Stephen Sutton’s Campaign Shows Power of Social Media

Stephen Sutton

On this morning’s BBC Scotland’s Morning Call, John Beattie was asking the question “do charities need to work harder for our money?” The question arose in light of the recent efforts of teenage cancer victim Steven Sutton, 19, who has so far managed to raise just over £2.375 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust. The amount continues to rise at an astonishing rate, and has received recognition from some of the world’s notable celebrities.


The Twitter hashtag #ThumbsUpForStephen has had contributions made from players of Manchester City FC,  comedian Jason Manford, musician Ronnie Wood, amongst many more people encouraging others to donate to Stephen’s campaign on JustGiving. His fundraising has already outstripped his target total by 137%, and has received a donation from the fundraising site itself.

So why, or how, has Stephen been so successful? Recently we saw the explosion of the No Make-Up Selfie Facebook campaign to raise awareness and money for Breast Cancer Research, which raised £8m in six days. Putting aside the controversies that arose along with the #nomakeupselfie campaign, we cannot deny that this is a staggering achievement. Movember 2013 saw an incredible £17.4m being raised in the United Kingdom alone.

So what makes these campaigns so successful? My theory is the power of social media.

Stephen Sutton’s campaign has appealed to so many people because of both his age, and his social media presence. He has set up a Facebook page, has a YouTube video about his story, the Twitter hashtag, all are assisting in the dissemination of his message. Due to his campaigning for Teenage Cancer Trust, Stephen is attracting the largest demographic on social media platforms – teenagers.

Not only that, but social media is so much more accessible than any door-to-door campaign can ever be. Albeit that many people will just hit ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ on a charity’s social media page just ‘because’, that has a long-term impact. Because Facebook allows your friends to now see what you are liking and what you are doing, others are more likely to follow suit. A study conducted in the USA found that 47% of Americans find out about causes via social media and online channels, with another 55% going on to take further action. So social media can have a sort of snowball effect; in that the more people show their support for a charity, the more the charity gets publicity, the more people endorse it. 1+1=11.

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Furthermore, as humans we like a story. We like a human connection that social media can bring on a global scale. Someone with an amazing story such as Stephen has the ability to appeal to a global teenage audience and gather donations from across the world. Social media has no boundaries (unless we are talking about North Korea and China, etc.). Campaigns like Movember are ones where we see people shamelessly growig moustaches for charity and we feel a connection with it. The same goes for the selfie campaign. The same research in the US found that 56% of those who support nonprofits on social media did so because of a story they read on a social media platform.

One criticism levelled on Morning Call today, however, was that of the supposed “glamorisation” of cancer. The argument was that Stephen is a young, good-looking man who is making the cause look “sexy”. That may be true. In fact, it may be why we see such a large amount of money going to medical research charities (such as Cancer Research UK, etc), children’s charities and animal charities, and then not so much to charities dealing predominantly with the elderly. The same argument was levelled against the Selfie campaign, in that it was “glamourised” and promoted better looking women, some have argued.

However, we cannot escape the fact that, in the end, these campaigns raise enormous amounts, and it is thanks to social media that it happens. Social media allows us to set the agenda, create the trends and disseminate the message to the millions across the planet with an internet connection. We have seen how it appeals to out human nature, and allows us to have that sense of connection with someone hundreds, even thousands, of miles away.



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