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A message to your #5YearOldSelfie

17 September 2019

Our #5YearOldSelfie campaign went viral with nearly 30K people using the hashtag, reaching an estimated 20 million people in two days on Twitter alone! Here’s how we got there.

The challenge

We agreed to run a social media campaign featuring a ‘social action’ to ‘help young people deal with a time of transition.’ We decided to hone in on exam results season – a time of anxiety, panic, comparing grades and making huge life decisions. This was the perfect opportunity to help young people look after their mental wellbeing with a bit of self-love.

Here’s what we set out to achieve:

  • Engage 10,000 young people in a social action or challenge to help them deal with exam season and the challenges that come with it.
  • Spread our key message: be kind to yourself and celebrate your good qualities, there’s so much more to you than exam results!
  • Be inclusive. Everyone should be able to take part.
  • Make it Instagram friendly. Insta is our primary channel for engaging our under 25 audience.
  • Get the tone right: empowering and reassuring, but not cheesy or patronising.

Creating the concept

How can you tell a young person that they are brilliant, full of amazing qualities and potential without sounding clichéd? Easy, you don’t – you get them to tell themselves.

We reached out to a creative agency who had offered to do some pro bono work for us and started bouncing around ideas. We took these to our YoungMinds Activists (our fantastic group of young people with lived experience of mental ill health) and with their help, we landed on #5YearOldSelfie. The concept is essentially a fresh twist on YoungMinds’ signature ‘advice to my younger self’ content, which always goes down well with our audiences.

Here’s how you get involved:

We asked our Activists what might encourage or stop them taking part:

  • They said they were more likely to take part if they saw a friend take part, rather than an influencer.
  • People should not have to share a photo, they might not have one, or they may not want to share a picture from a time when they were misgendered.
  • People who had experienced difficult childhoods could find this difficult, making emphasis on empowerment and self-love crucial. Messages like ‘you were not to blame’ or ‘you deserved better’ could be very powerful.

Developing the campaign

Unfortunately our agency had to pull out of this project early on. But thankfully we had a wealth of user insights to draw on.
We were pretty obsessed with keeping things simple. We didn’t want to overwhelm to users with messaging about why they should get involved. We had to have faith that they would intuitively understand the benefits of the challenge, through the act of taking part.

We reduced the messaging to: We all have negative thoughts sometimes and tell ourselves unkind things, but how we speak to ourselves affects who we believe we are. Be kind to yourself with #5YearOldSelfie

But we still wanted to communicate some of the theory behind the campaign – how and why the ‘inner-child visualisation’ technique can be good for your self-esteem. So, we created a secondary video designed not only to dovetail with the campaign, but more importantly to live on as a self-help resource on our  IGTV, website and YouTube.


We launched on Twitter and created a special launch story for Instagram. We made sure we also created supplementary longer form content on our blog. We asked Activists to write letters to their younger selves, to attract traffic from the campaign.

We tapped into our networks in advance:

  • We let all our staff and know about the launch and prepped them on how to get involved.
  • We ran a prize-draw for our Activists to get them even more excited about the launch!
  • We reached out to the creatives who worked with us at the concept stage and they were keen to share with it with their networks too.
  • We reached out to some influencers who had previously supported our work in advance of the launch and received several positive responses.

Hollyoaks actress Lauren McQueen gave us an early boost when she nominated all her followers. And others like Love Island contestant Laura Crane helped the campaign snowball. By afternoon the hashtag was trending in the top 20 on Twitter and building momentum. In the evening, our Ambassador, YouTuber Daniel Howell posted on Instagram and Twitter and the hashtag exploded. (We made sure to share our IGTV episode as soon as Daniel posted, to capitalise on the traffic to our Instagram feed.)

But I think secret sauce that took us global was Twitter Moments. Twitter curates and then promotes moments based on what it considers to be ‘the best of what’s unfolding on Twitter’ and promotes these moments to users in their tailored trends. Twitter saw us trending, liked it, and started featuring #5YearOldSelfie to users in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Ireland.

Overnight we gained:

  • 4k new Instagram followers
  • 2K new Twitter followers
  • Nearly 2k new Facebook followers
  • Trended at #2 in the UK and USA on Twitter

We experienced significant hashtag activity across all channels for two weeks following our launch day peak. This has been huge for our brand and we’ve had loads of amazing coverage, like this Buzzfeed article and this one from Stylist.

Challenges and reflections:

  • Frustratingly, we don’t know how many people took part on Instagram stories! We can manually count notifications, but many people took part without tagging @YoungMindsUK. If you know any software that tracks hashtag usage in stories please @ me!!
  • We didn’t push this hard on Facebook or LinkedIn. Our core Facebook/LinkedIn audience is not the target demographic, and we have a tiny team. Was it the right decision?
  • How do we make the most of all this phenomenal UGC now that the hashtag has died down?
  • Instead of only planning for the worst-case scenario (what if no one takes part?!) should we always plan for a best-case scenario (are we ready to go viral and how can we ride the wave of our own success!?).

We received a remarkable absence of trolling or negativity despite the huge reach. I like to think this is because we got the tone right – authentic and not cheesy. We didn’t ask for anything in return, only that users take a moment to reflect on their good qualities. Everyone has a story. We all have overcome so much already. We really do deserve as much love as we deserved when we were five.

Sometimes, we all could do with a reminder to be kinder to ourselves. We’re already full steam ahead with our latest campaign launch, #ActEarly, calling on the government to work together to get early help to all young people who need it. It would be ironic if this didn’t prompt me to consider the different ways we can (and do) create fun, authentic moments where we can celebrate our successes before getting caught up in our next round of projects.

Image: YoungMinds

Shirin Zaid

digital communications manager, YoungMinds

Shirin Zaid is digital communications manager at YoungMinds. She left a career in commercial law to make a difference in the charity sector, taking on roles at organisations including the Early Intervention Foundation, Media Trust and Unlock Democracy. For the last four years she has been passionate about finding innovative ways to use digital to fight for children and young people’s mental health. She also enjoys working with very small charities to help them create content strategies and upskill teams to maximise their digital impact. She is a 2018 CharityComms Inspiring Communicator Award winner.