How charities are using social media: the success of the #nomakeupselfie

  • 3
  • March 31, 2014
Natasha Nanner

Natasha Nanner

Social Media Strategist

It’s been hard to ignore the influx of make-up free selfies on social media over the last week. From close friends to colleagues to celebrities, such as actress Kym Marsh and TV presenter Suzi Perry, it feels like every female in our vicinity has been bravely posing for a snap without their usual slap in aid of Breakthrough Breast Cancer. And with over £8 million raised for the charity so far, this is a standout example of the power social media can give to charities looking to raise money and awareness.

Interestingly, the recent ‘#nomakeupselfie’ campaign began organically and completely separate from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, with women originally taking part in the Internet craze as a sort of “screw you” to society and its unrealistic expectations of beauty.

Reportedly, American author Laura Lippman started the trend earlier this month in support of 81-year-old actress Kim Novak, whose looks were criticised at the 2014 Oscars. Soon after the prestigious award ceremony was over, Laura posted a barefaced selfie on Facebook and encouraged others to share similar images of themselves on her page – which eventually became inundated with thousands of pictures from fellow novelists and fans alike. Basically, girl power well and truly kicked in!

Laura Lippman

Somewhere along the way, the hashtag #breastcancerawareness was added to a number of the make-up free selfies and in turn, donation links to Cancer Research UK began popping up too. The charity saw an ideal opportunity to make this craze work in their favour by giving it a boost on their social media channels and creating a (fairly) straight-forward way for people to donate via text message, using the word “BEAT”.

So why has this worked so well?

The campaign’s colossal success is ultimately down to how easy it has been for people to get involved. After all, the only thing you really need to have is a mobile phone and £3 to spare. With friends and family cheering one another on to bravely bear their fresh faces, it’s also a heart-warming use of social media that encourages unity between women, as opposed to the female-focused criticism of beauty and body image that is all too frequent these days.

And men have even been getting in on the action, creating their own version of the craze by piling on the make-up that their ladies have ditched and then uploading amusing selfies on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, as well as making a donation.

Breast cancer

The authenticity and unmanufactured origin of the campaign has worked in Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s favour too, because people don’t feel like they are being forced or guilt-tripped into donating. This unique approach to using social media for charity is one that may prove hard to duplicate, although the sheer popularity it has amassed will no doubt give other organisations an incentive to try.

Aside from the latest selfie phenomenon, charities have already begun finding more interesting and effective ways to get the most out of social media over the last couple of years, demonstrating just how powerful these platforms can be in raising funds and spreading an important message.

Water Is Life – #FirstWorldProblems

Hijacking an existing Twitter trending topic can be tricky and should be approached with caution. But Water Is Life managed to turn a rather negative trending topic into something positive and light-hearted by reinventing the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag into a campaign that spread their charity’s message and provided over a million days worth of clean water to those in need.

Water is life

Water Is Life created a video in which victims of the Haiti Earthquake were seen reading #firstworldproblems tweets and then responding to them, drawing attention to third world realities. The visual ended with the message: ‘#FirstWorldProblems Are Not Problems.’


UNICEF – Likes Don’t Save Lives

Playing on what is often known as ‘vanity metrics’ (Facebook likes, Twitter followers, Instagram likes, etc), UNICEF came up with the hard-hitting Likes Don’t Save Lives campaign in 2013, which called for people to make real cash donations rather than just showing solidarity on social media.


As well as releasing a video, UNICEF also designed bold images to support their message, with one widely shared poster reading: “Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio.”


Refuge – Don’t Cover It Up

UK based charity Refuge enlisted YouTube beauty guru Lauren Luke to star in a courageous campaign in 2012 that highlighted the issue of women covering up injuries suffered from domestic abuse. Using YouTube as their platform, Refuge asked Lauren to create one of her typical make-up tutorials, although this time her face was covered in cuts and bruises.


The video was titled ‘How to Look Your Best the Morning After’ and saw the well-known brunette blogger explaining how best to cover up her fake facial injuries using make-up products, in a bid to show how 65% of women who experience domestic violence tend to conceal their abuse rather than reporting it.

Refuge asked people to watch and share the video on social media so that it would encourage more women to seek help.


Going forward…

Social media is now a fundamental part of every charity’s communications strategy and is proving to be an extremely effective way of encouraging people to get involved in the latest campaigns and raise awareness. Policymakers are also using the likes of Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with developments in their sectors, as well as finding new and unique methods of engaging with their supporters.

The ease of connecting with thousands of people across the world through social media has now lead to the general public taking it upon themselves to start their own campaigns for their favourite charities too. As we have seen with the success of the #nomakeupselfie campaign, supporters are no longer waiting to be told how to help. Instead, they are finding their own innovative and fun ways to raise money and awareness, which are proving to be just as beneficial to the cause.

So could a seemingly organic approach to fundraising via social media channels be the way forward? Perhaps. But one thing is certain for the future of charities: a successful social media can make a real difference.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-placed hashtag!