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Published December 10th 2018

Interview: Claudia Knowles on the Power of Personal Stories and Designing Content for Breast Cancer Care Users

In which we chat to Breast Cancer Care's digital content strategist Claudia Knowles about design thinking, creating an open community, and the incredible role personal stories play in the charity's content strategy.

Coming out of hospital after treatment and losing a team of supportive staff can be a particularly vulnerable time for cancer patients, and much of UK-based Breast Cancer Care’s work centres around supporting people in that time.

It’s their aim to make sure that everyone diagnosed with breast cancer gets the support they deserve.

We discussed the process of successfully designing content that informs and supports Breast Cancer Care users with the charity’s digital content strategist Claudia Knowles.

The power of personal stories

Claudia and several of her colleagues have backgrounds in journalism, and their passion for getting stories out there is evident in the work of Breast Cancer Care.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the incredible number of personal stories told by their users on their website, app, and social media.

“It’s massively come into what I’m doing now,” Claudia says about her background at the Financial Times, particularly when it comes to interviewing people. “Chatting to people, hearing their stories, helping them share their stories.”

Claudia thinks there are two things that make personal stories successful.

Firstly, they’re therapeutic for the writer – translating a traumatic experience into words, or even audio or video, can help make sense of things. There’s something empowering about telling your own story.

Secondly, these stories are incredibly popular with readers. Claudia explains that for two articles written about the same issue, let’s say menopausal symptoms, it’ll be the one that’s written from a personal angle and not a medical one that’ll get the most views.

“It gives people a sense that they’re not alone. There’s a real power in storytelling.”

A/B testing BECCA

One of Claudia’s favorite things that she’s worked on is BECCA (or the Breast Cancer Care App).

It’s a place where users who have recently finished treatment for primary breast cancer can read through all kinds of different pieces of content. The app is navigated by flipping over cards with titles to read more, and then if the reader is interested they can be directed to a particular resource outside of the app. It’s gone through extensive user testing, with the team initially recruiting 1,000 women from their social media channels to try out the app and give their feedback.

“We wanted to be really data driven,” Claudia says, explaining that the team used Mixpanel to help recognize the most and least popular elements of the app.

It helped them to develop a tone of voice, which was previously inconsistent. They knew they needed to scale the app, but without those guidelines the content probably wouldn’t perform as well.

One of the key findings was how different styles of content titles performed differently on the app to their social channels. An example Claudia gives is that a title like ‘5 tips for managing anxiety’ might do well on Facebook, but on the app ‘If you’re struggling with anxiety, why not try these tips?’ would do much better.

Through the team’s work and feedback from users, they’ve found that the app is treated like a private, safe space to be informed and supported. “None of the content will scare you, unlike with Doctor Google,” Claudia says. “It’s not us telling you something, you’re being invited to read things if you’re interested in them.”

“That way of working, iterating, testing, is still going now.”

The team are constantly testing what’s popular and user feedback continues to guide the future of the app. They also use machine learning to help suggest new topics to create content around, and are about to introduce personalization in a user-facing way that helps prioritize content they’ll be interested in within the app.

Building a community

“Social plays a huge role, because it’s a community,” Claudia says.

“We give a platform to our users so they can share their stories. It’s not us talking on their behalf.”

Beyond the very successful social pages, Claudia has built a network of Digital Voices – women who blog and post about their experiences on social media. Often they’ll be invited to write blogs for Breast Cancer Care, and the charity has previously run workshops to help people learn new skills when it comes to storytelling.

Breast Cancer Care are also looking to expand into new platforms, and are launching a podcast in January. Claudia explains how it’s one of the few places long-form content can really thrive online, and could be used to tell someone’s story more fully. They’re also planning to bring in some of their network of medical experts for reactive podcasts when news hits the headlines around breast cancer, to help answer users’ questions and debunk any mysteries.

Design thinking

Something I was really interested to ask Claudia about was her master’s in Healthcare and Design – topics that I’d not heard together in traditional course titles.

She’s studying part time between the Royal College of Arts and Imperial College London with both medical professionals and creatives. The aim of the course is to get people from these fields to work together to tackle complex problems.

Claudia’s a huge fan of this user-centric approach which has already defined so much of her work, and she says learning more about design thinking is helping a lot with her current projects.

“[Design thinking] is an important way to approach any kind of problem solving – being really broad minded in the beginning and not having any idea what you want to create in the end.”

Human at the core

“Breast Cancer Care is an incredible workplace and work environment,” Claudia says.

She’s incredibly passionate about putting users at the forefront of every piece of work the charity partakes in.

“We’re very clear about what we’re doing – everyone can see how their work contributes to the wider goal of making people living with breast cancer’s lives better.”

In the world of healthcare, where things can often feel so impersonal and out of your own control, a personal experience that is designed for a human going through a difficult time is wonderful to hear about.

Thank you to Claudia for taking the time to speak with us. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

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