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Left: Batteries Not Included Team present their prototype to Macmillan staff. Right: Screenshot of digital MISS bus alert.

Hackathon 4.0: Digital innovation at Macmillan

Our Digital Assistant, Addy Olutunmogun, reports from Macmillan’s fourth Digital Development Hack Day. She talks to participants and organisers to find out more about the event’s evolution and significance.

If you want to see problem-solving at its most innovative, creative and inspiring, look no further than Macmillan’s Hack Day. 4 original ideas to help us deliver for people affected by cancer, 4 dedicated teams of tech whizzes, 1 day to create a prototype.

‘an important opportunity to demonstrate what technology can bring to Macmillan’

— Chris Trenning, Agile software coach

Office board displaying different Hack Day ideas

The 12 shortlisted Hack Day ideas – whittled down from over 40!

Our Hack Day has grown from a team-building exercise amongst digital development staff to an event that encourages input from across the organisation. In doing so, this summer’s event, perhaps more than any other, has shown how technology can help us deliver in a variety of novel ways.

The Organisers

I spoke to Steve Knight, a web development team leader, and Chris Trenning, Agile software coach, who’ve masterminded this year’s Hack Day.

Why do you think Hack Day is so important for Macmillan?

Steve: Hack Days [a.k.a Hackathons] are a great way to generate ideas, promote a culture of innovation and encourage the use of new technology. We’re an ambitious charity and we need to take advantage of new technology and ways of thinking to help us achieve our mission.

Chris: Hack Day is an important opportunity to demonstrate what technology can bring to Macmillan. People tend to shy away from technology, if they’re not working in it, because they feel they don’t understand. If you’ve got an area you know nothing about, you can sometimes be dismissive. Hack Days help to break down those barriers. They demystify what we do and the people who do it and so remove that fear of interaction.   The event also allows the Technology team to exhibit some pride. They can show off – and I think that’s really healthy for them!

How has Hack Day evolved?

Chris: It’s more inclusive and every event gets a wider audience.

Steve: This year we asked the whole charity for Hack Day ideas and we had over 40 ideas submitted! They came from 6 of our 7 Directorates and included staff from all over the country as well as some home workers. It’s great to get such nationwide engagement with the project. We have also listened to our teams and changed the format of the day accordingly. For example, this time the teams were able to present their ideas in a market stall format the following day instead of formal presentations we used to do.

Chris: We listened to what people liked and didn’t like about previous hack days and used this to develop the format. There is now no overall winner [prizes are awarded to the teams for their efforts and to encourage some friendly competition], the teams now have an opportunity to win in 5 different categories:

  • Innovation – Is tech being used in a novel way?
  • Creativity – Are you surprised by the way the product works?
  • Technology – Is it clever? Does the implementation demonstrate something new?
  • UX and Presentation – Is it easy to use? Does the design make it enjoyable to use?
  • Marketability – Can you imagine this product being utilised in the organisation?
  • Best team name!

We designed this to ensure everyone has an equal chance to win and to recognise value in each prototype produced.

What future do you envisage for Hack Day?

Steve: It would be great if the event became a collaboration with different teams and not just Digital Development. Hack Days can be much more than a technical exercise. They can involve working out a process, coming up with designs – anything you want them to be really. Our involvement [the Technology team] will mainly be coding, but other teams can contribute a lot of different approaches and ideas. A representative from Macmillan’s Innovation team came to an ideas workshop for this Hack Day along with members of the UX, creative and editorial teams. They are all very interested in getting more involved so the future is promising for Hack Days at Macmillan!

The Teams

So, who are these amazing techies taking on this challenge for Macmillan? Steve kindly invited me up to the lofty 17th floor to meet them.

Team Beaver Members: Richard x2, Reinaldo, Nuzhat, Andreea

A member of Team Beaver explains his prototype to a member of staff.

Team Beaver explain why their gamification tool is a winner.

Tell us about the project? Gamification of giving. We’re tying donations and volunteering into a points system that you can get achievements for. Depending on how much you contribute, you’ll earn badges that you can share on your social media profile.

What do you enjoy most about Hack Day? Working together.

Team Floppy

Members: Harald, Milan, Suneetha, Swathi, Shenika

Left: Harald guides staff through this team's transcription tool prototype. Right: a screenshot of the prototype interface.

Harald guides staff through his team’s transcription tool prototype.

Tell us about the project? A tool that converts speech to text and stores it in a database. It will allow us to record Macmillan Support Line (MSL) calls so users won’t have to repeat answers and help staff quickly identify users’ needs.

Team Brahma

Members: Raghu, Adrian, Beni, Ashish

Team Brahma present their Good News page.

Team Brahma show off their Good News page.

Tell us about the project? We’re creating a Good News page that gives users flexibility to see news articles from chosen topics and filter out negative news.

Why did you decide to take part in Hack Day? We love the stress! It’s a challenge as we have to tackle tech we haven’t used before. We’re learning on the go and it’s a great opportunity to learn new things.

Batteries Not Included

Members: John, Mo, Sam, Dino

 

Left: Batteries Not Included Team present their prototype to Macmillan staff. Right: Screenshot of digital MISS bus alert.

Batteries Not Included try to win over staff with their MISS bus tool.

What are you working on? Using IP location software to give users relevant Macmillan information. Today we focused on using the tool to promote our MISS (Mobile Information Support Services) buses but there is potential for the idea to signpost people to a range of local services like coffee mornings.

Why is Hack Day important to you? It gives us a chance to develop applications for areas of need that aren’t always prioritised.

The Winners

If trying to develop these ambitious projects in a day wasn’t hard enough, the teams then had to present their work in a 2-hour market stall. Staff where invited to check out the prototypes and cast their votes.

The results were…

Most Innovative Hack Winner: Team Floppy

Most Creative Hack Winner: Team Brahma

Best use of Technology Winners (draw): Team Floppy and Team Brahma

Best User Experience and Presentation Winner: Team Beaver

Most Marketable Hack Winner: Batteries not Included

Best Team Name Winner: Batteries not Included

Congratulations teams!!

What do you think? Who would be your winner? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

Similarly, if you’ve ever attended a Hack Day, let us know. Was it any good?

We’re getting emotional over the new Facebook emotions

SHOCK! HORROR! GLEE! Oh wait, those aren’t part of the six new reactions Facebook has recently rolled out…

If you haven’t already heard, Facebook is now allowing you to express yourself in new ways. All you need to do is hover over the original like button and choose from like, love, haha, wow, sad and anger. So what does our digital team think of the new update? Here are our reactions to the new Facebook reactions:

loveAlice Hajek, Social Media Officer

I like anything new so I am slightly in love with these new options. I am desperately searching my Facebook feed to find something to ‘love’ but am yet to find the perfect post. We have already seen our supporters use the new reactions on our Facebook ads and it is great to see them in action. I’m really interested to see how this will help with our post engagement and if it will have an effect on our reach.

wowMairead Brodie, Digital Marketing Officer

We knew this was in the pipeline but now that this is in place I am wow’d at what this brings to Facebook- they really sneaked this update on us! I’m really looking forward to seeing how this will work on our sponsored Facebook posts and I’m so glad there isn’t a dislike button.

angerGabriella Okon, Digital Editor

The great thing about a thumbs up is that social media users have evolved to understand it as a multi-faceted expression of emotion. Why must I now think twice (nay 6 times!) before I engage with a post? And can someone please explain to me how to differentiate between a cyber like and a cyber love? If I cyber love one friend’s salad pic, and cyber like another friend’s baby pic, what ridiculous trap of misplaced over-expression have I fallen into? I predict that a global preference of the love heart will see the thumbs up fall by the wayside. And what a shame. Okay ‘pokes’ were always creepy, but a thumbs up was just fine. If it aint broke Facebook…

likeBernard Muscat, Senior Social Media Officer

Today’s release is Facebook’s biggest update on features around users’ emotions since the introduction of the Like button in 2009.  The Like button is still among the Reactions available.  It remains to be seen whether users will experiment more with other Reactions, or whether the emojification of the Like button and its longevity will mean that it remains the most popular Reaction.

hahaHamilton Jones, Digital Editor

I think the new update is going to be great fun! By its nature, social media is the platform we use to share what we find hilarious and silly. With a huge rise in videos on our timelines, it’s no surprise Facebook has added these new emojis… how else are we to express our laughter when watching fail videos if not in tiny yellow pixels?

sadAnnabel Howarth, Digital Assistant

These days we have so many hundreds of amazing emojis going round (my personal favourites is the unicorn) and yet Facebook chose these six?! Humans have many complex emotions and this makes me sad,  we can’t be limited like this, our emotions cannot be confined to just six options. Also-is this just going to give cyber bullies and trolls what they have always wanted?I’m worried..

Why I love Instagram (and why Macmillan should love it too)

In this listicle Macmillan Social Media Officer, Alice Hajek talks about why Instagram is her favourite social media network and the opportunities that #throwbackthursdays and #motivationalmonday posts can provide an organsation.

Instagram boasts 300 million active monthly users worldwide. Despite this rather large figure, it is a relatively new social platform for many brands. At Macmillan, we only got into the Instagram swing of things last April when our follower base stood at 3000 people. 10 months later, and with 12,000 new followers, we are starting to establish Instagram as an integral social media platform at Macmillan.

Here are five reasons why I love Instagram (and why Macmillan should love it too).

1. It’s pretty

I love how anyone can make average photographs look great. Of course, I don’t have this problem because all my photos are brilliant… Whether it is a photo of your spiralised courgetti, the sunset from your office (the number of times our digital and PR teams have grammed the sunset over Battersea Power Station must be in the thousands) or our fantastic fundraisers – it’s easy to make your pictures look good. What more could you want?

healthy food image macmillan fundraisers vauxhall sunset

2. Engagement is high

As Facebook cuts the reach of brand pages considerably, the amount of likes and comments on Macmillan’s Instagram posts can sometimes outperform those on our Facebook page. When you consider that Macmillan has 600,000+ likes on Facebook and 15,800 followers on Instagram, this shows just how strong the engagement is on Instagram and the high percentage of followers that we are reaching with our content. It highlights Instagram as a key social channel for Macmillan.

On my personal account, it’s all about the 11 like threshold. If the names of those who liked it are still visible (you need 11 likes to go from names to numbers) you might as well admit defeat and take the post down – #embarrassing.

10 likes vs. 11 likes

3. The younger audience

We have noticed that some of our followers are quite young. There are a lot of usernames full of kisses and ending in years of birth such as ‘04 and ‘05. We know this young audience is not really Macmillan’s target demographic but it is great that we are able to reach them this way. Are they taking in our messages in the 0.02 seconds it takes to double tap (like) a photo, who knows? But at least they know we exist.

However, this is the extreme end of the scale. From what we can see we’re reaching lots of people in their late teens, twenties and thirties as well as our usual Macmillan supporters. I must admit, the younger audience is definitely more useful for Macmillan than for me personally. It can be quite hard to contain my jealousy as my younger sister and cousins receive more likes than me…

4. Recent updates

We can now flick between different Instagram accounts without having to log in and out. YAY! This means it is a whole lot easier to go between my personal account and the Macmillan account, oh and the account my sister and I set up for our dog Angus over Christmas…

Instagram has also announced that we will soon be able to see how many times people have viewed our videos, which will be great for analysis and evaluations. Instagram are still behind Facebook and Twitter in terms of their analytic offering so we are quite excited about this update. They will be rolling the new feature out over the next couple of weeks.

5. Instagram content is the best (in my opinion)

There are lots of clichés on Instagram. Wanderlust photos, motivational quotes, throwback Thursday pics, dogs in fancy dress, cats in fancy dress, random items spread out on the most pristine white tables you’ve ever seen, but I love them all. And luckily lots of them can work for Macmillan.

We’ve shared a pug in a Macmillan t-shirt, motivational quotes from our case studies, throwback Thursday photos, minions up mountains, healthy recipes and cat coffee mornings, to name just a few. And there’s more we can do. We’re still experimenting with what works well but it is an exciting place to be right now.

pug minion quote

You can Follow Macmillan on Instagram here.

Storytelling: The superhero of communications

In the first of three blogs, Craig Melcher, our Digital Content Manager, opens the book on the most enduring and powerful form of digital content.

alan-rickman

‘Storytelling’ was once an innocent word, belonging to the bedtime ritual between parents and children or legend-sharing rituals within indigenous cultures. Then around five years ago the marketing world got its mitts on it, turned it into an ‘essential engagement tool’, and it became the topic of every agency blog, brand summit and industry podcast.

But rather than do its run as a marketing trend and fodder for buzzword bingo, storytelling is now flourishing through digital channels. Stories have become the online content people gravitate to, share and talk about – and the volume, quality and variety have mushroomed.

Aside from how successfully the most dominant modern story forms – films and books – perform online, the telling of stories has found other, more innovative forms. Major news websites have helped lead the way, using HTML5 and other web innovations to combine text, video, photography, graphics and audio into rich, interactive stories like the Guardian’s Firestorm, SBS’s The Other 9/11 and Baptism by Fire from the New York Times.

For our ears, on the back of last year’s record success of Serial (and, long before that, its progenitor This American Life), documentary and interview-style podcast series like Radiolab, Outlook, SBS True Stories, Love + Radio, Porchlight and StoryCorps have built huge audiences. Live event podcasts like Risk! and The Moth are getting big download numbers by featuring everything from story slams to people sharing personal tales onstage.

For our eyes, the web’s visual strengths make it a photographer’s playground, and professionals and amateurs alike are publishing potent photo essays, not only on Instagram but also platforms like Exposure.

For lovers of written stories, the movement has led to sites such as Longform, Wattpad, Medium and dozens more, as well as waves of online learning and collaboration options like Figment, LitLift, The Story Emporium and truckloads more.

The arc and the oxytocin

What caused all this? It turns out we humans have a thing for stories. They are how we connect to each other, generate empathy for people we don’t know, and are moved to do something for them. We’re hard-wired to tell and listen to stories.

We can explain why this happens through some basic science and basic story structure. At its most stripped-down*, the arc of a story has three stages:
1. Exposition – when a main character is introduced along with details like setting, time, situation and, importantly, what that character wants.
2. Crisis – when something happens to the character that gets in the way of what they want.
3. Resolution – when the enemy is beaten, the disaster averted, the solution found, or the first kiss finally happens.

Classic-Story-Arc-storytelling

* In books and courses by the thousands, the universal dramatic structure has been pursued, dissected, analysed, prescribed and over-complicated. But if you want one good read that truly explains the ‘why’ of humankind’s need for stories, I recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods.

Now the science bit (your brain on stories). We all have four main ‘happy chemicals’, or hormones that act as neurotransmitters in our brains:
- Dopamine – to motivate us. Released when you realise you have a 5pm deadline on the report you thought was due next week.
- Seratonin – to make us feel valued. Released when someone compliments you on that stylish belt.
- Oxytocin – the all-powerful social bonding chemical. Between mum and baby, it facilitates childbirth and promotes breastfeeding. Between two partners, it triggers feelings from warm and fuzzy to sexual. Between two strangers, it fosters generosity.
- Endorphins – the euphoria chemical. Released via all sorts of triggers: through laughter, as response to pain and stress (the athlete’s high), favourite aromas (hello, bacon), and of course chocolate – amongst many others.

So where does the brain science meet the story arc?

1. Exposition: When we’re introduced to a main character, we connect with them to at least a small degree – and our brain releases oxytocin. The more we connect or identify with them – maybe they remind you of someone close, or their situation is one you’ve experienced, or they’re from your town – the more we go on their journey with them, and the more oxytocin we produce.
2. Crisis: As something bad happens to our character, our oxytocin levels increase. And the more we relate to them, the greater the oxytocin surge.
3. Resolution: The moment our character saves the planet and gets the boy, or just finds health and happiness, our oxytocin levels drop and our brain produces endorphins.

That’s why we’re all story junkies. And it’s why civilisations told stories before they could print. They’re the most effective vehicle of communication we have because of their power to move and connect us. Stories are how we entertain, educate and inspire. The yarns we tell in pubs, office kitchens and taxi cabs prove that storytelling is the original form of social media.

‘You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.’
- Margaret Atwood

And when you combine the enduring power of the story with the nearly unlimited ability of web channels to reach people, build niche audiences and let them spread content, you get the boom in storytelling explained above, times a thousand.

What does this mean for Macmillan?

Consider our organisational ambition: To reach and improve the lives of everyone living with cancer, and inspire millions of others to do the same. So how do we inspire them? What’s the mechanism that moves them to seek help and information when they’re affected by cancer, or to give us their money, time and other support? Chances are, it will be someone’s story that plays a key role, motivating them to action.

We’re in an enviable position in that we represent the human side of cancer. (As sometimes said, we are the care, not the cure.) The stories of the people we help and the people who help us are the most vivid, compelling and authentic ways we can communicate to our audiences. A principle of our brand is ‘For and by real people’, meaning we allow them to tell their stories and, in doing so, we’re able to express what we do, the need for our services and the impact we can make.

david-for-blog

Across our website, we use stories to give weight to a message and lend personal voices to information. On our story hub you’ll find a wide range of stories covering various challenges people have faced along their cancer journeys. Many of these were produced as part of Macmillan’s ongoing Not Alone brand campaign. We’re always adding more stories and finding more places to use them, working with content-producing teams to plan the most effective story content.

A story for another day

In our next instalment on storytelling, we’ll take a closer look at how Macmillan and other charities are telling personal stories and building broader narratives, and the techniques, content and measurement needed to do it well.

Further reading

The Science of Generosity (Paul Zak), Psychology Today

The Three-Act Structure, The Elements of Cinema

Beauty and the brief

You often hear creative directors say that the work can only be as good as the brief, and while I’m a stickler for a well thought out and enlightening brief, I don’t think it’s as black and white as all that. I’ve seen good creative transcend a poor brief and I’ve also seen a great brief go to waste with safe or bland creative. Even strategists will sometimes work backwards from a great idea and write their brief to fit, which goes to show that it can be an evolving document.

But in the day to day workings of a creative studio, good briefs generally result in good work. And it’s easy to understand why. A brief is like a treasure map – you want to make it clear that there’s gold in them thar hills but you also want the treasure hunter to work hard to find it.

When it comes to being in the right space to think up the best ideas, trust plays a huge role in creative thinking. Clients put their trust into the team to read, understand and take on board their requests, and creatives work best when they’re given space to interpret the information and develop ideas based on their understanding of the problem.

This means giving the team a clear and thorough explanation of the challenge you face or the problem you need to solve and a detailed description of the audience you’re trying to reach. What makes your product or service unique and why should anyone care? Tell us something interesting about the audience.  What makes them tick? What gets them excited? What makes them mad? Great creative ideas spring from human truths and it’s these nuggets of insight that really get the creative cogs whirring.

As an example, when developing the Old Spice campaign, research into the body wash category showed that a lot of women buy body wash for the men in their lives, which meant there were far more women buying men’s body wash than men. The audience for men’s body wash, funnily, wasn’t men at all – it was women. Women who wanted their men smelling good. That was the audience insight, the human truth that led to this:

In their 2014 short film on briefs, Basset asked creative directors of the world’s most prestigious agencies to describe what a good brief is:

‘A thought starter…’

‘the shorter the better’

‘a clarity of purpose’

‘an open statement of ambition’

‘most importantly, it has to inspire the people who are given the task of solving the problem’

This last one really stuck with me. When you’re reading a brief and you feel the client’s excitement and enthusiasm for the project leaping off the page, it makes you want to get to work immediately. It makes you want to create something brilliant, something that will do justice to their passion. So write your briefs with passion – let your enthusiasm for the project shine through the words. The work will be all the better for it.

‘But you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction.’

Is it okay to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’? The answer is very simple – yes.

The idea that it’s grammatically incorrect to start a sentence with a conjunction like ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘so’ is just a myth.

I know, I know. It’s probably not what you were taught at school. But the fact is – wait for it – your teachers were wrong.

And don’t just take my word for it.

The Chicago Manual of Style, an authority on all things grammar, says rather emphatically:

‘There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction.

‘In fact, a substantial percentage of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions.

‘It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.’

But this debate is nothing new.

For years, people have been standing up for their right to start sentences with a conjunction.

All the way back in 1953, Sir Ernest Gowers wrote in a book called The Complete Plain Words that:

‘There used to be an idea that it was inelegant to begin a sentence with “and”. That idea is now as good as dead.’

Ernest may have jumped the gun a bit there. But who can fault his optimism? He couldn’t have known that this myth would still be flying around 60 plus years later.

So where has this myth come from?

In the book The Story of English in 100 Words, grammarian David Crystal gives us some answers. He blames those uptight Victorians. It reads:

‘During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like ‘but’ or ‘and’, presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing. 

‘But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should ‘never’ begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are.’

So there you have it.

For over a hundred years, people have been debating (read: arguing) about this issue, all because of some overzealous schoolteachers.

But there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with words like ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’ or ‘or’. And it’s never been any other way.

Keeping it real this Christmas

If you have a television you can’t possibly have avoided the barrage of Christmas adverts that have been hitting our screens in the last few weeks. There have been the good, the bad and the exceedingly twee.

The ones that caught my eye were by Tesco and Sainsbury’s  - probably because both are startling similar. Both focus on that key idea that Christmas is a time to be with your family and all the memories and nostalgia that come with that.

Sainsbury’s was the better ad for me.  As the strapline says it’s all about the moments that make Christmas special. There were some great observations in it, ones that people can really relate to and it felt genuine, believable and moving.

And that’s because it IS genuine. Apparently it’s all authentic footage from last Christmas. And you can really tell. That’s what sets it apart from Tesco’s ad (it probably doesn’t help that I’ve never liked Rod Stewart’s voice either).

And in a way, though what we’re doing is so different to Sainsbury’s, it’s reinforced in my mind what we do at Macmillan. We’re about being personal in every way and helping make sure that people affected by cancer have the chance to be heard.  It’s about showing the real experiences that people are going through. And whenever you do that you create something so much more tangible and moving than you could ever do if you tried to artificially recreate it.

CRUK favourite charity amongst those aged 18–24

So we all know Macmillan is the nation’s favourite charity brand this year, but in the youth sector things are very different. The Youth 100 reveals the most loved brands of 2013 based on a survey of thousands of young people. The top three brands in this age group are You Tube, Wikipedia and Cadbury. CRUK are the first charity coming in at a respectable 11th place. The next seven charity brands are Comic Relief, Oxfam, Movember, Talk to Frank, Greenpeace, Amnesty and [Red].

You’ll notice that Macmillan don’t feature in the top 100. What are your thoughts about this? How can we make Macmillan better known and loved by Britain’s young people?

 

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