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A vector of a pencil, wifi icon, a person and mobile interface, all interconnected with a cog to represent digital ecosystems.

Digital Ecosystems: an Interview with Allen O’Leary

Macmillan’s Digital Strategist, Allen O’Leary, unpacks why digital ecosystem projects are needed and what digital transformation means for user experiences now and in the future. An interview by Tracey Murigi, Digital Assistant. 

At Macmillan, our Digital Experience team are dedicated to supporting, connecting and inspiring people affected by cancer and their loved ones through great digital experiences. And we’ve been busy, behind the scenes, working to streamline and improve our audiences’ online experiences by ensuring digital platforms are helping us to meet our strategic objectives.

What is a digital ecosystem?

Every website, micro-site, social media account, fundraising platform and blog set up by a single organisation. In a larger sense it’s about how these all work together to help people.

Why was this project needed?

Our current digital ecosystem is made up of many different websites and web properties, most created tactically, over the last 5-6 years. But now we want to take a step back and ensure we have a digital ecosystem that delivers a single, conscious strategy. One which enables us to provide our users with a meaningful experience whether that is helping them with their needs as a person living with cancer or someone running a marathon for us.

Macmillan staff are hugely innovative when it comes to using digital platforms to meet the needs of our supporters. So it’s also really important that we involve staff in the project, to make sure the new digital ecosystem enables them to continue that work.

To do these things we need to take a longer view and move beyond fixing what we have.

What steps have you taken to build a digital ecosystem that’s true to Macmillan?

We are using a solid innovation method called ‘Double Diamond’ which has been around for many years. There are four distinct steps to this process:

  • Discover: research is essential for understanding the digital needs of people living with cancer, the type of cancer they have, the type of care they need and the way they need it.
  • Define: at this stage, we have to define the future offer, there are four core factors –
    • What are we here to do?
    • How are we going to do it?
    • What do our users actually want?
    • Is what we are doing relevant/necessary for who we are trying to help?
  • Design: we have to ensure that we’re creating solutions that are delivering against those four core factors and that the end result is not just ‘a website’. We need to implement a systematic programme of smaller projects that will create parts of the Ecosystem; each one should go through a design, test and redesign process.
  • Deliver: this is where the improved digital ecosystem is rolled out. We’re trying to align the big picture of organisational strategies whilst taking into account what we think people will need now – and in ten years’ time.

How are you future-proofing the ecosystems work you’re doing now for Macmillan?

One of the underlying principles about transformational ecosystems is that you’re building for the future.

We not only need to look at how to solve digital right now, but we need to also look at what type of experience users will expect in 5-10 years’ time and how to strengthen our digital ecosystem to meet those demands.

Look at new tech – like voice-controlled personal assistants (Google Home or Alexa) and wearable tech (Fitbits or Apple Watch). How will they fit into our work in the future? What do we need to do now, to be ready to deliver the right kind of customer experience for people living with cancer in 2030? By then, there will be 4 million people living with cancer, up from 2.5 million in 2015. Furthermore, what’s the role of a mobile app versus a website, and is there going to be any difference in the two things in the near future?

These are the kinds of things we are currently considering as we move through this project.

What are the long-term consequences for organisations who don’t hone their digital ecosystems?

Organisations need to have a digital ecosystem that they can manage to a high standard. People’s expectations of digital ecosystems are set by Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon so if you can’t keep up, then it’s very difficult to convince your supporters to stay with you.

A good example of this is when the mobile web took over; organisations lost out on donations because their donations systems were hard to use on a mobile platform. Organisations need to be ahead of the user by constantly updating their digital offer.

Will the upcoming GDPR legislation affect how the ecosystem is built and executed?

Very much, though the details are still being worked through. As we work through this project, we continue to understand the implications about what information we can hold about a person and our responsibilities to the person who has given us that information.

Aside from the legal implications one of the key things to understand about this is that access to people’s data must be earned through demonstrating a value of return on it. In this way data is like a donation, you have to show the value of it to the donor by showing impact– there’s no difference with personal data.

 

Digital Strategist, Allen O'Leary is leading Macmillan's Digital Ecosystems projectAllen has been leading Macmillan Cancer Support’s Digital Ecosystem Project since October 2017. He has been working for charities and agencies since 1997. 

Our aim is to strengthen our digital ecosystem to enable us to provide sector-leading experiences to people living with cancer and those who support us in this activity. 

Find out more about Macmillan Cancer Support, get cancer information and support, and find out ways to support our work on our website www.macmillan.org.uk.

Follow us on Twitter @Mac_Digital for the latest on charity and digital trends.

Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home.

Finding your voice: why charities need to embrace voice assistants

Our Digital Assistant, Ricky Staines, explores how voice assistants improve accessibility and create new ways for charities to interact with audiences.

Black Mirror warned us of the dangers, but digital voice assistants are here to stay. Whether we’re asking Siri for the whereabouts of the nearest restaurant, or simply checking the news, chatting to digital assistants is now a part of everyday life.

recent survey found that 2.7m households in the UK currently own an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, and it’s easy to see why. As well as improving accessibility (and making our lives easier), voice technology is changing the way we interact with the web.

Comprised of a single speaker and a microphone, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s HomePod allow us to interact with the web by asking simple questions, such as, ‘What’s the time in Jamaica?’ or ‘How many astronauts have been to the moon?’

We’re big on accessibility at Macmillan, so the potential for voice assistants to lower the barriers to entry is exciting. Unlike screen readers, which use a website’s semantic elements to ‘read’ a webpage, voice assistants can harness the collective power of the web – so only the best results are chosen and read aloud.

In the evolving digital landscape, charities will have to decide how voice technology fits into their digital ecosystems to stay relevant. We’ve identified three key areas where voice technology will have the biggest impact on the charity sector.

Voice search

A man speaking to a Digital Assistant on a smartphone.

We’re all familiar with typing sentences into Google, so asking questions is the logical next step; yet studies show that people use voice search differently. In fact, Google reports that 70% of voice searches consist of natural language. It’s a key difference, and one that says a lot about intent of the searcher, allowing brands to match queries to highly relevant answers.

In the future, charities will need to groom their copy to provide the best answers. This means being clear and concise, writing copy in the way that people search for it. For example, if somebody asks, ‘What is breast cancer,’ then copy starting with ‘Breast cancer is…’ is more likely to be featured.

A good answer, mentioned in a voice search, has the potential to drive traffic, direct customers, and increase the reach of your website. What’s more, with 50% of searches coming from voice in 2020, it would be foolish not to optimise content for voice search.

Voice donations

Comic Relief noses below an Apple Pay logo.

Gone are the days of long and confusing phone donations. Now, we can donate to our favourite charities with the power of voice alone.

Last year, Comic Relief teamed up with Apple to take this idea one step further. By using the power of Apple Pay, supporters could tell Siri to ‘Donate money to Red Nose Day.’ Siri then fires up the online payments platform, without the need to get bogged down in forms.

It’s a bold new move that mirrors the simplicity we’ve come to expect of online shopping, offering a safe and trusted payment method. So, now we can worry less about the how-tos of donating and get back to watching Dermot O’Leary dancing his socks off for a good cause.

Mobile app integration

An image of a person scrolling through content on The Red Cross' First Aid App.

British Red Cross

In 2017, British Red Cross launched a new first aid education skill for Amazon Alexa to allow people to access spoken first aid advice in their home.

The ‘First Aid by the British Red Cross’ skill delivers spoken instructions that helps to educate people on a range of first aid techniques, including how to treat a severe bleed, a burn or a seizure.

Once the skill is enabled, users can ask Alexa to give step-by-step first aid lessons. For example, users can say: “Alexa, open first aid” or “Alexa, ask first aid how to treat a nose bleed.” The app then selects the most relevant content for the situation.

While this might sound like voice search on the web, content is drawn directly from the app, and doesn’t require an internet connection. It’s a move that gives charities the option to prioritise their own content, without the need to compete for search rankings.

Arthritis Research UK

Arthritis Research UK is also exploring voice technology for accessibility reasons. For many people living with arthritis in the UK, finding answers about their condition can be a physical challenge due to the prevalence of touch-based interfaces.

Searching by voice offers a hands-free solution. Building upon the existing chatbot, the updated virtual assistant will learn from user interactions, offer information and support, and eventually harness the power of IBM’s voice technology to respond to questions.

It’s another great example of how voice assistants can lower the barriers to entry and improve accessibility, while helping to meet key objectives.

The future of voice

An image of two voice devices sits behind a graphic of a question mark.

While the technology is still relatively young, voice technology will play a vital role in the digital ecosystems of the future. The rise of voice search will offer new ways to access information and support, increasing both accessibility and brand awareness.

Voice donations will also make it simpler for us to donate to our favourite causes, without getting bogged down in online payment forms. What’s more, the integration between voice assistants, apps and skills means that the technology can be used to talk directly to supporters, raise awareness and support charity objectives.

At Macmillan, we want to make sure our web content reaches and inspires as many people as possible, so the potential to reach new audiences is very exciting. Though we won’t be ditching manual search any time soon, the possibilities of voice technology certainly have us intrigued.

Want more digital insights?

Check out our interview with Senior Digital Editor, Rebecca Cryan, on the importance of accessibility at Macmillan Cancer Support.

Follow us on Twitter @Mac_Digital to keep up to date with the latest digital trends, and be the first to hear when our next blog post is live.

Plus, check out www.macmillan.org.uk to see our digital work in action.

3 screenshots of Instagram stories. Runners in the Great North Run with caption 'About to cross the Tyne Bridge!'. A pair of hands holding a Macmillan Christmas, text reads 'Like our snazzy Christmas cards? Swipe up to get yours!'. A tin full of brownies, text reads 'Should Coffee Morning be a monthly event? Yes / No'.

4 ways to boost your brand with Instagram

Our Social Media Officer, Jessie Donnelly,  shares her top tips for Instagram success.

Oh, Instagram. It’s all just shots of people’s meals and heavily planned ‘candid’ travel shots, right?

Nope.

(Well… not entirely, but who doesn’t love a good bout of Insta-induced travel envy?)

Instagram is a social media behemoth with a growing user base, recently declaring 800 million global monthly active users. But these users aren’t just opening Instagram and liking a few photos – even if everybody in the UK, from the newest of newborns to the oldest Brit alive*, posted on Instagram, they wouldn’t be able to match the estimated 95 million daily posts.

But what use is Instagram for brands? Frankly… a lot.

Instagram is dominated by millennials, that oft yearned-for audience, who consistently engage with brands and businesses on the platform. 50% of Instagrammers follow at least one business, while 75% are inspired by posts to take actions such as visiting a website or making a purchase.

So how can you take advantage of Instagram with organic content?

Vary it up…

3 Instagram photos: Macmillan fundraisers cheering on a bus, three Macmillan Christmas cards on a counter top, a cartoon moon and stars against a green background - text reads 'Twas the night before Coffee Morning...'

Vary your content to keep things interesting

With so many Instagram accounts to choose from, you need to give people a reason to follow you. Posting the same content all the time won’t do that, but keeping things fresh by varying your content will.

Don’t try to achieve the same thing with every post, either – just because Instagrammers follow a brand or business, doesn’t mean they want to be encouraged to buy or join something with every post. Mix up posts with a CTA with fun ‘just because’ content or throwbacks to an earlier event!

… but don’t be afraid of regular features

2 Instagram photos. A green square with the words 'You are so much stronger than you think you are' written in the centre. A photo of a man standing on a wooden post in the  large lake with mountains in the background, text reads '#MeetMacmillan'.

Examples of our regular Instagram content

Regular Insta features (such as our weekly #meetmacmillan or semi-regular inspo posts) are a great way to ensure people continue following your account and means people can expect to see content they enjoy.

Most brands dedicate a specific day to a feature – for Macmillan, Fridays are #meetmacmillan days!

Features can also be a great way to encourage people to interact with your brand, whether it’s Lonely Planet sharing their favourite snap from #lpfanphoto or Vans cross-posting their five favourite #vansgirls photos to Tumblr.

Celebrate your supporters

2 Instagram photos. One with 5 illustrated green balloons reading '40000'

Show your supporters some love

Your Instagram followers aren’t passive consumers of your content, so don’t treat them as such.

Acknowledging that your supporters are helping your account to grow and praising their hard work ensures a committed group of followers.

Celebrating follower milestones is a simple and effective way to achieve this, especially as you can encourage your followers to spread the word and help you grow even more.

Also, try sharing user-generated content (UGC) as it rewards people for engaging with your work and shows the authentic side to what you do. Just make sure you always give credit for UGC!

Use Instagram Stories

3 screenshots of Instagram stories. Runners in the Great North Run with caption 'About to cross the Tyne Bridge!'. A pair of hands holding a Macmillan Christmas, text reads 'Like our snazzy Christmas cards? Swipe up to get yours!'. A tin full of brownies, text reads 'Should Coffee Morning be a monthly event? Yes / No'.

Bring your brand to life through Stories

Instagram Stories, challenging the idea that stealing is wrong since August 2016…

Sure, Instagram may have been ‘inspired’ by Snapchat Stories, but it’s now the dominant player in the game, with 300 million daily active users as of November 2017. Not only are more people on Instagram Stories than Snapchat Stories in general, it’s likely that you have a bigger audience on Instagram than on Snapchat – it makes sense to focus your content where your audience is.

A huge range of content is possible on Instagram Stories. It’s a great way to cover events ‘live’, letting your audience feel like a part of the day even if they can’t be there. Even better, using a hashtag on a picture or video in your Instagram Story will also include it in that hashtag’s story, which anyone can see if they search that hashtag in the app!

Instagram Stories are also a fantastic way to promote products, encourage people to sign up to an event, or share your content from elsewhere on the web. By adding a link to a piece of content in your story, viewers can swipe up to be taken directly to that page. This lets you get around the fact that Instagram still hasn’t made links clickable in post captions…

Plus, Instagram is adding new features to Stories all the time, so make sure you’re up to speed! Have you seen the recent addition of polls? Whether silly or serious, you can now ask your audience a question and see their responses in real time.

Oh the possibilities…

* Bessie Camm, by the way

For more Instagram inspo, follow us @macmillancancer.

Three Snapchat logos with 'We are Macmillan Cancer Support' written within them.

Why we should bother with Snapchat

Our Social Media Officer, Jessie Donnelly, discusses the value of Snapchat for charities and why it shouldn’t be dismissed.

Like all the other big social media platforms, Snapchat is becoming a word that everybody knows. It’s the home of puppy filters and the birthplace of the now ubiquitous Stories feature. Still, there’s no way Snapchat can be a seriously helpful tool for brands, right?

Wrong.

The sheer numbers of Snapchat’s audience prove it’s a mistake to ignore it. The app has a global audience somewhere in the region of 170 million – if Snapchat were a country populated by its users, it would have the eighth largest population in the world. By the end of 2016, around 11.2 million of those users were in the UK, which is expected to rise to over 13 million by the end of 2017. It’s estimated that a quarter of all UK smartphone users have Snapchat installed, which will rise to a third by the end of the year. That’s a pretty big audience!

For us here at Macmillan, the news is even better as Snapchat is dominated by users outside of our usual demographics. 51% of adult Snapchat users are aged 34 or under and 23% of adults on Snapchat in the UK are aged 18-24. In the longer term, this is the next generation of people affected by cancer but, in the short term, it’s an audience of potential volunteers, fundraisers and interns.

But what does that huge, committed user base mean for organisations like Macmillan?

Brand awareness.

For a platform that’s largely built on content of 10 seconds or less, Snapchat holds its audience – the average time spent on the app by users is 25-30 minutes every day! That means there’s plenty of time to reach your audience and boost your brand awareness on Snapchat, and there are two main ways to do this: Snapchat Stories and On-Demand Geofilters.

 

 Snapchat Stories

Two Macmillan employees fundraising outside the Ritz.

 Snapchat Stories are a great way to tell the story of a day or an event in small bite-sized installments that can be viewed (again and again) by your audience until they expire after 24 hours. The temporary nature of Stories is a great way to spotlight events and give people an insight into life within Team Macmillan, while the somewhat less polished nature of it all gives the content a more authentic edge. As it’s quick content that disappears, you can be playful and more humorous than on other channels (especially as the audience is younger) while it’s also a great platform to introduce people from around the organisation who our audience might not ordinarily meet (from interns to volunteers to the social media team itself!).

 While our Snapchat following is still relatively small here at Macmillan, our viewing figures are consistently growing on our Stories, as is our number of followers so it’s definitely a platform for us to continue building on! The only major drawback to Stories is that the content is only viewable to those who already follow you, but that’s where On-Demand Geofilters come in.

 

On-Demand Geofilters

Geofilter for the London Marathon with silhouttes of the London Eye and the Big Ben at the bottom. Text reads 'One mile to go!'

 If you’ve ever used Snapchat, you’ve likely added a geofilter at some point. Most towns and cities have at least one, as do landmarks, airports and a whole heap of other places. Tacking a geofilter onto your Snap is a fun way of letting your friends and followers know where you are (perfect for making people jealous if you’re off on holiday!).

But aside from the geofilters that Snapchat provides, it’s possible to design and upload your own to be visible to people in a certain location at a certain time. Compared to Snapchat Stories, this is an excellent way to boost awareness of your brand as they’re visible to everyone in that location at that time, not just your existing followers. Cost-wise, geofilters are an incredibly efficient to spend money – unless you’re competing for prime territory like Buckingham Palace, you can generally cover the space you want for less than £20 per day.

Even better, that geofilter will be seen by whoever a user sends it to or whoever views a story it’s been added to. This is how geofilters set up for events attended by several hundred people can eventually be seen by thousands of people. Take the Macmillan Volunteer Conference earlier this year – though the conference was attended by around 400 people, the geofilter we designed to run on the evening of the Awards Ceremony was seen more than 39,000 times!

Geofilter from the Macmillan Volunteer Awards 2017.Text reads: 'Recognise. Reward. Celebrate.'

This geofilter gained over 39,000 views!

 

Not every geofilter will perform as well as this – even we’re slightly surprised by it. The number of times they’re used can’t be predicted, but competing with several other brands (as could happen at big events like the London Marathon) can have an effect. But as a cheap, fun way to get your brand out there, on-demand geofilters are a fantastic tool!

 

You can follow Jessie on Twitter @JessieDonnelly  and add Macmillan Cancer Support on Snapchat by searching ‘macmillancancer’.

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

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