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Moustaches, selfies and ice buckets: An exploration of social media charity campaigns

By Stephen Tagg - Posted on 21 November 2014

Dr Stephen Tagg, Reader in the Department of Marketing at Strathclyde Business School explores the impact social media can have on charity fundraising campaigns.

Social media connects people across the globe in an unprecedented way.  On average, 500 million tweets are sent a day.  Facebook has around 864 million daily active users.  Some would say that it’s a place to express narcissism (love of self) to extreme: others, that marketing has gone wild on social media. However, this ever-growing digital and social connectivity undoubtedly has had a positive impact on campaigning for good causes and fundraising.  Social media allows people with common interests to unite in order to reach a goal, regardless of their geographical location.  Here, we take a look at three charity campaigns that have taken off on social media, generating a significant increase in awareness and donations.

Movember: We are in the midst of Movember, a time for facial hair to be embraced and celebrated to raise funds for men’s health charities.  The campaign has raised around £346m since 2003 and last year won the ‘Social Force of the Year’ award from GQ Magazine.  It has vastly expanded its supporters from the original group of 30 mo-lovers from Melbourne who took up the challenge 11 years ago.  Movember is now a global phenomenon due in large part to its popularity on social media.  In 2013 the campaign doubled its Facebook reach and increased retweets by 45% compared to 2012.   At the time of writing the UK Movember Twitter account has 49,200 followers.

A large part of the social strength of the Movember campaign is its shareability.  ‘Mo bros’ can upload photos of their moustache’s progress or unique style, whether it be a trucker, a connoisseur, an after eight or a rockstar.  ‘Mo sistas’ can support them by donning a fake moustache for the occasion, whilst asking their followers to donate.  The very visual campaign is built on quirky humour and comradery, focusing on raising money to find solutions to health issues all men could face, specifically, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health.  Movember shows the effectiveness of creating a fun, uniting campaign and using social media to spread the word of it to create a positive impact on fundraising.

No Make-up Selfie: The viral No Makeup Selfie social media campaign raised £8m for Cancer Research in just six days.  What started out as a trending hashtag of women posting au natural selfies caught the eye of Cancer Research’s social media team who quickly asked the public to get involved for a good cause and donate.  Again, the No Makeup Selfie craze shows the potential of visual strategies where people can share photos or videos of themselves doing something to raise awareness of charity and encourage donations.  The online engagement evolved organically into a high profile charity campaign in an incredibly short space of time, with major celebrities getting involved including Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus.  Guys got involved too, in a fun spin-off that raised funds for Prostate Cancer UK, using the hashtag #manupandmakeup, where the gents took selfies of themselves wearing makeup.

Ice bucket challenge: The ice bucket challenge, which originated in the US to raise funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), was a global phenomenon that created in excess of 2.4m ice bucket-related videos.  More than 28m people uploaded, commented or liked ice bucket-related posts.  The British equivalent of the ALS charity, the MND association, and Macmillan Cancer Support were two of the major beneficiaries of the UK fundraising.  Before the ice bucket challenge, the MND association would raise on average £200,000 per week.  With the help of the ice bucket challenge, this figure rose to £2.7m.

Like the No Makeup Selfie, this campaign gained momentum by attracting the participation of popular celebrities.  Additionally, undergoing the challenge appealed to the competitiveness that is evident with social media use, where we post videos and images of ourselves in order to get the highest number of ‘likes’.  Supporters were challenging their friends to join in and brace themselves as a bucket of ice cubes was dunked over them.

Which leaves a problem: what should we call social marketing (the general term for health campaigns, charitable marketing etc) on social media? Social e-marketing is too wide, and social social media marketing (SSMM?) too clumsy!

Social media has given not-for-profit organisations the chance to realistically compete with leading global brands.  Campaigners achieve a much louder voice through social media by uniting the public to support a common goal and by encouraging them to share content of themselves doing so, particularly images and videos.  Visual content is effective for making a campaign go viral as it is easily shareable.  Additionally, it appeals to the narcissistic nature of social media, where we post content of ourselves to stand out from the rest of the newsfeed and achieve the most engagement from our followers.  However, in the case of charity campaigns, at least it is for a good cause.

What viral social media campaigns have impressed you recently?

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