Q&A with Macmillan Cancer Support’s Head of Digital

From harnessing data to thinking up new online campaigns, Amanda Neylon fills us in on the charity’s ever-evolving relationship with the digital world.

| 9th Oct 15
Head of Digital, Macmillan

This week we caught up with the head of digital at Macmillan Cancer Support, Amanda Neylon.

From harnessing data to thinking up new online campaigns, Neylon fills us in on the charity’s ever-evolving relationship with the digital world.


How does your level of digital activity compare to your print coverage these days?

In 2014 Macmillan services were accessed nine million times and over 5.4 million people received support. Almost 50 per cent of the support that was delivered was via our digital channels and just under 30 per cent was in the form of printed information, such as leaflets.

Digital support is offered in a number of ways, from our newly launched multichannel, personalised information and support site – My Macmillan – to our social media channels which allow for one-to-one support from a Macmillan nurse. Other key technology projects include our 50,000-strong online peer-to-peer support network, our online financial and welfare benefits tool and our My Organiser app which helps cancer patients to organise their appointments and treatment.

As well as supporting people affected by cancer, we use technology to support Macmillan professionals in their roles. This ranges from training Macmillan nurses to use Facebook to engage with patients, to our Cancer Support Decision tool which supports GPs with clinical decision-making.

When it comes to fundraising marketing, the key to engagement is to know your audience and how to reach them. For some campaigns, this will be print led and we will reach our target audience predominantly through a variety of paid-for and editorial print coverage, as well as supporting digital activity.

For other campaigns, we will be targeting a digital-focused audience and our activity will reflect this. For example, two of Macmillan’s recent fundraising events (Brave the Shave and Go Sober) have been online-driven campaigns with participants signing up and fundraising online.


‘Data is crucial’


How do you use digital channels at Macmillan to reach as many potential donors as possible?

When it comes to attracting potential donors, data is crucial. This is because the better we understand our target audiences, the easier it is to find them (both online and offline). Data is also the key to measuring campaign results – it allows us to test, optimise and adjust activity constantly.

Keeping customers is just as important as attracting new ones. In order to keep them it’s important that they have a good experience. For us, part of this is about being accessible and digital platforms allow us to do just that.

Social media offers us the chance to show off our personality and incorporate humour where appropriate. It creates a community feel which gives supporters a sense of being part of something bigger. Social media also lets us share our messages locally though regional networks. This is a great way of increasing awareness and peer-to-peer communications often have more credibility.


Startup Stock Photos


What do you do to maximise interaction with your online content?

The key is engaging content. We find our audiences respond well to storytelling content which is boosted by rich media. This applies to a whole range of audience groups – from healthcare professionals to people affected by cancer and fundraising supporters.

Rich media boosts ‘shareability’ which we try to include in all our content. Social media channels are key for expanding our storytelling and driving traffic to our main website, which is the hub for our services and fundraising content.

Over the past year our brand as a whole has placed a greater focus on photography. We find that web users respond to strong visual content so we’re always curating content from all areas, there are so many amazing stories out there we are able to amplify.


Digital – ‘a part of everybody’s job’


What has the journey been like for Macmillan, adapting the way you work to a digital world?

Like the digital world itself, the way we react to it is ever changing. We are focusing on changing culture, skills and capabilities to prepare our teams for the changes in years to come and make sure we maximise the potential of digital platforms to support the people who need us. Our journey started a few years ago with the introduction of a digital strategy and we’re now at the stage of embedding digital into strategies across Macmillan and making digital a part of everybody’s job.


Video clips can be very costly to produce. What value do you think they add to campaigns?

We find that rich media performs very well on our digital channels. Videos have the ability to create an emotional connection with users and they’re really shareable, which helps us to spread our message further.

As authenticity is so important, user generated videos can also be very powerful – as well as being a way to keep video production costs down. Another way is to plan ahead for video production to make the most of any opportunities for multiple use or reuse of footage captured at each shoot.


How do you think of new online campaigns?

The key is to adopt a test and learn approach that allows you to learn as you go and build an innovative culture. Collaborating is just as important; we try and bring together people from all areas when brainstorming. Working with agencies or our corporate partners brings together more minds to enhance the creative process. We also keep a close eye on what is happening in the non-charity sector and internationally.


Remembering the ‘golden thread’


Do you have any tips for spreading your message to a wide audience?

The most important thing to remember here is the ‘golden thread’ of the message. Before any kind of communication, you need to be clear what you are trying to communicate and even if you alter the shape or form, the golden thread remains loyal to your main message.

When dealing with social media platforms, it’s important to remember that content needs to be interesting to the audience and it’s now a two way thing. Consumers are bombarded with messages from so many sources that they always filter, whether they’re conscious of doing so or not. To avoid being filtered, content needs to not only be relevant to the audience but elicit conversation too. With traditional mediums, it’s easy to think only about what you want to tell consumers, but with social media you need to think about what the audience wants to hear/read too and how to engage with them.


What do you think the future holds of the third sector?

I believe that in the future, brands that are great at storytelling and encouraging supporters to feel connected with the cause, will be the most successful. Linked to this is my belief that user-generated and grass roots content will become increasingly important. Organisations need to understand the strategic value of user-generated content, where it can be included in comms activity and how it can be encouraged in a non-curated way through culture change.

Using data and insight to make decisions will also become increasingly more critical – digital channels are easy to measure, and we are now able to link that to the external channels our customers use, such as Google and Facebook, as well as offline data to enable a much more personalised customer experience.


What’s your favourite social media channel and why?

Professionally I’d say Facebook because it’s so widely and easily used. It is a great way for us to share stories with relatively deep engagement from followers. As a social network it also allows people to do their own fundraising by sharing their motivation and linking to an online fundraising page to collect money easily.

Without my work hat on, I’d say Instagram as I like visual stories. With Instagram people have to think more carefully about what they share and there is a nice simplicity to it.


How important are events/talks in your overall strategy?

The world of digital is constantly evolving so learning from others and sharing our own learnings, is vitally important. I like to think that ‘everyday is a school day’ when it comes to the digital sphere so I encourage my team to attend conferences and events that are relevant and useful to our work.

In the digital space it’s true to say that everybody learns by doing, so I also feel that it is important to share examples of our own learnings by presenting at relevant talks and events.

I encourage my team to attend a mixture of informal meet-ups such as the social speakeasy and more formal conferences, such as the Chief Digital Officer Forum.


‘National Geographic inspires awe’


Which organisations do you admire for their use of social media and/or their website?

National Geographic inspires awe. It gets eight times as many social interactions as the next closest publishers (Buzzfeed and Huff Post). The brand is so clever in its use of different channels. Its hero content is on Instagram. The approach is simple with a select group of 110 photographers posting shots to the account, including great little stories and hashtags with each image. The simple approach obviously works as the account currently has over 32 million followers.