Here\’s How Cancer Research UK Raised £8 Million Using Selfies

Here\’s How Cancer Research UK Raised £8 Million Using Selfies

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Over the past two weeks, Cancer Research United Kingdom (CRUK) raised over £8 million from the viral spread of barefaced ‘selfies’ on social media. The intriguing part of this campaign is that CRUK was no way involved in creating this social movement. So how did the British, Canadians, Americans and tons of other people around the world get involved in this (almost) global movement?

Some have speculated it was just pure luck that CRUK was linked to these barefaced selfies of women that were floating around the Internet. Frankly, even CRUK themselves have no inkling on who began it but have been more than thankful towards the influx of donations from netizens.

Aaron Eccles, Senior Social Manager of CRUK, was quoted as saying:

 We don\’t know where it came from.. Some people say it came from the Oscars, some people say it\’s an Australian thing or a UK thing. But whatever happened, it started organically and just went a bit crazy.

Well going a bit crazy is quite an understatement.

Within 24 hours of the spread of #nomakeupselfie, CRUK raised over a million pounds. Some women posted ‘selfies’ while posing with a sheet of paper written with the words “Text BEAT to 70099 to donate £3” and others shared donation methods in their captions. The campaign was able to bring across the message of empowering women to feel self-confident in their most vulnerable state which in turn related to cancer patients.

While the buzz around the hash tag began primarily on Facebook, data from Keyhole showed that Twitter eventually became the most prominent social media platform used to spread the movement. This came as no surprise as hashtags did originate from Twitter way back in 2007 and is still very much a prominent feature. Facebook, on the other hand, implemented the use of hashtags on its timeline mid last year but it has yet to become anything close to a success for the social media platform. Conversations around the #nomakeupselfie hashtag was mainly cancer related, which succeeded in garnering greater awareness for cancer research.


Despite being a movement that was initially based in the UK, conversations on the hashtag managed to scatter across the globe. The highest percentage of posts stemmed from the UK (28%), followed by in the US (14%) and Canada (12%). The viral campaign was also participated by citizens from several parts of Europe, Africa and Asia.

Surprisingly, 44% of total participation towards the campaign were by men, who instead went about wearing makeup (#makeupselfie) to raise cancer awareness. The ability to get everyone involved is the best way to make your campaign go viral we reckon.


Pointers for a Viral Campaign

Here are the takeaways we gathered from CRUK on kick-starting a viral campaign:

1. Have Authentic Content

Whether it’s for a good cause or to raise awareness for a particular issue, the message, idea or concept that you want to send across to your followers should be sincere.

2. Use the Right Social Media Tool

Twitter is the place where conversations happen 24/7. Viral movements have the ability to spread quickly with hashtags and with the new twitter update of tagging photos, it’s going to get even faster.

3. Track your conversations

Keeping an eye on what the world is saying about you helps. A lot. Try using Tagboard or Keyhole.

4. Let the campaign spread organically

Take a cue from CRUK – less is more. Don\’t impose your campaign onto your followers by flooding social media with all your posts.

5. Show gratitude & practice transparency

Show sincere appreciation for the support you have received and let them know how the funds will be used.

The £8 million you’ve raised with your #nomakeupselfie pics will help fund 10 clinical trials.

— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) March 25, 2014

At the end of the day, CRUK has taught us to embrace the attention your campaign is getting and develop meaningful relationships with your audience.

Here are a couple of tweets we pulled of #nomakeupselfie!

Did you take a #nomakeupselfie as well? Share it in the comments!

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About Shahini Shairah

Shahini Shairah is the Editor of BetaTwentyOne. She's a social media marketing and communications professional and currently works with Circus Social. She's addicted to TweetDeck and allergic to bad content and excessive hashtags. Her weekend adventures consist of great food, and even better cinema.
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  • Christina Latham

    Great article Shahini. It’s great that other Beta21 writers are recognising the great work we’re delivering at CRUK. :)

    • Avtar Ram Singh

      Hey @christinalatham:disqus! How have you been? Completely forgot that you were actively involved in this, wish we’d reached out to you about this to get some insight.

      • Christina Latham

        That’s okay. It’s always great to see another person’s perspective of the work that your company does.

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