How other charities do… health awareness days

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Awareness days are part of the social media furniture, particularly Twitter. ‘Health awareness days’ – such as World Cancer Day or World Diabetes Day – take on a special significance for medical charities. They’re an opportunity to tackle taboo subjects, and shine a light on issues that don’t normally get much attention. They’re also a chance for an organisation to reach a new audience.

But with everyone pushing out content on one day, it can be hard for any organisation to cut through. In this blog I share some example of how different charities have approached health awareness days.

We’ll start off with some great examples of lovely content, then move onto some more general advice. And we’ll finish up with some further reading (in case you can’t get enough of awareness days articles).

Let’s crack on!

Examples of health awareness day content

These examples cut across different health awareness days from the past year. I’ve grouped them into rough categories with blurry boundaries – but I won’t pretend this is a definitive list.

Awareness raising

The clue’s in the name. With the increased reach that charities have on these days, they’re a good opportunity to raise awareness of not only a disease, but also of specific aspects of it that might not be widely known.

  • For World Arthritis Day (12th Oct), Versus Arthritis shared two stories of people diagnosed with arthritis whilst they were children. Most people would assume that arthritis is a condition of old age, but these stories smash that stereotype.
  • For World Diabetes Day (14th Nov), the Diabetes Research & Wellness Fund shared a graphic and some startling facts about the condition.

Sharing people’s stories

It’s a common theme on awareness days to share the stories of people affected by a health condition. People will connect much more readily with a real person telling their story, compared to an organisation talking in general terms about a condition.

  • On World Cancer Day (4th Feb), Breast Cancer Now used simple portrait images to share the stories of people affected by breast cancer, highlighting that people from any walk of life could be diagnosed with the disease.
  • Kidney Research UK marked World Diabetes Day (14th Nov) by highlighting the kidney-related complications that can arise from diabetes.
  • One of the stories that British Heart Foundation shared for World Heart Day (29th Sept) was that of a young lad called Jack who was born with a rare but a serious heart condition

Information for public

Some charities share information to help the public understand the disease better or take action to reduce their risk.

  • British Heart Foundation also shared a nice graphic with information what to do if you come across someone suffering from either a cardiac arrest or a heart attack (and what the difference is):
  • For World Mental Health Day (10th Oct), MQ: Transforming Mental Health shared a graphic with advice on how to help someone who’s having suicidal thoughts:
  • Prostate Cancer UK shared the graphic below on World Cancer Day (4th Feb) to raise awareness of risk factors for the disease, which got a large number of retweets.

Support for people affected

Awareness days can bring together people affected by the disease. Charities therefore have an opportunity to signpost people to information which might be relevant to them.

  • Macular Society shared information about their advice and information hotline on World Sight Day (10th Oct). Given the day coincides with World Mental Health Day, it was also an opportunity to highlight their counselling service to help people who are struggling to cope with sight loss.
  • Many other charities also offered their phonelines up for support on World Mental Health Day (10th Oct), including this fantastic video from Epilepsy Action:
  • On World Diabetes Day (14th Nov) Pancreatic Cancer UK shared information about the specifics of managing diabetes with pancreatic cancer

Thankyous and impact

Awareness days can be a great time to focus on your charity’s supporters and the difference they’re making.

  • For 2019’s World Cancer Day (4th Feb), Cancer Research UK shared a few photos of how they spent the day calling their supporters to thank them (and also dropped in a few examples of their achievements):
  • Prostate Cancer UK also thanked their supporters on World Cancer Day, and shared a lovely montage of supporters and others involved in the charity:
  • Children with Cancer UK marked World Cancer Day highlighting one of their biggest achievements, helping to increase the survival rate for a type of leukaemia, using with a funky science GIF:

Fundraising

Fundraising appeals don’t seem to be that common on health awareness days – perhaps on busy days on social media it’s difficult enough to cut through the noise, let alone convince people to part with their cash. But a few charities have made a direct ask for donations on awareness days.

  • Whilst sharing the story of one family, Children with Cancer UK asked for donations towards an appeal to ‘keep families together’ on World Cancer Day (4th Feb):
  • JDRF UK ran a superheroes-themed appeal on 2019’s World Diabetes Day (14th Nov), encourage people to dress up as caped crusaders at work, school, or home:

General tips

The #CharityHour twitter chat on 16th October 2019, co-hosted by Digital Impact Consultant Madeleine Sugden, focussed on how charities can make the most of the opportunity that awareness days present. It was a fascinating discussion, and so I thought I’d share some of the learnings from the chat, as well as some tips of my own.

Don’t be afraid to ‘hijack’

Looking over health awareness days content above, one of the key lessons for me is that it doesn’t particularly matter whether the day is directly related to your charity’s cause or not. If your content is helpful, it’s perfectly acceptable to jump on board – it’s not hijacking.

This was evident on World Mental Health Day, where a lot of charities associated with physical health conditions share advice or offer emotion support.

Another great example of this was Alzheimer’s Research UK sharing information on World Sight Day about a rare form of dementia which affects vision. As well as sharing a personal story, they also provided a vivid demonstration of what living with the condition is like:

Grab attention

With a lot of noise to cut through, your awareness day is a good time to get out those attention grabbing videos and images you’ve been hording all year… Pictures of people sharing their story are very common, as someone staring directly into camera instantly forms a connection (though I feel there’s a risk these kind of photos could be overdone?)

I particularly liked the photos from Cancer Research UK’s thankathon on World Cancer Day, and Alzheimer’s Research UK video on visual dementia above – they both caught my eye for very different reasons.

What I don’t see a lot of from medical research charities is… well, research. The content that many charities put out for awareness days appears to be going for ‘mass appeal’. Perhaps science is considered a bit to ‘special interest’ for these days, bar a few mentions of significant achievements. I would love to see charities buck this trend (but then again, I am a science nerd).

Reuse and recycle

Though many charities do end up creating new content especially for an awareness day, don’t be afraid to reuse and repackage stuff that you already have. Out of all the videos, images, and personal stories featured above, I would bet that almost all of them were originally made for another purpose. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to. And equally, if something you did for last year’s awareness day got a lot of engagement, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to tweak and reuse the idea this year.

Give people a heads up

If you want to make a noise on a health awareness day – particularly if you want your followers to get involved somehow – make sure you get people talking about the day well before the day itself.

Crohn’s & Colitis UK made their supporters and followers aware of World IBD Day (19th May) a long time before the day – both on social media and in their supporter magazine. The purpose of this was to get people affected by Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis involved in their “It Takes Guts” campaign, where they share their stories and start a conversation with friends and family. Clearly this is something they may not have been willing to do if it was sprung upon them on the day, but given some notice, it was very successful. To give the campaign an extra push on the day they got some of their celebrity supporters involved too.

Time to Change also invited contributions from their followers ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day (10th Sept), about what they want other people to know about suicide. Time to Change then shared these contributions on the day itself in Twitter moment. It was a really powerful way of not only highlighting how common it is to have suicidal thoughts, but also busting some myths.

Link up with other organisations

One way to make an even bigger impact on awareness days is to link up with other organisations. As The Stroke Association’s Social Media Manager Oli Dillon highlighted during the Charity Hour chat, awareness days can be an opportunity to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ and highlight one particular issue. Each organisation may have its own strengths when it comes to the audiences it can reach – collaboration can create a larger audience than organisations in competition can do on their own.

Not just about health awareness days

Of course, there are thousands of other awareness days – some more ‘serious’ than others – and charities can provide an interesting and unusual take on any of them. For me, I think the key thing is (again) make sure it’s relevant to your organisation and interesting for your audience – not just jumping on a bandwagon for the sake of it. 

Gemma Pettman, a freelance Comms & PR consultant, gave the example of how World Book Day could be an opportunity for charities to share books on a topic relevant to their cause (e.g. support books or information).

Oli Dillon gave the example of how The Stroke Association used Roald Dahl Day (13th Sept) to highlight the origins of the BFG’s unusual vocabulary:

The Zurich for Charities twitter account has collected a few different examples, including #HeatWave, #Halloween2018 , and even #InternationalCarrotDay.

Further reading

Awareness Days are a popular topic in the charity media. I’ve picked just a few of the many great articles which cover different aspects of producing content for them.

Have you got any great examples of awareness day content from a charity? Do you have any awareness days coming up that are relevant to your organisation? Let me know your thoughts via Twitter (of course!)


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