How cancer can spread in the most positive of ways and why we should “be nice to animals”

I’ve wanted to write a blog post for a while after how well my last one was received back in January. Finally feel compelled to do so after a couple of experiences I’ve had over the last few days. Sorry it’s been so long.

The first experience I want to talk about is a fantastic example of the convergence of traditional broadcast media with social media. Ricky Gervais and co. really made me smile tonight with some simple but highly effective interactivity during the broadcast of their truly brilliant “mockumentary” Derek.

If you’ve not watched it before (make sure you do!), Derek is a charming character who helps out at his local care home, alongside a host of eccentric but equally endearing colleagues. Derek, to quote from Wikipedia is “quirky, goofy, and [his] often hare-brained personality is tempered by a tender, honest and brave spirit.” In essence, he sees the best in people (and animals) despite their misgivings which are frequently demonstrated in the programme.

The clever bit came part way through in a scene where Derek was talking to another of the care home’s staff Vicky about her mobile phone. She explained about a setting him up with a twitter account and quoted it in the dialogue as being “@MrDerekNoakes”. The discussion continued with Vicky asking Derek what he’d like to say, and they even decided upon a hashtag (HT) to use in the tweet of “#DerekSays”, before sending a message of “Be nice to animals”.

My natural reaction was to get my phone out on the off chance that the account existed. Sure enough, it did and the actual tweet that was discussed in the pre-recorded programme was sent out in real time as the show was being transmitted.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who found this rather spiffing, twitter came alive with retweets of @MrDerekNoakes’ tweet, and it wasn’t long before #DerekSays was the top trending HT in the UK. What was also impressive was this simulcast was backed up with further content shared by the show’s official twitter account with key quotes from the programme composited on screengrabs from said scenes.

Again, all simple stuff in the execution but it just shows you the level of planning a successful campaign needs to undergo. Bravo Mr. Gervais.

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My second experience was learning about Stephen’s Story. If you’ve not heard of Stephen Sutton, he’s a 19 year old chap from the West Midlands who’s been battling cancer over the last 4 years. He describes himself as “an ordinary teenager” but the deeper you dig into his story, the more you realise he’s far from ordinary.

I won’t repeat his story as I want you to go and read about him yourself but in a nutshell, after being diagnosed with cancer and learning a couple of years ago that it was incurable, he set about making the absolute best of his time and published his bucketlist on his facebook page. Understandably, a lot of these were goals you’ve probably also got on your own lists but over the last year or so, these goals have become incredibly selfless such as raising a shedload of cash for the Teenage Cancer Trust and supporting other cancer sufferers.

How do I know so much about all this? Because Stephen has made his story completely public. I don’t know the guy from Adam but I’ve found it incredible learning more about his experiences over the last few years, from simply reading his website, his donation page and his social network accounts including facebook and twitter. Unfortunately, over the last couple of days it appears he’s taken a turn for the worst and posted an incredibly poignant facebook status on Tuesday morning (it’s currently pinned to the top of his page).

What struck me more than anything with Stephen’s story was how willing he’s been to share his experiences so publically over social networks. It sounds like he’s barely had the strength to even tweet in recent days but has continued to do so regardless.

It’s been a stark reminder that when working in PR, marketing and communications it’s all too easy to get swept up in whether so-and-so “shouldn’t have tweeted something so controversial on their work twitter account” or how “facebook are destroying the network with reduced reach algorithms” or bitching about “the latest twitter update that means we have to change all our brand visuals to fix new dimensions”.

None of this mattered on Tuesday night. Social networks were used as a way to share Stephen’s story and helped him achieve fundraising for his charity well beyond his wildest dreams by smashing £1 million in donations as he lay on his hospital bed. Surely, this exactly what we should be using social networks for; publishing important stories, which were written by those who are experiencing them first hand and sharing them far and wide.

As I write this on Wednesday night I have no idea whether Stephen is still battling on to send his next tweet or whether he’s finally succumbed – his last message was 12 hours ago now. One thing I am certain of though is that we’ll probably hear it first online.

I guess there will be hundreds of blogs written by people who have been touched by Stephen’s story but on the off chance you get to read this Stephen I simply want to say, thank you for being such an inspirational human being.

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