camera, hold a finger on your face until Snapchat recognises it and swipe through the filters you want.

The real, and new found, power of Snapchat comes when you step away from the personal and begin harnessing it to reach a much wider audience. Some of the biggest players in online news and entertainment produce content for Snapchat’s ‘Discover’ channel on a daily basis. Celebrities such as Chris Pratt, the Kardashian-Jenner clan and DJ Khaled (king of Snapchat) are using the platform to deliver self produced content straight to their fans. Football teams and brands are also on board with the likes of Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Selfridges, Nike and McDonalds all creating content to add to their ‘Stories’ on daily basis. You can even follow the White House.
It’s also being used for good. In India, Rajshekar Patil, Avani Parekh and Nida Sheriff are using the app in a way that allows young people in abusive relationships to reach out to them and get help they wanted to create a helpline that young people would feel safe enough to use. To add them and see for yourselves just search for ‘lovedoctordotin’ on the app.

In February, Snapchat released it’s ‘On Demand Geofilters’ and opened up another way to advertise on the platform. Geofilters are banners you can add to your pictures according to where you are. To access them you have to have allowed Snapchat location access and all major cities, landmarks and universities have them.The Shard with Snapchat Geofilter applied. Text reads, ' The City'.

These Geofilters are free and known as ‘Community Geofilters’. ‘On Demand Geofilters’ give brands the opportunity to pay for and create their own geofilters set to a location of their choosing. Individuals can do this on too, with Snapchat touting weddings as the perfect excuse for something so personalised. With prices starting from $5 they’ve made them affordable and accessible. The process is fairly simply, you design your geofilter, upload it to Snapchat, select the date and how long you’d like it to run, select the location, and send it off to Snapchat for approval or denial. If they deny, they’ll usually give you a reason why.

 It was a no brainer that Macmillan had to have Geofilters for the upcoming London Marathon, so I worked with the creative team to get a few designed. We’ve got four filters being used across the day, so if you happen to be at our cheer points in Monument, Embankment or Canary Wharf, be sure to snap and use our filter. There’s also one at the finish line. You can find them by taking a picture and then swiping left or right until you find ours.

Beyond the frivolous fun of Geofilters, Snapchat opens Macmillan up to a wider audience. It’s an opportunity to showcase our various challenge events and adds extra buzz to our fundraising events. It gives us the opportunity to run intimate Q&As with our experts that will remain on the platform for 24 hours at a time. We already know that our main demographic is women aged 35-55 and at a time where we’re trying to get younger audiences to care about our cause, Snapchat could be the key we need.

Snapchat how-tos

Find a Geofilter:

  1. Take a photo.
  2. Swipe right or left until you come across an image like the one above.
  3. Press the arrow in the bottom right corner, select who you’d like to send it to and send your snap.

Take a selfie with a filter:

  1. Switch to front facing camera by tapping the camera icon in the top right hand corner.
  2. Hold a finger on your face until Snapchat recognises it.
  3. Swipe through filters (rainbow vomit is my favourite).
  4. Press the circular button to take a picture or hold it down to film.
  5. Tap the arrow in the bottom right corner, select who you’d like to send you snap to and send it!


Three different Snapchat lenses - Aged, rainbow vomit, and scary.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

I no speak digital

As the digital world continues to grow, so too does its language. Annabel Howarth breaks into smaller chunks, some of the digital fodder she’s been served so far.

When I moved from the Campaigns team into the wonderful world of digital, I was not prepared for the fact that I would have to learn a whole new language. To save you the embarrassment of feeling like a dinosaur- here’s a jargon-buster for 10 commonly used digi-terms you can impress your colleagues with:

    1. CMS

      CMS stands for Content Management System. This means a computer application that allows you to publish, edit, modify, organise, delete and maintain online content. For example, Macmillan uses a CMS to publish and edit webpages. We are in the process of migrating all our content from our old CMS, over to a shiny new one with heaps more functionality that we hope will improve user experience.

    2. SEO

      Search Engine Optimisation is the process of affecting how visible a website or webpage is in a search engine’s unpaid results. Literally this means how high up the Macmillan webpage features on Google’s search results page when a search term is entered. There are lots of ways you can optimise your webpage, such as keyword tagging, a variety of content (such as images or videos), and generally ensuring your content is unique and high quality. You could also look at updating it frequently, Google loves new content.

    3. Meme

      Here’s where I get geeky. So I thought a ‘meme’ was purely a modern phenomenon – funny pictures with captions that my teenage cousin sends me. However, despite the popularity of the modern meme, the term was actually first introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976. A meme is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. Historically, a meme is a discrete ‘package of culture’, which would spread through word of mouth, like a joke, a parable or an expression of speech. Nowadays, memes are generally used to refer to pictures of cultural references with funny quotes over the top spread using social media. The best ones tend to involve cats…or Ryan Gosling.

      Image of Ryan Gosling with the words 'Hey girl, feel my sweater, know what it's made of? Boyfriend material' overlaid.

    4. Above the fold

      This is the upper half of a webpage which is visible without you having to scroll down. Below the fold would be what you see after you scroll down. Hamilton wrote a great post about user behaviour concerning ‘the fold’.

    5. Call to action (CTA)

      Basically what it says on the tin. Emails and webpages have these, and they are the bit where we ask the user to do something, this could be to donate, sign a petition, download a report, or just simply follow a link for more information.

    6. Accessibility

      A really important one…this is about making sure everything on our website is accessible for everyone, including people with a range of disabilities. Accessibility demands that you think about the fact that not all people consume web content in the same way. People with sight difficulties for example, may be accessing our content using screen readers, and people who are colour blind may be unable to read a graphic that uses red writing on a green background. Accessibility is not only about a physical impairment, it also involves accommodating people whose first language isn’t English, or who have a lower reading ability. Here at Macmillan we’re big on accessibility, and we are always trying to get better.

    7. Alt-text

      Linked to accessibility, alt-text is something you add when you are uploading an image to a CMS and aids those using screen-readers. The text is read out by screen readers at the point at which someone without an accessibility need would see an image. Great alt-text allows the user to visualise what’s happening in an image, so they remain as engaged as if they could see it.

    8. Migration

      Macmillan’s Digital team have been in migration mania recently. We are currently migrating content from one CMS to another, updating our website, making it mobile optimised and amazing looking. If you want to learn more about our migration project, have a read of Becca’s blog.

    9. Agile

      A difficult one for me to explain, but essentially Agile is a method of project management or way of working, which focuses on short phases of work with frequent reassessment and redesign to deliver quality products. Here’s a useful guide of the 12 principles of Agile, or read Andy’s post about both Agile and ‘mobile first’ to get a clearer idea.

    10. Microsite

      A small website that serves a very specific function, under the branding of a larger site/organisation. Our Coffee Morning microsite is just one example, but as an organisation we have over 15 microsites!

I hope at least a few of your digital conundrums have been solved from reading this post. But if there’s anything specific you want to ask us, tweet us @mac_digital! We’d love to hear from you!

R.I.P Twitter?

Social Media Manager, Carol Naylor, talks about Twitter’s proposed character limit change. Is Jack Dorsey set to ruin the clarity of our 140-character lives? Or is this a change that we will slowly grow to love?

I heard it on Whatsapp first; one of my team woke up to the news and posted it to the group chat we all share.

Image showing Whatsapp conversation between Hayley, Carol and Alice. Text reads, Hayley - According to the news, the boss of Twitter has 'dropped his biggest hint yet', that the platform is going to drop its 140 character limit (broken heart emoji_ Carol - R.I.P Twitter... Alice - (crying face emoji)

I’m really not a morning person but that certainly woke me up. We’ve all heard plenty of rumours like this before but figured that even Twitter execs would ultimately recognise what made their service so valuable to us. Apparently not.

This is what Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter (@jack) had to say:

Jack Dorsey's tweet

I checked the comments – unsurprisingly there were loads but I could only find one person who approved. So what on earth would lead Twitter to think this was a good idea?

Let’s think it through:

Competing with “the other social media network”
Facebook currently has about three times as many users as Twitter [1]. So clearly it’s the platform to beat. Consequently lots of Twitter’s recent updates have been intended to match features in Facebook. Often this has been at the expense of Twitter’s own culture. Changing their favourite star to a heart symbol brings it a bit closer to Facebook’s ‘like’, even though it totally ignored the way that many tweeters were using the feature – as a bookmark or acknowledgement rather than an endorsement.

And why change your service to be more like the competition when Facebook is already so good at being Facebook?

Greater depth of conversation
It’s true we’ve all complained about the restrictions of 140 characters in the past. And, as Jack Dorsey pointed out, it wasn’t actually an original feature, only being introduced to cater for tweets being made via SMS (which was popular back in the mid/late noughties, remember?). So I can understand the logic here.

But the problem is that we’ve got the hang of it now and we rather like it. In fact we’re quite proud of how clever you can be in only 140 characters. It’s like digital Haiku, and, given consumers’ ever-decreasing attention spans, it’s very appealing. Changing the character limit now is the equivalent of making everyone learn Cantonese in order to post and, once we’ve all mastered it, saying “No, just kidding you can use English”.

Keeping hold of users and content
About a third of all website traffic [2] is referred from Social Media posts. Facebook is the top source in this respect, but Twitter bobs about in the top five. Think about that – you’ve got 21% [1] of all internet users signed up to your service but mostly they just use it as a jumping off point to other web sites. That’s gotta sting a bit. No wonder there’s so much confusion over Twitter’s business plan and how it’s supposed to generate revenue. Facebook doesn’t have quite such a problem and even they’re trying harder to hang on to users with the introduction of locally hosted content like Instant Articles.

Searchable text
This is understandable. At present anyone wanting to exceed the 140 character limit on Twitter has to embed their content in an image to get around it. There are even online services to help you do this. And some of them look pretty cool.

Example of creative way of putting text into Twitter image

However, since most search engines don’t use Optical Character Recognition (OCR), all this wisdom is invisible to searchers.

Lessons from the direct message (DM) limit change
There’s a precedent. Limits on Twitter’s direct messages were increased to 10,000 characters last year – there were no riots, reports of pestilence or other manifestations of the apocalypse (let’s leave flooding out of it for now). In fact this has been really useful for Macmillan by allowing us to offer more detailed support to people affected by cancer. However, that’s largely because DMs are private and we can deal with confidential issues properly without having to leave the platform.

Is there a demand?
Having said that users don’t want this, there’s probably a small contingent that does. We don’t know much about how this proposed change might be implemented but it’s possible that Twitter will adopt Facebook’s technique of truncating a post after a few hundred characters and adding a link to “more”. It’ll require a culture change amongst users but it might still be possible to scroll through headings and just expand content that looks interesting. But, as marketers get the hang of it, how long before tweets just become a succession of click-bait headings? For example, “This woman was cynical about Twitter 140-character limit – you won’t believe what happened next!!!!”

Without being a mind-reader, those are all the reasons I can dream up in favour of an increased character limit. It wasn’t so hard to think of all the reasons why it would be bad idea:

Loss of immediacy
For most Tweeters the service is primarily a news source. When a news story breaks we want to know what’s happening and we want to know now. When the BBC reported the death of David Bowie it took them over an hour to get more than a sentence online about it. So I took to Twitter to get more information in the meantime – what kind of cancer was it? What was his ex-wife going to do on Big Brother? Is his son Duncan the one who was christened ‘Zowie’? And I got some of my answers just scanning down my newsfeed. Obviously when the public become the news reporters some errors or agendas will creep in, but that’s not a big problem when you can scan a whole range of tweets to get a general overview. How easy will that be when you have to read through a 10,000 character post to get the information? Even using the “more” link approach there’s no guarantee that you’d see important information first. “Above the fold” is still just jargon to most people online.

The dangers of a walled garden
This is connected to the idea of keeping as much content as possible on your platform – why would users want to go elsewhere and see other peoples’ advertising if you provide everything they need? This worked well for Internet service providers (ISPs) like AOL and Compuserve in the nineties – many of their users would refer to their services as “the Internet” not realising that it was only a small part. It got picked up by Rupert Murdoch and Fox in the early noughties as a political tool – it’s very powerful to be the sole source of news for some demographics. That worked okay for them offline but online users had become more sophisticated and didn’t like being herded. Despite that, both Facebook and Twitter seem to be favouring this tactic; it’ll be interesting to see if their subscribers are happy about that.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Twitter have created a very useful demand online and have been fulfilling it successfully since 2006. It’s not longer a unique service but they still dominate the micro-blogging landscape. Why abandon something that is so fundamental to their offer?

That leads on to the next danger. If Twitter don’t want to cater exclusively for a short-form audience, then someone will. It’s no coincidence that within 24 hours of Jack Dorsey’s announcement, social media channels (especially Twitter) were buzzing with talk about Peach, a new iOS-only app from the founder of Vine that also functions like a walled garden, but is nevertheless being hailed as a challenger to Twitter. No one can tell yet whether it really is a giant-killer, or will go the way of Ello, but there’s always another app ready to step up if it fails.

So I’m not going to give up on Twitter yet but take heed guys, I’m signing up to Peach ….just in case*.

(* – As soon as it comes out for Androids obvs)


Image of various devices. Mobile, laptop, tablet and desktop.

Scrolling beyond the fold

How have UX trends shaped website design and why have some of our favourite homepages changed this year? As 2015 draws to a close, Hamilton Jones gives us some last-minute answers.

For many years, website page design has been dominated by above the fold design, a trend deriving from traditional print media. More recently, with the overwhelming uptake of mobile technology and higher resolution displays, scrolling has become king and the fold is being considered obsolete by many digital marketers.

But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, as the first part of a website that a user is going to see, above the fold is still a key consideration in website design, particularly for information hierarchy. Good hierarchy doesn’t mean cramming all of your best and most important content at the top of the page, instead it should see information displayed strategically throughout the page to be served to the user at the most appropriate time and in the most accessible way.

Now that reams of information aren’t being put into the first 700 pixels of a page, we are starting to see some beautiful website designs that have a cleaner and simpler aesthetic. Some of the most popular trends of 2015 have been the long scroll pages, tile/card layouts, interactive storytelling, hero images and large typefaces. But different pages call for different approaches to layout and design.

Take for example our homepage. People that land on our homepage could be looking for any of our services, so we need to ensure that we create a story where they can understand our brand, discover what we offer and navigate quickly and easily to the section of the site they need. By introducing a long scroll web page with hero images we are able to serve content about each section of our website as the user moves down the page, providing them with enough information to understand what the section offers, but without giving them so much that they won’t want to read it.

When a user enters one of the landing pages within Information & Support, the layout changes to be much shorter and focuses on click interaction and pagination. Instead of being general like our homepage, these pages are more specific but don’t contain in-depth content, therefore act as signposts to guide the users to specific pages.

Moving down to article level and the pages become very specific. These pages are much longer and often contain a large amount of information. Here we have bigger type-face at the top of the page so the user knows immediately if it is the right content for their needs. These pages also focus on scrolling due to their length, so the user can take in the information without distraction as that is the main purpose of the pages.

Now that 2015 is coming to a close however, it will be interesting to see how website designs continue to change and evolve in 2016, and the changes that we at Macmillan will make, to continue to ensure that our users are getting the best possible experience from our website.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!


Illustration of a crowd of people holding a sign that reads 'For Sale 1,000,000 likes'.

Why you shouldn’t use auto-follow apps on Twitter

We’re learning a social lesson this week! Senior Social Media Officer, Bernard Muscat, uncovers the mystery of all those misplaced likes.

At Macmillan we don’t use auto-follow apps, but there are apps that can be linked to your Twitter account, that automatically follow back anyone who follows you. There are also dodgy organisations called click farms. They employ dozens of people who work day and night (for very little money), to create fake social media accounts that boost the following of other accounts. Read more about this or watch a clip.

Typing ‘buy Twitter followers/Facebook likes/YouTube views’ into eBay will return a large number of options, at very cheap prices. These fake accounts start by following a number of accounts operated by real people, in the hope that these accounts use auto-follow apps. What the click farms behind the fake accounts want, is for their bots to be thought of as real people. If you think the engagement on an account doesn’t add up, here are a few extra clues. Fake accounts:

  • often have realistic names, like this account.
  • retweet tweets that have been retweeted thousands of other times, often by other fake accounts.
  • rarely send any original tweets.
  • use a mixture of letters and numbers in their usernames.

This account, Custom Cutting Boards, is an example of one that has invested quite a bit in buying followers to make the brand look popular. A cutting board with a pig in the middle would never get oevr 3000 retweets otherwise and curiously, they haven’t tweeted since September.

These bots also have a tendency of following accounts that are very popular. A few hundred of them followed Macmillan’s main account over coffee morning week, when #MacmillanCoffeeMorning trended all day.

To summarise, fake profiles do not help your business in any way. In the short run, they may make your brand seem more popular to the uninitiated, but fake followers will never ask intelligent questions, never engage with your brand, never act as brand ambassadors. Because they are bots. Soulless, characterless, faceless bots.

If you have logged into Twitter using any apps you are not sure about, you can revoke access using these steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Click on your profile picture on the top right.
  3. Select ‘Settings’ from the drop-down.
  4. Choose ‘Apps’ from the list on the left.
  5. Select ‘Revoke access’ for any app you don’t use or are unsure of.


Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

Our journey towards a more personalised experience

Digital Project Manager, Ellie Donithorn, gives me the low down on Macmillan’s ongoing aim to give our users a more personalised website experience.

What’s new?
We have created an exciting new feature allowing users to find their nearest information and support centre. Here’s a quick how-to:

  • Step 1: Enter your postcode into the search box on the right-hand side of the page, or hit the ‘locate me’ arrow to let us find you.

Screenshot of new feature with the 'locate me' arrow circled for emphasis







  •  Step 2: View your nearest information and support centre, information about opening times, and other suggested centres within a 30-mile radius.

Screenshot of feature displaying your nearest information and support centre as well as those further out











  • Step 3: Click on your preferred centre to view its location on a map, opening times, and centre-specific contact details.

Snapshot of support centre page complete with map and additional contact details














And there’s more! If you have a My Macmillan account, you’re logged in and you’ve saved your postcode, our new function will remember this information and pull up that support centre automatically.

What was the problem before?
Our research showed us that a third of people are using their smartphone to access healthcare information. This means it’s more important than ever for us to provide users with an online experience that gives quick and comprehensive results on the go.

We identified that the process of finding your nearest support centre on the Macmillan website was unnecessarily lengthy. It was taking around five clicks for our users to find the information most relevant to them, so we decided this was something that needed to be addressed.

How will we track its success?
We won’t know whether or not this feature is useful to our users straight away. We’ll be tracking the number of people that click on the name of the centre as well as on the link that takes you to any of the suggested support centres. This will give us an indication of engagement with the new feature, so that we can decide whether or not this is the kind of functionality that enhances user experience.

Can we learn from any obstacles that occurred?
Every project has its obstacles. This new feature needed to be low risk in terms of minimum disruption to our existing web templates. Currently this feature sits on very few pages and it would be great if it was visible across a larger number. However, this is very likely once we get a feel for how helpful our users find it.

What inspired this project?
Personalisation is such a hot topic in the wider digital world, so we want to make sure we’re doing as much as possible to address it at Macmillan. We drew inspiration from websites like Amazon and Netflix, for which personalisation is key. Even the ability to log in and revisit your last interactions, or have your last order (of information booklets perhaps) automatically compiled, would be a great future venture. Just Eat is a website that people may be familiar with that does this very well!

What’s next?
We’re working on further enhancements of this feature, which will mean that we can make the information users want from the Macmillan site even more relevant to their needs. For example, displaying support centres that are ‘cancer-type specific’ and thus, most relevant to the user. And in our volunteering section of the website, we plan to show our users the volunteering opportunities that are most local to them.

It’s about creating a bespoke experience that prioritises information according to the user’s needs and interests. And this is step one of greater things to come from Macmillan.


Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

Thumbs up and thumbs down - pros and cons of introducing long copy to social media

Long copy takes to social

Digital Editor Hamilton Jones sheds light on the introduction of long copy on social channels, weighing up the pros and cons for the Macmillan website.

Since the rise of social media, people have been accessing information online in a completely different way. Driven by short character limits and even shorter attention spans, social media’s fast paced nature has traditionally seen it play a very separate role to that of the website. But that could be about to change.

The past weeks have seen announcements from two major social networks that indicate a move towards long copy on their platforms. Twitter is looking at lifting the 140 character limit across their whole platform, having recently done so for their direct messaging service, while Facebook’s in-built publishing tool, Instant Articles, is currently being tested by major brands worldwide.

The move by both parties invites brands to expand their social presence by sharing much longer pieces of content, content that perhaps would usually have appeared exclusively on their website. The impact this is likely to have could result in digital editorial and social media teams working much more closely to create cross-platform content.

At Macmillan, the Information and Support section of our website contains thousands of invaluable long copy pages for both generic and cancer specific information. By using tools like Instant Articles, we may have the opportunity to share some of this information across our social networks, helping us to reach more people affected by cancer than ever before.

While this may sound like a fantastic opportunity, sharing some of our long copy on social media has its downsides too. By creating a hub of all of our content on our social networks, we are taking users away from our website. While having more traffic on our social platform is a good thing, it also means we do not have as much control over how we interact with and reach our audience. By driving users to our own website we have the opportunity to capture better data and provide them with a more personalised experience.

So what does this mean for Macmillan? Well, watch this space! Over the next few months as these changes roll out across Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps more widely across all social channels, it will be interesting to see how we, as a digital team, adapt to and embrace these changes.

Thoughts on this?
Tweet us @mac_digital or leave a comment below!

Happy Twitterversary: Digital Twitter account's 5th birthday

We celebrate our Twitterversary

It’s been five years since we launched Macmillan’s digital Twitter account @mac_digtal and what started as a digital hatchling in 2010, has blossomed into a hashtagging T-Rex. 

Over the years, not only has our Twitter following grown, but the Digital team here in the office has more than doubled in size. This means more news, more exciting projects and more digital activity. Okay, so we’re no @macmillancancer (305,000 followers to date!), but we think of ourselves as small yet mighty, finding the most interesting topical news and delivering it with a smile.

In the last 90 days, we’ve averaged one new follower a day- which we think is pretty great- and we’ve kept those followers up to speed with just about everything, from new digital innovations and charity campaigns that interest us to job opportunities within the team.

Cut yourself a slice of that leftover Coffee Morning cake and take a look at our top 5 tweets of all time:


Top tweets


9 retweets: Celebrating 5 years of the digital twitter account.


Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 10.25.27


14 retweets: Encouraging our following to take the survey and share their thoughts on the website redesign.


Top tweet of all time asking our followers to check out our new site launch and take the survey to tell us what they thought. It got 21 Retweets.

Needless to say our hashtagging game has of course been #excellent….

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 12.36.58

and our top mentions show that we especially love to tweet about what our Head of Digital, Amanda, has been doing. Well she does do a lot!

Top mentions: @amandaneylon, @macmillancancer, @robsterlini, @we_are_nomensa and @youtube

Do you follow the @mac_digital account? If not, there’s no time like the present. FOLLOW US HERE.

This post makes for some easy reading

This month’s blog post is a collaborative effort from our digital interns Sam Russell and Donald Lam, who explore readability and its place at Macmillan.

In the past few years, readability has become an important feature of digital content. We spoke to Abigail Howse, our Quality and Improvement Officer, who looks after readability at Macmillan. She helped us come up with some useful information on the subject.

Why is readability so important?

Readability is the ease with which a written text can be understood by a reader. It is especially important to Macmillan because we are one of the biggest providers of cancer information in the UK.

Interestingly, the average reading age in the UK is not quite as high as one might expect. A survey in 2011 found that 43% of adults have a literacy rate of aged 14 or younger and 15% under age 11.

Image of UK literacy rates according to media findings

With these statistics in mind, it’s even more important that we make sure anyone affected by cancer, whatever their reading age, can get the support they need from our website.

As part of our content strategy, we are working to lower the reading age of our content even further, from 13 to 11 years old.

How exactly is readability measured?

There are two widely used methods of checking the reading age of content.

The ‘Flesch Reading Ease’ test estimates readability using a calculation of the number of words, sentences and syllables in a piece of text. The scale is measured out of 100 (the higher it is, the more readable it is). Macmillan aims for between 70-90 (age 11-12).

The ‘Flesch-Kincaid grade level’ uses the same technique to estimate what US school grade would be able to read the content. Macmillan aims for grade 6 or 7 (age 11-12).

Surprisingly, it is in fact possible to generate this information in Microsoft Word by following these instructions. There are also many online tools that will check your content for you. The average reading age of Macmillan’s cancer information pages is currently 14 years old.

Okay, so how do I lower the reading age of my content?

Abigail suggested a variety of different simple techniques to increase the readability of digital content. Words, sentences and paragraphs can all be simplified to make a piece of online text more readable.

11-year old boy struggling to read


  • Choose your words carefully. Avoid using idiomatic expressions such as give it a shot/drop us a line – instead use language that is literal. Get rid of redundant words and pick the simplest word to ensure you aren’t excluding anyone. ‘I felt a bit under the weather’ should be changed to ‘I felt unwell.’ However, complicated technical words, such as ‘chemotherapy’, are sometimes necessary.
  • Structure your sentences well. Make each sentence as simple as possible without changing its meaning. Try to make sure your sentences don’t stray too far beyond twenty words. It is best to only make one point per sentence. Passive clauses should be avoided or, avoid passive clauses.
  • Split up your content. Use paragraphs between topics and bullet points, when appropriate, to improve clarity. Images are another great way to break up large amounts of text in a way that is appealing to a reader.

After applying these techniques, someone of a low literacy rate should have the same opportunity to understand a piece of text as someone with a much higher literacy rate.

Who else cares about readability?

Readability is a really hot topic. So hot in fact, that new technologies specifically developed to enhance readability are being developed.

Most notably, Asymmetrica Labs has created an algorithm to improve readability. Asymmetrica inserts spaces into website text in order to break up sentences into simpler chunks. It is a free browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, and reformats the text without affecting the site’s overall design.

Other technologies, such as Readability, turn any web page into a simpler format, making it easier to read on your desktop, phone, or tablet.

It won’t be long before complicated words, convoluted sentences and complex layouts are a thing of the past in the digital world.

I’m still reading!

If you have read this far, you probably know enough about readability to guess the answer to a simple question. Which section of this blog post is the most readable?

The answer…the ‘How exactly is readability measured?’ section, with a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 7.2. And the least readable?…the ‘Who else cares about readability?’ section, with a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 11.4.

So that’s everything you need to know about readability in a nut shell. Readability isn’t about compromising on quality, it’s about getting your content read and read widely. This mightn’t be your main priority if your audience is very niche, but if, like the Macmillan website, your aim is to reach out and support as many people as possible, it’s definitely something to consider.

Macmillan's Online Community Champions

How to engage online volunteers

In the digital age in which we live, volunteers are no longer solely managed face-to-face. Online Community Support Officer Jess Evans shares her expertise on getting the best from online volunteers, who in our case, have helped make Macmillan’s Online Community of over 90,000 users, the success it is today.

Working with volunteers online is one of my favourite (and most challenging) projects. Our Online Community Champions are hand-picked by the community team, or nominated by other members for being notably helpful and supportive to others on the Community. Nearly all of them started as members affected by cancer, and came to the Community to seek support. We find that people who have been in receipt of support from the Macmillan Community are often keen to offer support to others in return; our Champions programme is a great way to formalise and encourage this process.

The Online Community Champions are the eyes and ears of the Community. They welcome new members, signpost them to relevant information and services and report spam and possible safeguarding issues. They help keep the Community a warm, supportive and friendly place, collectively volunteering more than 145 hours of their time to Macmillan each week. It is absolutely essential to engage, motivate and inspire these members, who give so much back to Macmillan.

Online volunteering is so different to face-to-face volunteering and therefore presents a new realm of challenges for both volunteer and manager.

Here are my top tips for successful engagement based on working with Macmillan’s Online Community Champions:

Nurture your team; include and communicate

  • Create a safe space for your volunteers. At Macmillan, our champs have their own group on the community to allow them to chat privately and ask for help and support from us and each other. They can post anything they feel they cannot answer themselves, and discuss challenges or anxieties of the role. Equally, they can socialise within the group and build friendships.
  • Keep your volunteers informed. We send out a monthly newsletter ‘The Champion’ with insider Macmillan news, up-and-coming news and key discussions on the Community that month. Insider news gives our volunteers exclusive access to preview our latest features and designs. As superusers, they know the site better than most and therefore, we treat their feedback and opinions on the Community as invaluable.
  • Encourage a strong sense of participation. The Community knows our champs are part of Team Macmillan as they have had several champ signatures designed for them showing their volunteer status.


  • Ask for input. We ask for the Champions’ ideas and opinions of various projects, such as our Community animation, which was voiced by one Champion, Helen, as well as showcasing our other Champions in case studies and blogs.

Reiterate their value and impact

  • Take time to say thank you. Our twice-yearly meet ups in head office give champs the opportunity to meet each other and the Community team. Highlights from this year included meeting Kim from the support line and Chief Executive Lynda, who thanked them for all their dedication to Macmillan. Of course in true Macmillan style, we also ate large amounts of home-made cake.
  • Simple gestures of appreciation go a long way. Giving out Macmillan freebies and thank you cards, makes them feel part of the team, even at home.
  • Show them the impact of their work. Showing volunteers how much they’ve posted (sometimes over 2500 times per month) and highlighting the increase in site traffic since their involvement, is a particularly impactful way of quantifying their work. It shows them the value and power of their volunteering and reiterates how much their work has achieved.

Develop their skills through  training and support

  • Our team provides initial training, with tips on how to answer posts, advice from previous champs, useful places to signpost, as well as technical help. We continually update and review our training procedures to reflect their feedback, and provide support in our private group and email. Further work-shopping of problem areas such as ‘how to answer difficult posts’ is a great way of tackling common obstacles head-on, reassuring and empowering our Champions.
  • Praise through tough times is key. We make sure to react quickly and positively when we see our Champions have contributed particularly supportive posts or answered something that they have found difficult.
  • Treat volunteers as individuals. Our volunteers have varying technical abilities and emotional reactions to Community activity. It’s vital that they are given technical training and feel completely comfortable using the site, before they can be expected to assist others. At Macmillan, we have private practice and test areas for volunteers to try out new functionalities as well as places they can vent when they’re having a hard time.
  • Consider their well-being. We are currently looking into emotional resilience training or mindfulness sessions, as some Champions have expressed that at times, they find it difficult to support others affected by cancer.

These have been my tips on how to engage volunteers, but for now I’ll let our champion Daloni have the last word – here’s what being a Community Champion means to her.

A still from the animation showing three community members on their devices chatting to each other online

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