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Audiences on social media guiding the way

13 November 2015

Our social media audiences helped us define, refine and deliver our latest campaign #DonatingIsntScary on a shoestring budget. Here's how.

Like a lot of charities, we don’t have a huge marketing budget at Anthony Nolan – after all, it’s expensive to get primetime advertising space. That’s why we’ve come to understand that our social media audiences (51,000 followers on Facebook, 29,000 on Twitter) need to shape every single campaign that we put out.

As communicators, we’re all occasionally guilty of doing exactly the opposite. We spend months working on a new campaign in secret, crafting the look and feel, flattering ourselves that we’ve really targeted it towards the right demographic… and then we launch it online, to a deafening silence. 

And we only have ourselves to blame, because our social media followers can’t just be treated as mouthpieces. They’re our focus groups, our sounding boards, our market research, and our strongest voice of reason. If a campaign isn’t compelling to them, we know it isn’t going to be compelling to anyone – so they should always be our starting point.

Mythbusting March

We thought we knew what the biggest myth surrounding stem cell donation was – the belief that it’s an extremely painful procedure, a nightmare version of a bone marrow biopsy, not helped by inaccurate portrayals in certain films

So we tested our hypothesis, drawing up a suite of different myths about stem cell donation. We designed them as simple graphics, and we published them on our social media channels throughout March 2015.

Some fell relatively flat. Others resonated incredibly well with our supporters, who began telling us that they’d also encountered these myths. 

As we’d expected, the ‘pain’ myth was very important to our audience, but a large number of people were also surprised to learn that gay men can donate (owing to the rules on blood donation). As a result, we started working with gay media outlets to get the word out.

The Creative Vision Awards

Soon afterwards, we found the Creative Vision Award, a new opportunity for charities to receive a free animated film, created by students at Bournemouth University as part of a competition, and overseen by BFX experts and the law firm Kingston Smith.

We agreed that tackling the ‘pain’ myth was one of our most urgent unaddressed needs, so we submitted an application, and were chosen with Dyslexia Action as the charity participants.

The award got underway, with two student teams competing to produce our film. Both used the same comedy-horror script; a young man who imagines himself being menaced by a vampiric doctor.

It was very exciting, but there was a problem. We wanted to launch a new mythbusting campaign to coincide with the film’s release in October (appropriately, in time for Hallowe'en). However, we wouldn’t know which team had won until just a fortnight before. 


Flexibility and speed were key. We didn’t have time to fit the necessary assets into our design team’s workflow, so we settled on a very simple textual style. This meant I could create the assets myself and pass them across to the designers for sign-off.

We also took the opportunity to do more testing online. We assembled case studies of both bone marrow and stem cell donors, then put together typographic content too. We didn’t want to be dependent on a single campaign resource or message; if one particular asset proved especially popular, we wanted to be able to capitalise on that.

After some debate, we settled on the hashtag #DonatingIsntScary. Simple, functional – and as it turned out, highly effective. After a week of social media activity, we’d reached more than 4,310,000 people on Twitter and 330,000 on Facebook, solely through organic shares, likes, comments and retweets – and we’d done it without any budget at all.

People really engaged with the campaign. Old stem cell donors came back to talk about their own experiences and new ones joined in, posting images of themselves in hospital beds. Potential stem cell donors told us they felt reassured and newly informed about the process. And gratifyingly, some of our international counterparts started joining in – it feels pretty good to know that you’ve addressed a need everyone else is thinking about, but nobody knows how to handle.

What else did we learn from our social media audience? That case studies are vital, but they need backing up with varied content or they’ll soon become monotonous. That simple graphics can be a fantastic, time-efficient tool for supporters to share. 

And – most importantly – we were reminded of the importance of talking to our social media audience, who guided us to make the right choices, and create useful and meaningful content. 

Jon Ware

digital manager, National Centre for Social Research

Jon Ware has worked in social media and digital communications for charities such as Anthony Nolan and the National Centre for Social Research. He’ll shortly be joining Alzheimer’s Society as digital engagement manager.