From #FrankBruno to #FindMike – what makes a hashtag work?

From #FrankBruno to #FindMike – what makes a hashtag work?


Social media platforms create spaces for a bewildering array of conversations to take place on any manner of topics. And we each make sense of the social media spaces we occupy by creating an ecosystem that relates to our particular interests.

Hashtags make it easy to search for or curate a particular topic and we use them to create some order or boundaries to what is possible to find. Twitter chats are another way in which we attempt to boundary the conversation – agreeing a set time to come together using a common hashtag to have a conversation on a particular theme.

I’ve been wondering what the different qualities might be to hashtags which emerge unexpectedly and those which are pre-planned and used by organisations or campaigns to start a conversation. I’ve previously blogged about #mentalpatient – my favourite ever hashtag – emerging spontaneously as it did in protest at the now notorious offending Asda Halloween costume. But is that virality possible to replicate given that #mentalpatient was created by ordinary people in a particular moment rather than an orchestrated organisational campaign?


This week there are two particular hashtags in the mental health sphere that I stumbled upon in my timeline and which caught my attention. The first was a Twitter Chat with Frank Bruno @frankbrunoboxer which went on for a marathon two hours. I briefly jumped in and was rewarded with a nice tweet from the man himself. However, there was no consistent hashtag for the chat, which meant it was almost impossible to follow or curate either during or after the event. Whilst @TimeToChange promoted the chat through retweets, as did @MindCharity, the absence of a hashtag or any apparent pre-media to promote it probably meant it didn’t have the traction that it could have done given that Frank Bruno remains a popular figure and has over 20,000 followers.  An opportunity missed perhaps.


The second hashtag which caught my eye was #FindMike a campaign by @Rethink_ to raise awareness of men and suicide, delivered in partnership with @MrJonnyBenjamin. This campaign had a number of elements which hit the spot in terms of virality and I think has the key ingredients for others to imitate. So what made it work?

Personal#FindMike is deeply intimate, fronted by a real person, sharing a real-life experience. Jonny is articulate, young and handsome – his persona immediately challenges stereotyped attitudes about what someone with a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder might look and sound like. The person comes first – and social media is about people after all.

Drama – at its centre #FindMike is a personal, compelling and dramatic story of man saved by the kindness of a stranger who gave him hope when considering taking his own life on Waterloo Bridge. It is a modern day version of the ‘good Samaritan’ parable that will resonate with many because it has been told so many times and in so many different ways.

an act of kindness changed my outlook on life and I have thought about him ever since. I want to find this man so I can thank him for what he did. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here today (Jonny’s blog post)

Mystery and a quest – we don’t know who this man is but we can help find him so that Jonny can thank him in person, creating both a sense of urgency and a clear call to action. This is perfect for virality on social networks – Twitter is great for asking questions and making connections. And a possible reward – if we retweet then maybe we might be the one that connects Jonny back to ‘Mike’.

Multichannel – the campaign is designed to work across a variety of social and mainstream channels – from TV appearances through to leaflet distribution on Waterloo Bridge, a short film (first person, direct to camera) and website content with share buttons. The subject matter works seamlessly across channels and was picked up by multiple networks from the BBC through to the Huffington Post. A search for #FindMike on Google comes up with just under 3000 hits.

Evidence based – research suggests that there are three distinct core approaches to challenging stigma – direct contact, protest and education (Corrigan et al, 2012). #FindMike blends all of these together. Facts and figures on the website provide educative fact and figures; the protest element is subtle but Jonny talks of the stereotyped views and attitudes he has experienced and their impact upon him; and most importantly of all is that we have direct contact from Jonny – dispelling myths and stereotypes about mental distress through his use of self. He even manages to employ an aspect of his experience, one which often frightens people, with a positive frame:

One delusion that’s always remained with me is that I can change the world. I wrote letter after letter to politicians, activists, and celebrities when I was unwell once to set out my vision of doing so. In reality, and I hate to admit this, I probably can’t change the entire world. But if I can make a difference to just one person’s life through the Finding ‘Mike’ campaign and give them hope that it does get better, then surely this is all most definitely worth it. 

What works for you?

Big enormous respect to Jonny for speaking out about his experiences, which I’m sure will positively influence the attitudes of many. I recommend Jonny’s vlogs which you can find on his YouTube channel here.

So has #FindMike found a way for organisations to simulate the immediacy of the naturally evolving hashtag? or can it never be quite as powerful as one that emerges out of pure energy in the moment? What do you think?

Postscript – a lovely end to this story is that Mike (or Neil as he is actually called) was found. You can read about it here.

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