Amanda Neylon, Head of Digital at Macmillan Cancer Support, explains how social has shaped the organisation’s staff, culture and strategy, and enabled the organisation to provide more personalised support
Digital thinking goes hand-in-hand with taking a more human approach to marketing, as brands begin to recognise the value of being able to deliver highly personalised content through digital channels. Unthoughtful, untargeted messages belong to the dwindling days of digital illiteracy, so brands need to keep up or risk being forgotten.
As an organisation for which communication and human interaction are integral, Macmillan Cancer Support recognises the importance of humanising their users’ experiences of digital channels. Speaking at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference, Amanda Neylon, Head of Digital at Macmillan, highlighted the fact that 45 per cent of their past year’s 9.2 million interactions were made through digital.
“Where we get a little bit concerned though,” Neylon admits, “is that only two per cent were what we call meaningful interactions. That’s where you’re on our online community, having a conversation, getting advice through our social channels with our specialist nurses or using something with a Skype buddy.”
For digital to emulate the support that comes from human interaction, Neylon says it needs to be present in every element of Macmillan’s service. She asks the question, “How do we put digital at the heart of Macmillan, at the heart of our organisation, so that digital is everybody’s job? A huge percentage of our organisation are already using social, so getting them to do something they do in their lives outside work really helped.”
After in-depth social media training and a look at staff objectives and recruitment, Macmillan now boasts a network of 1,000 staff members and health care professionals all using social.
“Between eight in the morning and eight at night, [employees] have to be on social every single day and every single hour so that they can respond to queries within five to ten minutes,” Neylon explains. Having an extensive base of socially literate employees has radically amplified Macmillan’s reach. When those living with cancer reach out for help across social media channels, Macmillan are ready and waiting.
“When someone Tweets saying ‘Hey I’m going to chemo, I’m having a really horrible time and I don’t want it’, someone can spot that and amplify it,” says Neylon. “So before her first chemotherapy treatment, [this lady] had hundreds and hundreds of jokes sent to her, which really cheered her up. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if only three people were looking at social.”
Naturally, Macmillan’s digital community benefits from an assortment of areas of expertise. When a patient Tweets an intimate question post-op, for instance, a qualified specialist is able to respond directly with advice and support.
“What we can do now,” Neylon says, “is get someone who knows the answer to that question rather than someone on social media saying, ‘Well, if you phone our helpline or follow this link on our website…’ It means that we can give really personal answers, by people who are trained to give those answers.”
By blending digital thinking with every area of the organisation, Macmillan are on their way to dissolving the barriers between patients and staff. This is still an experimental process, and entirely dependent on individual input, but that in itself is a means of ensuring that the brand is kept lively and human. “Don’t worry,” says Neylon. “Just don’t be stupid. Go and do what you want to do”.
But Macmillan still have to think outside the box. An organisation like this needs to be brave and, notes Neylon, possibly a little more adventurous in its approach. Keeping an eye on the state of social, or ‘horizon-scanning’, gives the brand the opportunity to play with cultural references whilst still delivering crucial messages.
“When the Tube strike was on, we Tweeted about the fact that our lines were still open,” Neylon says. With an understanding of these cultural moments comes the opportunity for targeted messaging. “During the World Cup we tried to get some of our messages out around testicular cancer. ‘The game is a bit boring so I’m sure you boys can have a little bit of a fiddle with your balls in between’. As you can imagine, that went down quite well, but also got those really important messages across.” By understanding the need for a light-hearted piece of content, Macmillan were able to appeal to an audience they may not otherwise have managed to reach.
What brands can learn from Macmillan is that social media is more than just a marketing channel. Platforms like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter offer an invaluable chance to connect with users on a personal level and, whether it takes the form of quirky campaigns, targeted posts, or directly responding to users with tailored information, you can amplify your brand’s message through a more human form of interaction. The aim is to make digital contact more meaningful, as though your brand is truly alongside individual users on their journey. But, as Neylon stresses this is ultimately a “test and learn” approach. So be brave, and take risks. (Just don’t be an idiot).
Amanda Neylon spoke at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference, November 2014. This article appears in Figaro Digital Issue 23 – January 2015.
Article by Estelle Hakner