Interview; Folu Babatola, Macmillan Cancer


The recent Shoreditch Twitnic saw an attendance of about 25 folk who braved the overcast skies of N1 to congregate in Shoreditch Park and have a lot of food and fun for Macmillan Cancer Support. The event raised just over £100 for the charity thanks to free food from Somerfield. As a follow up, I’ve interviewed Folu Babatola, one of Macmillan’s press team who came up with the Twitnic idea and is an avid Twitter user… follow him at @FoluB.


So tell me about Macmillan Cancer…
Macmillan Cancer Support is all about improving the lives of people affected by cancer. We provide practical, medical, emotional and financial support.  So as well as providing nurses and occupational therapists, we can come to your house and help with the gardening or carry your shopping and we even offer support if you’re struggling with the financial impact of cancer.

How did you get involved with Twitter – how do you use it for Macmillan?
I got involved because a couple of friends were using it and it seemed an easy way top keep in touch with them.  Both use social media as part of their work, so I saw first hand just how useful it can be for an organisation.  It took a while to get our heads round how to use it for Macmillan, but I think we’re getting there – it’s just part and parcel of being an organisation on the web these days.  We send out updates on campaigns and fundraising events, we encourage people to join in and we try our best to respond to everyone who @’s us, especially those who are fundraising. 

What was the idea behind the Shoreditch Twitnic?
I’ve been to a couple of the Shoreditch Twits and really enjoyed them, so when they were trying to come up with a June concept, I suggested making it part of our Big Picnic event.  We encourage people around the country to raise money for Macmillan by hosting picnics and getting their guests to donate money in exchange for some food or drink.  We also have loads of sales promotions in Somerfield, so if you go into your local one, you’ll find loads of products where a percentage of the profits are donated to Macmillan.  We were lucky in that Somerfield are great supporters of ours and they provided all the food and drink for the Twitnic.  Big Picnic goes on till the 14th July, so if anyone else wants to get involved, they can log on, register their details and get lots of tips, ideas and themes.

And you’ve got something else planned for Shoreditch as well?
We do, it’s called The Brick Lane Festival and it’s happening on the 13th August 2009.  We are basically taking over some venues on Brick Lane and the surrounding area and putting a bunch of bands on.  We’ve already announced that Frank Turner, The Chapman Family, Spycatcher and Jersey Budd are playing and we’re going to be announcing loads more in the next two weeks.  I’m even tempted to get up and play myself!

We’re really excited about the event as it’s the first time we’ve done anything like this.  Tickets are only £20 and all the bands and venues are doing it for free, so all that money goes to people affected by cancer. You can buy tickets and check for more bands being added here.

Do you see more charities turning online in today’s climate?
I do, but I think it’s just something that every brand/organisation is doing, not just charities.  For us, it’s obvious you have to have some presence on the web, not just in terms of PR, reputation management but also fundraising and raising awareness of the services we provide. It’s a great way to connect with your supporters and get real time feedback on what you are doing right and what people aren’t responding to. Because of the climate, we’re all told by experts that it is a cheap and easy way to work, but I think with charities (particularly smaller ones) our greatest resource is people and their time, so while there are all these new things to try and experiment, we can’t replace all the things that already work.

I’ve found that I could spend all day on Twitter/Facebook/Justgiving sites talking to supporters, but all the offline/print/broadcast work we also do would suffer and they are equally important to reaching people. I think it’s vital that we remember that there are many people who need us that aren’t on the net.

But you’re relatively ahead of the pack, what advice would you give to the third sector  to get involved to this?
Firstly I’d state the obvious; that listening to what people are saying about you before diving into the conversation is important. Whether it is Twitter or forums or Facebook, you need to be patient and really look at what people are saying (and not saying) before you start to approach them. You’ll have a greater understanding of what the mood/culture is and that in turn will help you approach people online in a more friendly, less corporate way.

Every organisation has a personality that comes from a mix of their public face and internal culture. Try and find your voice and personality in everything you do. 

Try everything that’s free! If you don’t like Twitter, or don’t see the value in it, there is probably another tool out there that will suit your needs.  The worry for me is that charities will see Twitter (because of the media spotlight) and if they don’t like it, will write of Social Media altogether.

Anything else we should know?
We have lots of different ways you can get involved with supporting Macmillan, from trekking in South America, to picnics, to marathons, to coffee mornings or just shaking your tin outside a supermarket.


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