Icon's Impact: Using Clickbait For Good

Championing excellence and condemning botched restorations

31 Mar 2021

From January to March, Icon ran campaigns through social media and printed adverts to champion excellence in conservation and promote Icon’s Conservation Register - the first-ever publicly accessible directory of all Icon-Accredited conservators. 


What was the goal we set out to achieve? 

Icon’s 2017-2022 Strategy sets out Icon’s ambition to champion excellence and high professional standards in the practice of conservation. This includes building on our accreditation programme, developing standards and providing opportunities to promote good practice.  

Icon’s Conservation Register promotes excellence by serving as a publicly accessible directory of all Icon-Accredited conservators. These are skilled conservation professionals who have passed through a rigorous peer review and assessment process to gain their Accreditation, and who now demonstrate that they are keeping in touch with the latest developments in the sector. 

To promote the Conservation Register, we ran a social media campaign and a printed advertising campaign in four magazines to engage larger audiences – both within and outwith the heritage sector.  

What did we do? 

Our social media campaign ran on an all platforms and shared a wide range of content: from promoting the value of conservation and the work conservators do through projects featured on the Conservation Register, to encouraging individuals and institutions to consider hiring a conservator. A “Botched Restorations” Twitter thread shared more light-hearted posts remembering failed restorations from recent years and pointing out to the dangers of conservation work going unregulated. Throughout the campaign, we pointed out that the Conservation Register is a place where you can find conservators accredited by Icon that you can trust.  


We also published four adverts on Pinaccle, Historic Houses, Arts Society and SPAB Magazine, reaching up to 150,000 people in total. 

What was the outcome? 

The social media campaign turned out to be Icon’s most successful campaign in the past six months – largely due to the “Botched Restorations” funny thread. On Twitter, our campaign posts reached an audience 3 times bigger than the second-best performing campaign of the period, and was 10 times more successful in terms of engagement. The thread itself was seen 19,507 times, and we gained 10 new followers in the span of four hours it was posted, most of them part of the general public.  

Naturally, these numbers reflected on the website traffic of the Conservation Register. The website registered a 35% overall increase in traffic, and traffic coming from social media was 9 times bigger compared to the previous period – peaking on the day the “Botched Restorations” funny thread was posted.  

The in-print adverts raised awareness of Icon and the Conservation Register, and directed traffic to the Conservation Register website. For example, after an advert was published in Arts Society, the Conservation Register web traffic increased six times


What did we learn? 

We learned that the key to publishing effective print adverts is to find an extremely short form of words – five in total, as it turned out – that provide an emotionally-resonant vision of the core benefits behind the Conservation Register and the Accreditation system – peace of mind, resulting from use of a professional you can trust. 

As for the social media campaign, the impressive numbers confirmed that social media offers fantastic opportunities to promote excellence in conservation to new and bigger audiences.  

The “Botched Restorations” thread was a fascinating social media experiment for Icon, as it tested using a clickbait-based approach for a good purpose. We noticed that when conservation-related content is featured in mainstream media, botched restorations attract the most attention from the general public. At first glance, it seems unfortunate that when conservation as a topic goes viral on the news, it is because of a failed restoration project. This also raises the question of whether we should be sharing these stories at all.  But we can also see this as an opportunity and make use of the precious attention we get from the public in a positive manner: by raising awareness of the dangers of unregulated conservation work, and shifting the focus to excellency in the conservation profession. In other words, any publicity can be good publicity if handled carefully and with humour, and we value the opportunity to engage with new audiences and introduce them to the ‘real’ world of conservation.  

What next? 

We will continue to champion excellence and our Conservation Register through future campaigns on social media and in print, so that we make use of these excellent opportunities to reach new and larger audiences.  

We will also continue to explore humour and memes when it comes to social media content, to attract a larger audience and alternate more formal content with light-hearted posts that make our social media accounts fun to follow. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.  

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