Millions For Cancer Charity From Social Media Selfies
March 27, 2014

Millions For Cancer Charity From Social Media Selfies

Most social media “trends” get a lot of press but leave me cold. “Selfies?” I am just not interested. Last week, however, a sudden viral attack of the selfie on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter got big press coverage for at least some of the right reasons and ended up raising a fortune for charity.

As I understand it, the whole thing grew out of some furor at the recent Oscars about the criticism appearance of 81-year-old Kim Novak, which saw crime author Laura Lippman post a picture of herself without makeup in support of Novak. A few women began posting pictures of themselves without makeup using the hashtag #nomakeupselfies tag. The theme appeared to be along the lines of “Here I am. Look at me, I have no makeup on. I am doing this to raise awareness of cancer”. The whole thing rapidly escalated with thousands of women joining in. Admirable though such raising of awareness might be, at this point the whole thing was nothing more than the latest trend with a feel-good factor of ostensibly, but not practically, supporting charity thrown in. Cancer sufferers, supporters, and charities might have felt that more than this was needed and indeed some started to voice their concerns and opinions. Some, men and women, even posted pictures of their donations to cancer charities instead of the ubiquitous selfie while others asked what makeup had to do with fighting cancer. Fierce debate followed. The message was clear – if you do not show your support by action to help the fight against cancer all this stuff is just meaningless.

But one charity – Cancer Research UK – got the message loud and clear. When alerted to the campaign, they decided to attempt to make something out of the situation by capitalizing on the selfie pandemic. The charity began asking users to add a request for donations along with the appropriate text code to their posts. The speculation paid off and it turned into a cash bonanza for CRUK. Within 48 hours the charity had raised an incredible £2 million. That’s roughly US$3.3 million. CRUK’s head of social media Aaron Eccles said, “We’re over the moon….This has taken off like crazy” and admitted that previous attempts to use social media in this way had never achieved anything like this kind of success. Money flowed in from all over the world. Concerns that the whole thing could be hijacked by scammers were raised and CRUK had to reassure people that cash was going to the right place. Other charities like the Breast Cancer Campaign joined in. The key to this sudden success is that, once the campaign took more concrete form by actually trying to raise money, the process of donating money was very easy. The inclusion of a simple text donation code meant that there was no need to send a cheque, set up a regular payment, or fill in forms. All you needed was a mobile phone.

As CRUK pointed out, they and many other organizations will now study what can be learned from this unexpected windfall. The marketing men everywhere will be analyzing the results.

In the end, what seemed at first to be a fairly vacuous social media bandwagon delivered big time and whatever drove it in the first place the original intention of raising awareness was achieved in a way that nobody could foresee. Expect to see more like it in the future.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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