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social media

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Good things really do come in streamlined packages…

Our Social Media Manager, Carol Naylor, has been busy supporting teams around the UK to update and streamline our regional Facebook pages. Carol discusses how the project manages to slim the total down from over 30 to just 13 regional accounts. 

It comes to us all eventually.  One day you’ve got a stable of active Facebook accounts all happily chatting to their target audiences and then gradually demographics shift, projects reach the end of their shelf life, teams get rearranged and suddenly you notice a few of the smaller pages simply have tumbleweed rolling through them.

It’s unavoidable, no matter how strict you make the rules about futureproofing, sustainability, and resourcing. Things change and you can’t anticipate them all.

That’s the challenge we faced at the start of last year. Macmillan’s 33 regional Facebook pages needed a new approach. The organisation of the teams managing them had changed and we needed to adapt to this.  Staff were still eager to use social media but content was harder to plan and page management was getting frustrating. The growth in followers was stalling. It was time to update our Facebook network.

Fortunately, Facebook lets you merge pages.

That wasn’t the whole solution though. We wanted a new arrangement that would be intuitive and accessible for audiences and yet still be manageable within our internal structure. So, we sat down with the regional team heads and a humungous map of the UK and threatened to lock the doors until a solution was found after a lot of head-scratching and cups of tea we came up with a new map of regional pages. It didn’t exactly match our internal structure but that wasn’t the point. It would make sense to our supporters.

Next, we defined the project principles (and drank more tea):

Rationalisation – a more logical organization for accounts and a clear naming structure will make our accounts more accessible to followers.

Consistency – all pages will deliver a clear standard of service, appearance, and content.

Customer Expectations – ensuring that followers can find accounts easily and have a clear idea of what support each kind of account can offer.

One Team – anyone following our Facebook pages will see not only how Macmillan raises funds in their area but also what it does with those funds to support them locally.

Delivering Results – “build it and they will come” is long past. The new pages will have clearly defined KPIs and objectives that go beyond just audience sizes.

Page management was the next hurdle.  But we were starting out with just two pilot pages so we could experiment safely.  A few more pots of coffee (we got bored with tea) and we had a rota that assigned daily management of the page to different teams on a weekly basis. This was overseen by a core editorial team who managed content strategy. This gave everyone the chance to get hands-on experience of managing a Facebook page and avoided the danger of everything falling on the shoulders of a few enthusiastic individuals.

Naturally the new page managers needed plenty of support. So we produced FAQs on how to handle enquiries and complaints, provided sample text to use in the ‘About Us’ sections of each page and produced new branded profile images for all the pages so that they all had a common style. We also set up a page admins group on our intranet for sharing best (and worst) practice.  Doing page merges in groups rather than all at once meant that we had a growing pool of experienced admins who could help any worried rookies.

Initially we were very apprehensive about how the planned changes would be received by the communities following the existing pages. Would they be territorial and resist the idea of combining with other local audiences? Would the appearance of a post from a long-dormant page in their newsfeed simply prompt them to unfollow?  So, we gave followers plenty of notice on each page and started posting content relevant to the whole new patch on pages even before the merges took place. We wanted audiences from the merged pages to feel at home.

Once the pilot groups got going, they got imaginative. They involved local Macmillan professionals, they experimented with strategically sharing content with neighbouring pages, they tried out ‘themed’ weeks with all content related to a specific topic like Volunteering or Corporate Partnerships. They also shifted the focus of the pages away from fundraising to a more holistic view of our work and tried to balance fundraising content with awareness raising information and news about services.

Here is one of our active pages, raising awareness about our live Q&A session on benefits:

Our East of England Facebook page

By the end of the three-month pilots, they had a wealth of experience to share. At that point we took stock and learned some interesting lessons:

  • Audiences were OK about pages being merged.  We’d explained the advantages to them and they understood.  By the end of the project we’d done 10 merges and not one supporter complained about any of them.
  • An established page management team and content plan was critical. One page which wasn’t directly involved in the merge process tripled its follower growth rate after putting these in place.
  • The demographics of our audiences didn’t change despite the shift in content focus. However, once given the choice, they demonstrated a greater appetite for information about Macmillan’s work than for news about fundraising events.
  • Engagement for the combined audiences considerably exceeded the sum of the original wholes.  We assumed at first that the novelty value of a new page might be responsible for this but engagement levels stayed consistent even after the novelty had worn off.
  • One of the reasons for this was that the quality of content got pushed up.  For example, instead of 5 teams needing to find content for 5 pages, they were competing with each other for space on just one page. And since they only had to run the page for one week in five, they had the luxury of time to think about what they *really* wanted to post.

The process we’d established got tweaked with each subsequent merge – some teams had a designated social media person, others all wanted to have a go – but the principles remained the same.

The biggest headache came with the final merges when we lost our contact at Facebook and discovered that the Facebook help pages and community were not as useful as we’d hoped.

Tip – if you’re advertising on Facebook, ask your agency to help find someone who can help you at Facebook, it’s the only way.

And, just over a year after we started, you can see for yourself how it’s all working out:

Stop by sometime and say Hi.

A hand pointing to a graph of traffc analysis

Ad servers and Google Analytics: who to believe?

Sharing her tips and tricks, Rebecca Buchanan, Digital Marketing Officer, writes about how to analyse Facebook campaigns to achieve the most accurate results. 

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3 simple steps to building customised campaign URLs

Digital Comms Officer, Rebecca McCormick, shares her top tips about building customised campaign URLs and finding them in Google Analytics.

1a. What are customised campaign URLs?

Customised campaign URLs are destination URLs that have campaign tracking (or “parameters”) added onto the end of them. These “parameters” allow you to easily identify the campaigns that send traffic to your site, in Google Analytics.

1b. When do I need to use them?

Customised campaign URLs can be used for all types of online marketing activity that drive traffic to your site – ads, PPC, paid social, organic social, email marketing, etc.

For example, you might not want to just see your incoming traffic from Twitter, but whether that traffic is the result of a particular series of tweets. Or, you might not want to see the influx of traffic from a newsletter, but whether that traffic is the result of a particular banner or link in the email itself.

2. How do I build a customised campaign URL?

To build a customised campaign URL, you will need to use the Campaign URL Builder tool, filling out the fields below. You must fill out the first 4 fields which are shown below:

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1. The “Website URL” is the full webpage URL you are directing traffic to.

2. The “Source” is the “referrer” – what specific source brought traffic to the webpage. This could be “google”, “newsletter1”, “twitter”, “exampleblog” etc.

3. The “Medium” is the “marketing medium” – the type of activity that brought traffic to the webpage. This could be “organic”, “email”, “banner”, “cpc”, “referral” etc.

4. The “Name” is how you want to name and identify your specific campaign, promotion, or product. This could be “notalone2017”, “givingtuesday”, “longestdaygolf” etc.

“Term” and “Content” are optional fields, often used when creating customised campaign URLs for paid search or ads. For when to use these fields, please see the definitions below:

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For consistency, it’s best to fill in the fields using lowercase with no spaces and no special characters.

As you are filling in the fields, or making any changes to fields, the URL will be automatically updated below. Click “Copy URL” to copy the full URL. Alternatively, click “Convert URL to Short Link” to convert the full URL to a shortened Google one. Shortened URLs are useful when a full URL is difficult for users to remember, or looks confusing or unattractive for users. Another option is to convert your customised campaign URL using a URL shortening site.

3. How can I find data for my customised campaign in Google Analytics?

Log in to Google Analytics.

1. Select your chosen “view” and date range in the top right-hand corner. Navigate to: Acquisition > Campaigns > All campaigns.

2. Type the name of your campaign (that you used when creating the customised campaign URL) into the search function. If you can’t see your campaign, check that you entered it correctly or try typing in just part of the campaign name. You can also click “show rows” in the bottom right-hand corner, to show more rows.  Isolate your campaign from any others by clicking on it (the name, in blue).

3. You’ll then be able to see the data arranged by “source/medium” (based on the naming conventions that you entered when creating the customised URLs). You can isolate one “source/medium” from any others by clicking on it (the name, in blue). If a specific “source/medium” is not showing, try clicking “show rows” in the bottom right-hand corner, to show more rows.

4. If you want, you can then select the box next to your “source/medium” and click “plot rows” (just above it) to plot its performance over time. Or you can click “Export” at the top of the report, to export the data to a csv or pdf.

5. When exporting data, remember to click the “day”, “month” or “year” button, and select the metrics that you would like (using the drop-downs above the graph e.g., “Sessions” and “New Users”) to dictate format and content of your csv data.

 

Social Media: The Importance of Being Aware

Social Media Officer, Hayley Devlin, discusses the importance of awareness days/weeks/months.

As a cancer charity, we see awareness days a lot. October, famously, is for Breast Cancer Awareness. In January, we have Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and in June it’s Cervical Screening Awareness Week. In November, it’s a triple whammy: Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Mouth Cancer Action Month and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

Here’s an example of a Facebook post we ran for Lung Cancer Awareness Month: 

lung-cancer-awareness-month-fb-post-002

Our Social content calendar features a whole host of ‘awareness’ days and they’re not always cancer related. There’s Deaf Awareness Week in May, Random Act of Kindness day in February and (our personal favourite) World Emoji Day in July.

But why tie in some of these seemingly frivolous days with our content? Shouldn’t we be posting about different cancer types all the time anyway?

Social media is, essentially, just a big conversation. It’s a loud and busy one, and it’s easy for your voice to get lost in the crowd. Awareness days, weeks and months are great because they usually trend, making the conversations visible to people who might have otherwise missed it. As social gets more saturated, reaching new audiences organically (without any spend) is becoming increasingly difficult. The #AwarenessDays are great, because they’re a conversation that lots of people are already having, and present us with the opportunity to add in our two cents, reaching new people along the way.

Of course, cancer awareness days/weeks/months are particularly important to us. They give us an excellent springboard to create content we know will not only be relevant, but that people are also looking for. One of our top performing posts of the year came from Cervical Cancer Prevention Week in January. It had a staggering organic reach of 362,319, was shared 2,048 times and earned 5,115 likes. To put that into context, our top performing post this year was our tribute to Caroline Aherne. It had an organic reach of 549,909 people and earned 6,554 likes. It was also a video, which we know the Facebook algorithm still favours, so the fact that our cervical cancer awareness post did so well is a testament to how important they are. 

Here’s an example of a Cervical Cancer Prevention Week post:

cervical-cancer-post-fb-002

On top of allowing us to showcase our cancer information and support services, the more ‘fun’ days are a chance for us to think more creatively. They give us the opportunity to showcase Macmillan using an angle we may not normally go for. For #WorldEmojiDay, we created a timeline out of emojis to help show how we’ve grown as an organisation since our beginnings. The World Emoji Day tweet had 38,477 impressions, which is more than double our average (average of about 13,000).

Our World Emoji Day Tweet:

world-emoji-day-tweet-002

On #WorldKindnessDay, we used a quote from the Not Alone Campaign and a tip from The Source to encourage people to share their own tips on the platform. We used #WorldHelloDay to introduce some of the experts we have on the Online Community. We’re always on the lookout for new awareness days to consider for our content planning.

Mind you, I don’t see us posting about International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day at any point soon!

To find out more about our awareness days/weeks/months, follow our Facebook and Twitter social media channels.

 

Periscope and Facebook Live logos

Live video: Experience the world through someone else’s eyes

In this post, Bernard Muscat, Senior Social Media Officer at Macmillan, aims to demystify live video, identify key live-streaming platforms and provide best practice tips for creating engaging live content.

We are seeing a large increase in live video content on social media.  By tuning in to live video, users can experience the world through someone else’s eyes. For example, you could be at home in the UK and watch live events from the streets of New York City, Bangkok, or Melbourne, if someone is holding up their device and live-steaming.  Users watching the live video are able to follow live, respond and interact with the live content.

Read more +

Instagram Stories: New feature launched today

In this post, Social Media Officer, Alice Hajek, talks about the introduction of Instagram’s new feature – Instagram Stories and what it means for Macmillan.

Today, Instagram launched a new feature ‘Instagram Stories’, in an attempt to fill the platform with less polished, more real time content. Very similar in name (well, pretty much the same name) to Snapchat’s My Story function, the new feature allows you to share photos of your day that you may not have published to your Instagram profile ordinarily. These photos, just like Snapchat, will disappear within 24 hours. You can also use their drawing tools and emojis to enhance your photos (like Snapchat).

Read more +

Snapchat logo with QR code background

Get snap-happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapchat how-tos

Find a Geofilter:

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

Take a selfie with a filter:

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

 

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

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

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.

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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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