Every now and then, something really good happens in social media.  Something which leverages the viral power of social sharing in an unexpected and inclusive way, and makes a genuine difference. The #nomakeupselfie trend in March 2013 was just such a phenomenon – were you part of it?

All over Facebook, women started sharing ‘selfie’ pictures of their naked, un-made-up faces – a trend inspired by actress Kim Novak’s attendance at the Oscars in all her naked-faced beauty.  From international awards ceremonies to our Facebook timelines, most of us carefully create and curate the images we wish to show to the world, and reversing this trend was a disruptive and inspiring move.

A teenage mum in Staffordshire, Fiona Cunningham, created the original #nomakeupselfie page on Facebook.  She had lost family members to cancer and wanted to start something to raise awareness of the disease and how no-one had to hide what they were or how they might be suffering.  She encouraged her friends to join in and spread the word, and to send an easy £3 donation to Cancer Research UK via text message (UK numbers only).

But she could scarcely believe the response her campaign attracted, once the media and celebrities got behind it.  Even men got in on the act, with some deciding to counterbalance their partners’ naked faces by putting on full make-up themselves, and some other dodgier images involving literal nakedness other than one strategically positioned sock. Kids, pets and others joined in, and the campaign spread across Twitter, Instagram and other social networks.  Businesses also got involved, including my own UK company Saros Research Ltd, who donated on behalf of each Project Manager who posted their own #nomakeupselfie during the campaign.

In the space of a few days, over £10m was spontaneously raised for Cancer Research UK, an amount unprecedented in a Facebook campaign – and very gratefully received by a charity which funds lifesaving research, and receives no statutory funding for its vital work.  Medical research is a highly regulated and complex industry and trials cost staggering amounts of money, because to bring a new drug to market where it can actually start helping people is a lengthy and careful process.

Often various good prospects are vying for the limited funds to take their development forward, with no one know which will turn out to have the greatest benefit for the largest number of people, and being forced to chose between one project and another But because of this influx of funding at least 10 new trials can be funded, and the battle against the illness that touches every family is being fought on new fronts with new tools that are now one step closer to being available for clinicians to prescribe.  The trials to be funded as a result of this campaign will look at new treatments for sarcoma, acute myeloid leukaemia, neuroblastoma, liver, head and neck, breast, prostate, bladder and oesophageal cancers, and they cover a range of treatment approaches including chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiotherapy.


8 million and still going up… now past 10 million raised!

So if you bared all during March for this campaign, and encouraged your friends to do the same, then you were part of a Good Thing.

Unlike so many vaguely charitable campaigns that proliferate online this one had a simple and clear call to action – just send a text to make an immediate small donation.  There was no room or excuse for slactivism in the message, no silly games or tricks to try to exclude or get a rise out of anyone, no guilt trips to everyone on your friends list to copy and paste random meaningless messages or else shrivel away in guilt and shame.  People were encouraged to tag specific friends and pass on the challenge, which is actually far more powerful as  a way to share  – individuals got a specific alert and recommended timeframe to respond, and because most people found it easy to get involved and take it forward and also tagged more than one other person, the conditions for viral transmission were easily met – it exploded, in a few short days.

Of course there were critics and carping.  And it appears that the donation mechanism, which involved a specific text number and code word, occasionally got mis-pasted: some people inadvertently donated to either Unicef or WWF, who use the same text donation service with a slight different code, and who are both working to try and reallocate the funds to the intended recipient.

Others criticize Cancer Research UK itself for animal testing or the pharmaceutical industry it is perforce intimately involved with, or for its choice of projects to fund – with so many competing directions research can go in they cannot possibly please all the campaigners all of the time.

However few of us anywhere in the world can say that our lives have not been marked in some way by cancer, either in our families or those close to us, and whether the trials in question move us closer to a cure for any specific variant does not alter the point overall, that greater understanding of the disease itself can only help improve treatments and research in future.

All scientific research is the sum of everything that has gone before it, and if you texted or sent in a donation for your #nomakeupselfie, then you were part of something much bigger, that is making a difference to all of our lives. Nice one.

You can donate right now here 

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, April 11th 2014  ©Maya Middlemiss,  Casslar Consulting SL


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