On Thursday, November 15, 2018, monuments and landmarks across the world were illuminated in purple lights. People wore purple to work, and newscasters wore purple hair. Some even dyed their hair purple. For one day, the whole world – or, at least a whole lot of it – turned purple. But why?

These eye-catching displays raised awareness for pancreatic cancer – the world’s toughest cancer – and the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, a group of more than 70 pancreatic cancer organization in over 30 countries across six continents united to “Demand Better” for patients diagnosed with this dreadful disease.

Creating exceptional, innovative work for our health + wellness clients at Hill+Knowlton Strategies is important, but motivating people to act is the true measure of success. For example, in last year’s pancreatic cancer awareness campaign:

  • We generated more than 1.3 million social and digital engagements (video views, likes, shares, and comments), shattering our prior year’s metrics by growing digital engagement by more than 235%;
  • Google searches for pancreatic cancer-related terms spiked during our campaign window, demonstrating that people were searching – and learning more about — the symptoms and risks of the disease.

Here are five key takeaways if you’re looking to raise awareness and drive progress on your issue or cause.

  1. Your community members are your best ambassadors.

Much like engaged employees are a brand’s best ambassadors, your health issue advocates are the best way to expand the reach of your message, especially if your campaign lacks the resources to run television commercials. With all the worthy issues and causes out there, people often experience “compassion fatigue,” so the best way to get someone to take action is to have a relative, friend, or coworker they know ask them.

  1. Use behavioral science to inform your content and messaging.

Applying research to guide your communications strategy is a best practice. At H+K, we employ behavioral scientists as part of our Data + Analytics team because we know people don’t always act rationally, and their stated preferences in quantitative surveys and focus groups often do not match their actions.

In our campaign to raise awareness about the symptoms and risks of pancreatic cancer – which won a PRSA Silver Anvil for Global Communications last year – we used behavioral science principles to test which copy on our core social graphics would generate the most engagement. We found that a message based on “anticipated regret” (i.e., “Don’t let someone you love get diagnosed too late”) resonated the most among audiences in three continents. So, we made that our primary reason to care – and share.

  1. Think visually.

PR pros organizing a press event understand the importance of compelling visuals for television. The same applies to your social campaigns. We challenge our designers to use bold colors and eye-catching images to make our social campaigns truly “thumb-stopping,” a.k.a. they’re able to break through the clutter on people’s feeds.

  1. Be mindful of cultural differences and nuances.

When running global campaigns, it’s important to avoid culturally insensitive imagery or having an American bias seep into your content. Watch your slang, too. “It’s lit” may be an aspirational comment in the U.S., but the phrase could have wildly different interpretations overseas. Same goes for your acronyms: What could be a handy pneumonic device here in the States might be incomprehensible jargon in San Paolo or Shanghai.

  1. Have a clear call to action, and put some social spend behind it.

What do you want your audience to think or do? It might be donate something, visit your website, write their congresswoman, or see a doctor. Whatever it is, make sure your call to action is clear – and easy to take. Make sure to also carve out budget to promote your content on social…paid media amplifies the reach of your organic posts, allowing you to communicate with consumers who aren’t followers. Your amazing content alone simply doesn’t generate enough exposure with Facebook’s current algorithms.

Social media has been a blessing for so many health-related campaigns, from the Ice Bucket Challenge to #HereForYou to Know Your Lemons.  Getting noticed, however, is increasingly challenging. Which leads me to my final piece of advice: never underestimate the power of having at least ONE truly memorable story. More than anything, a compelling, relatable story will transcend geographic boundaries and cultures.