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Digital trends blog post image

Digital trends in 2016

With January behind us, Hamilton Jones is considering some of the digital trends set to come our way this year.

2016 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for digital, and we in the digital team are always keeping an eye out for new trends, looking at what they mean for Macmillan and how we can respond to them. Here are our top five digital trends to watch out for this year and the work everybody here in the team is doing in-line with them:

1) Unifying the online and offline user experience

As digital continues to work its way into everyone’s day-to-day lives, we are coming to expect seamless integration between online and offline. With many users’ journeys seeing them hit several touch points across both of these mediums, 2016 will bring more technologies that help organisations make their user experiences unified.

Macmillan users could see a great benefit from technologies that allow us to unify how we support people across their journey, and we are already starting to implement them: The My Macmillan area of our website has been designed to help users to feel more supported by giving them easier access to information relevant to their existing journey. When someone logs in they are able to save pages on a dashboard that they can access later, which also displays pages they’ve recently viewed. To further unify the dashboard with other parts of the website, we have developed single sign-on with our be.Macmillan domain and allow users to input their postcode to find out what’s in their area.

2) 24-hour technology that doesn’t sleep

Anytime. Anywhere. That’s the internet, and it doesn’t go to sleep. 2015 saw many organisations respond to the rise in user generated demand of always on services, but in 2016 we’ll see mass adoption of in-house and external social to be the main point of contact for out-of-hours services.

We know that cancer can be a scary place, that’s why we’re trying to make sure that nobody faces it alone. Because of this we are already offering several services for users outside of office hours. Our social media accounts and Online Community are manned on weekday evenings and for several hours over the weekend. Our website has information standard approved content that people can access at all times of the day and night, while the online community also offers peer-to-peer support that is accessed by users around the clock.

3) The year of connected devices

The internet of things is quickly becoming the internet of everything as new connected devices are starting to appear almost daily. With the advent of wearable technology and a rise in healthcare orientated apps, patients and healthcare professionals are being given the chance to diagnose and treat certain illnesses like never before. The scope for how this could impact people’s health is huge – from contact lenses that can read blood glucose levels to games that improve emotional wellbeing.

In the UK however, it might take longer than until the end of 2016 to see these really impact people affected by cancer. Without a data standard in place for apps, healthcare professionals and organisations are unable to fully utilise their potential, but we are excited to be working with organisations like the NHS on the opportunities for standards and accreditation in areas like apps.

4) Personalised data gets more personal

We are already growing used to being connected in every way, and we’re producing huge amounts of data about ourselves. Using this to create personalised experiences isn’t something new, but 2016 will become more dynamic, creating experiences that reflect people’s changing needs and preferences over time.

We want to help everyone affected by cancer to take control of their journey and access the support and information they need at a time they need it. By helping people express preferences, they enable us to provide them with personalised information that’s relevant to them and their location, while also making recommendations on where to go next. This has the potential to empower people to navigate the system, make decisions about treatment and take control over their healthcare journey.

5) Virtual assistance

Most smartphone operating systems now have personal assistants: Siri, Cortana, Google Now (this one’s tragically lacking a space-age name), and they’re starting to learn like humans. A lot of work over the past few years has been put into virtual personal assistance, with the ultimate goal of making them so slick that the user can be completely conversational and still achieve their desired outcome.

Somewhere down the line we could be using technology like this to offer support to people affected by cancer, but where we see the most benefit for this tech in the near future is to enable our healthcare professionals to have even more information at their fingertips, helping them be even more amazing for people affected by cancer.

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

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.

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

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

Making the Online Community animation

In this post from our Senior Online Community Office Priscilla McClay we hear about our brand new animation for the Online Community.

We all support each other.
That’s the message behind the new animated video that we created to promote the Macmillan Online Community, featuring a voice over by a real-life community member.

Watch the Online Community animation on YouTube.

The Online Community team worked with creative agency The Minimart to produce the animation. We wanted something that would really reflect the emotional benefits and sense of connection that people affected by cancer get from being part of our site.

The Minimart came up with the concept of thought bubbles changing into speech bubbles to show how talking to others on the Community can help release the worries and emotions that people can bottle up inside their heads.

To find our voice over, we put out a call on the Online Community for members who’d like to be recorded talking about their experiences of using the site. There was lots of interest, and the Minimart spoke to a number of members before choosing Helen for the voice over.

At the recording session, the interviewer asked Helen questions related to the concept for the animation – but let her talk at length in her own words. The recording was edited down to just over a minute, and then animator Doug Hayman created the video to fit with Helen’s words.

The animation is now being used as part of a digital marketing campaign to promote the Online Community. The first stage of this campaign is starting now on YouTube, with the animation featuring as contextual pre-roll advertising.

Feverbee logo

How to keep your community safe and supported – SPRINT community management conference

Priscilla McClay has written a blog post about a recent conference she presented at including lots of tips for keeping online communities safe. Follow Priscilla on Twitter.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to present at the Feverbee SPRINT event – one of the top conferences for online community managers.

The two-day event at London’s Royal Institute was a fantastic opportunity to meet with community managers from all over the world and discuss all aspects of our work. The attendees worked on a fascinatingly diverse range of online communities – on subjects from parenting to online gaming to vintage fashion, and for audiences from goldsmiths to HR professionals.

There were lots of really interesting speakers on the bill. Joel Cothrel from Lithium talked about a data-driven approach to growing online communities, with lots of great statistics. Matt Doris from Etsy talked about bringing together Etsy’s makers and sellers in local groups that went on to organise events and promote the brand. And the final session was an ‘Ask Me Anything’ Q&A session with Justine Roberts, founder of one of the biggest names in online communities – Mumsnet.

Macmillan’s Online Community

The subject of my talk was ‘How to keep your community safe and supported’ and, as the only speaker at the event representing a charity, I hoped to be able to share some useful insights from running the Macmillan Online Community.

Our community deals with potentially vulnerable people who are going through some of the most difficult experiences of their lives, so keeping them safe and supported is absolutely vital. I talked about six key tips for how to achieve this:

  • Welcome people and help them find their way around

There are around 100 groups on our community and it can be overwhelming for new members trying to find the best place to post. We direct new members to the New to the Site group, where they can introduce themselves. Staff and super-users keep an eye on this group to make sure everyone gets a quick response directing them to the most relevant groups and information.

  • Make the most of your super-users

Every online community has its super-users – they are the most active and engaged members, who help to set the culture of the whole site. We have converted our super-users into dedicated volunteers called Community Champions. This is an official volunteer role within Macmillan, which allows us to give them lots of additional training and support and help them to help others on the site.

  •  Go beyond peer support

The main purpose of the Macmillan Online Community is for people affected by cancer to support each other. But there are times when people need that extra bit of expert help. We are working to develop a close relationship with our services and professionals staff, such as the nurses and benefits advisers that work on our Support Line. They get involved with the community through things like online Q&A sessions.

  • Know what to do if someone is at risk

It’s important to have robust safeguarding procedures if there is cause for concern that someone is at risk of harm – for example in cases of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or child protection issues. We can contact members privately to offer support and signpost to ways of getting help. Senior nurses from our Support Line advise us in these cases and can decide in extreme cases to contact police or social services.

  •  Measure success

The aim of the Macmillan Online Community is to help fulfil Macmillan’s aim that no one should face cancer alone. We measure this through tracking statistics on the number of people reading and posting on our site, and the level of engagement and retention. We also carry out an annual survey on the impact that being a member has for our members, and gather qualitative feedback on an ad hoc basis.

  •  Involve your users in updates

We’re in the process of a major upgrade of our community software. In order to make sure this is as smooth as possible for our members, we’re taking an iterative approach, making small changes rather than doing everything all at once. We’re involving the users as much as possible, sharing upcoming changes at every stage of the process. Their feedback has been invaluable in making sure that the upgrade has so far gone extremely smoothly.

 See the full slides from this and all the SPRINT presentations on the Feverbee website.

Woman using a computer

Upgrading the Online Community

Macmillan’s senior community officer Priscilla McClay updates us on the upcoming Online Community upgrade, the first since 2011. Follow Priscilla on Twitter.

The Macmillan Online Community is a support forum for people living with and after cancer, their families and friends, and people who’ve been bereaved by cancer. It’s a vital source of support for people, connecting them with others who understand what they’re going through.
With more than 5,000 posts and 90,000 visitors every month, it’s a thriving and active site, but it hasn’t had a major upgrade since 2011. Our users have told us there’s lots we can do to make the site faster, easier to navigate, and easier to access from any device.

What are we doing?
We’ve listened to our users’ priorities, and are focusing on three main areas:

  • Upgrading the software that powers the Community – tackling existing technical issues and enabling us to innovate in future based on members’ feedback.
  • Making us better on mobile – over half of our users are now using the Community on their mobile or tablet. So we need to make sure that our mobile site lets them do everything they need to do while they’re on the move or in treatment.
  • Making the Community easier to navigate and use – helping people get support as quickly and easily as possible.

When are we doing it?
We aren’t changing everything all at once. With over 90,000 visitors every month, we don’t want to get things wrong.
Instead, we’re taking an agile approach, making changes in bite size chunks. At every stage, there will be plenty of time to test, and to get feedback from our users.
User involvement is key to making sure that the site meets our members’ needs, so we’re inviting people to check out upcoming changes in our test area before they go live.

What are the first changes our users will see?
The first release will be this month and will bring two important changes:

  • better search – making it easier for people to find relevant groups, discussions and blogs
  • improved email settings – giving members greater control over how often they get email notifications from the site.
Venn diagram: Me, You, Us

Collaborating to deliver services online

Priscilla McClay from our online community team recently blogged about how we’re collaborating with the services teams to deliver some of our services digitally. This post originally appeared on Together We’re Better. You can follow Priscilla on Twitter at @millionmonkeys.

The Macmillan Online Community is a huge source of support to people affected by cancer. Although we’re part of the digital team, you could say that the site is one of Macmillan’s services, just like our helpline and information centres. So it’s really important that we work closely with services staff.

Macmillan has lots of experts working in services – including nurses, benefits advisers, financial guides, helpline and information centre staff, and editors who work on our booklets and information materials. They’re all very experienced at supporting people face-to-face, on the phone, by email or in printed materials.

We believe digital should become business as usual for these teams – just one more channel that they can use to reach people. With so many of our audience using both our own community and social media sites, it’s about making our services available where people already are. Here are some of the ways we’re working on integrating with services.


Two or three times a month, nurses or benefits advisers from the helpline join us for a live webchat in the Online Community chatroom. At least once a month, we also hold a similar chat on Facebook, and our helpline nurses are also available to help answer queries that come in via Facebook.
We publish a transcript of the chat afterwards on our blog – these reach thousands of people every month, and the majority of people find them through search engines.


Services staff can have input into the Community News Blog by writing guest posts or providing expertise to help me write blog posts.
Some other staff also have their own separate blogs, for example the Cancer Information Development team blog, which they use to promote our information in booklets and on the website. With the right support, they’ve now reached the point where they schedule and write their own regular posts largely independent of us.


For the most part, services teams don’t currently have much of a presence on the Online Community forums, but this is something we’d like to increase.
We’ve been testing out an account for our financial guidance team – they search the site for posts about financial issues and post a response where appropriate.

Check out Priscilla’s other posts on Together We’re Better. Find out more about Macmillan’s Online Community and our other services.

Image from Talentcove.com

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