Read All About It; 3 ways your charity can impress journalists via social media

Viral social media campaigns were the biggest charity news stories of 2014. nfpSynergy has been monitoring these developments through our Journalists’ Attitudes & Awareness Monitor (JAAM), a survey we run twice a year with journalists who write about the third sector.

Viral social media campaigns were the biggest charity news stories of 2014. nfpSynergy has been monitoring these developments through our Journalists’ Attitudes & Awareness Monitor (JAAM), a survey we run twice a year with journalists who write about the third sector. We have reached three key conclusions about charity social media campaigns:

  1. Charities achieve more success with viral campaigns when they react to them, as opposed to creating them. Putting in the resources to gain ‘ownership’ of a viral trend is well worth it
  2. The campaigns themselves may be quite short lived, but the awareness they raise has longevity.
  3. They reflect well on the charities involved.

Let’s take a look in more detail.

Be reactive, not proactive

The two runaway social media campaigns of 2014 were the #nomakeupselfie and the Ice Bucket Challenge. Both were spontaneous and both were adopted by charities as fundraising tools.

Many charities have attempted to benefit from this fundraising model by creating campaigns, such as Unicef’s #wakeupcall selfie campaign to raise funds for children in Syria. However, so far, no social media campaigns created by charities themselves have anything approaching the reach or fundraising results as the #nomakeupselfie or the Ice Bucket Challenge. Indeed, as one journalist commented when we spoke to them recently:

“People try and kick off these trends and it’s very hard to do. It’s very hard to make something go viral. No one quite knows what the magic ingredient is.”

The Herald

Gaining and maintaining ‘ownership’ of an already established trend is tough. In our autumn survey of journalists, 7% of journalists associated the Ice Bucket Challenge with the MND Association, while 5% associated it with the ALS Association, an American charity. A further 7% of journalists simply identified the Ice Bucket Challenge as a charity campaign, without specifying which one they associated it with. As Macmillan Cancer Support, WaterAid and others also raised money from the Ice Bucket Challenge, this confusion over attribution is not surprising.

Speed is of the essence when reacting to a social media trend. Cancer Research UK received £1m in 24 hours from #nomakeupselfie. The MND Association received £2.7m in a week from the Ice Bucket Challenge, 13.5 times more than their average amount.

£47,000 was donated to WaterAid in a day because people were bemoaning the waste of water in the challenge.

Your media team needs to be prepared to react quickly to a social media trend in a creative way. These campaigns take off very quickly and the peaks in donations can be staggering. But also be prepared for competition from other charities – the success of these two campaigns has not gone unnoticed.

Viral social media campaigns boost journalists’ awareness of charities

It is always a challenge for charity campaigns to make a lasting impression on journalists. In some of our recent conversations with them, some have found it difficult to recall specific charity campaigns. With some prompting, they can recall many, but they are not top of mind. The 2014 viral social media campaigns have made a lasting impression.

The #nomakeupselfie first appeared in our survey of journalists in the spring, where it was mentioned spontaneously by 14%, more than any other campaign. Even though the #nomakeupselfie phenomenon had ended long before our autumn survey, 9% still spontaneously mentioned it and still attributed it to Cancer Research UK, thus indicating that successfully adopting a campaign has long term benefits.

Association with a viral campaign reflects well on charities

The MND Association was mentioned by 5% of journalists spontaneously as having impressed them in our autumn survey, a dramatic increase from 0% in the spring. This shows that journalists were not only aware the MND Association was associated with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but that they also felt this association reflected well on the organisation. One journalist said:

“Ice Bucket Challenge caught the public imagination and was fun and raised awareness in a unique way.”

(ITV News Meridian)

If the #nomakeupselfie is any indication, the MND Association will continue to enjoy a higher profile well into 2015.

Macmillan Cancer Support attracted some negative criticism in the media for adopting the Ice Bucket Challenge as this trend was associated most strongly in the US with the ALS Association, meaning some people felt the MND Association should benefit in the UK. However, Macmillan did not receive any negative comments from journalists about it in our autumn survey. In our research with the general public, more people said they would consider donating to Macmillan after the Ice Bucket Challenge than before it, suggesting they have raised money from their association with this trend without any lasting damage to their reputation.

We anticipate that social media campaigns are here to stay, and charities’ media teams would do well to put in place processes to track them. They also need to be ready to react quickly to adopt trends as potentially lucrative fundraising tools.

While some charities may be concerned about potential negative impacts, so far the benefits of being associated with social media campaigns seem to far outweigh the risks. 

Karen Barker

If you're interested in what journalists think about your organisation, campaigns and media work, you can email Karen for more information at

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