May 5, 2016: Milo needs your help! This 1 1/2 year-old dog needs a foster or adopter. His requirements are no kids, no dogs, and no cats. If we can find a home willing to work with him, we will provide a trainer to get him over his issues. This is an opportunity to save a dog’s life AND learn how to train. He is currently at a shelter and only has until this Thursday to find a place.—Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue
Many of my friends and I often share pleas from animal rescuers. Unfortunately, we often never find out the results of our shares. Last spring I had a different experience. I directly contacted Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue with a list of rescue groups that might take Milo. When none of them wanted to take on a dog that had growled at a child, I proposed another alternative. I recommended an open-policy shelter with a high adoption rate. I knew it was a risk, because open-policy isn’t no-kill, but I thought this shelter would be able to give Milo the time he needed to find a new home. I was happy when my hunch was proven right: Milo found a new home within a month!
“Social media has changed the lives of thousands of animals,” wrote an associate editor for the website Mashable. One rescue group featured in the article credited its sheer existence due to Twitter. Why? Because social media played a role in getting out its adoption message out “minus the steep advertising costs”. Furthermore, a featured shelter noted that a homeless pet’s average stay is just 10 days –in part due to use of Instagram. Social media “gives followers a behind-the-scenes glimpse, encouraging them to donate or volunteer, as well as adopt.” There’s even a study by Miranda Workman and Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) that shows the influence of internet profiles. The results revealed that 82.5% of people who have adopted a cat said that Petfinder influenced their adoption. Ah, the power of social media!
August 21, 2016: Poor Shine has been overlooked. A friend forwarded my pictures to a family who travelled quite some distance yesterday to meet him. They were at the point of signing the adoption papers when his excitement bubbled over and he jumped at Dad too excitedly. The ACO could not let him go with them. He is so depressed in the kennel that he has chewed the end of his own tail off. He shows no aggression to people just desperate excitement. He needs a rescue by 9/1 or a difficult decision will be made for his quality of life.–Sarah Matula, HeARTS Speak
When I first began to read about the power of social media to save animals, I mostly collected anecdotes. There’s the story from Ireland of an animal lover who rescued a cat with extensive injuries, posted the details online, and within 24 hours collected enough to pay for the cat’s surgery. “This Irish-American lassie feels great pride at this show of Celtic hospitality and spirit for a sweet kitty in need. Cara surely would have died on that road without help.” Closer to home, there’s a story of a professor from New York who took a year to photograph homeless dogs and post their pictures online. At the time of the article’s writing, 56 of the 73 dogs were in foster care or adopted. There’s also my own anecdotal evidence. In the case of Shine, the dog from Connecticut whose story I learned about from an animal photographer, many bloggers reached out on the dog’s behalf to their friends on Facebook. An acquaintance of mine even offered to drive to Connecticut if a foster provider would step forward. In the end, thanks to Shine’s post being shared extensively online, Shine was adopted by a truck-driving couple. The photographer announced the exciting news in an update: “Sharing worked! A great couple with fantastic references adopted this boy today—he’s their new long haul buddy after they lost their previous beloved pit.”
As I became sold on the power of social media to save animals, I also started to pay attention to how to effectively use social media. In 2015, a debate ensued between members of an online Trap-Neuter-Release Community. One lady had posted the first of these two photos accompanied by a bio written in all-caps, lamented that no one had shown interest, and asked for ideas. Some simply encouraged her to persevere, while others recommended that she rewrite the bio, and a few suggested she enhance the photo. Although I normally like to stay in the shadows, I finally added my two-cents worth. First, I reassured her that just because she hadn’t received any responses didn’t necessarily reflect a bad design. “Some of the most beautiful and moving posts I’ve seen have failed to generate immediate response. There are simply too many cats with too few homes.” But then I did concur that the all-caps heading had the effect of shouting at readers. In addition, I tweaked the bio and, as you can see from the before and after versions above, her photo.
More and more articles are cropping up these days about the right and wrong ways to use social media. A few commonly-agreed wrong ways are:
- Responding to a post if you can’t help. Why? Because doing so just adds clutters.
- Sharing a post from miles away. Why? Because most adopters won’t drive the distance.
- Writing overly dramatic posts. Why? Because while such posts may spur people to action, they can also make people feel hopeless to the point that they stop following shelters and/or rescue groups
- Emphasizing restrictions such as “No children or other pets”. Why? Because people may draw the wrong conclusions. For instance, does the animal require a child-free and pet-free home because it’s easily frightened, or because it’s aggressive?
- Combining adoption counseling (“Probably a feral cat and not well-socialized”?) with marketing. Why? Animal Farm Foundation has written an entire article on the topic. They contend that the mistake is equivalent to a resume which lists all your flaws.
A few commonly-agreed right ways are:
- Share to the right audience.
- Update: Mother Nature Network says that by sharing positive news, people will see how groups are finding forever homes for homeless pets. “This just may inspire them to look for ways they can help too.”
- Use everyday language in your marketing.
- See this as opportunity to make the right match.
- Draw attention to a homeless pet by telling a story. Best Friends Animal Society offers this example: ‘BIG baby Burley! All muscles and cropped ears, but he’s a lap dog if you give him the chance. He’s all about the love and cuddling, and isn’t liking living in a kennel at all and prefers to snooze on a pillow up in the office. He’s ready to be in someone’s warm home, and he’s going to protest that fact until someone adopts this handsome boy.”
- Turn the good into bad. How? HeARTS Speak recommends that when addressing any disadvantages, try writing as though you’re discussing your own beloved pet’s issues, and offers this example: “A little on the chubby side? More to love! Senior? Time to retire and reflect on a life of achievements. Uncomfortable with being handled? Parties best with the grown-ups.” Best Friends Animal Society elaborates by saying that if one needs to list a restriction, be gentle about it, and offers this example: “Joe is such a goofy bundle of energy, he might be a little too much for small children.”
- Include relevant contact information.
To return to the study by Miranda Workman and Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) about the influence of internet profiles, the researchers also discovered that cats with Petfinder profiles averaging more than one click per day typically waited only nine days for a new home, but cats with profiles averaging less than one click per day typically waited 23 days. This suggests that as the importance of having a good photo or teaser for an animal’s profile. Specifically, the presence of toys in a photo were discovered to have an impact. “Shelters may benefit from including toys in photographs of cats who may otherwise be overlooked, while refraining from including toys in photographs of cats of a popular age or color. Placing a toy in a photograph of an older cat or a solid-black cat may be useful for drawing attention to that cat’s profile.”
July 31, 2016 Can anyone help cats in Ohio? My husband and I were on our return from vacation and saw three feral cats when we stayed at a hotel there. There are at least three cats. A black cat bolted from behind a garbage bin and under a truck. A white and black cat hid at the end of the row of rooms where we stayed. A third brown-patched cat slept outside of a hotel room. I’m guessing that they’re used to people. When we arrived at night, two of the cats were visible and made no attempts to leave. I’m also guessing the hotel isn’t bothered by them. There was a bowl of food outside one of the rooms. However, at least one cat needs medical help. It was stiff, thin, and injured. I don’t live anywhere near them, but hope someone in Ohio can intervene. PM if you need further details. Thank you!
For those of us who are novices, we’re more than likely still going to stumble about in our use of social media. When my husband and I saw feral cats who needed help, I did almost all the wrong things. Instead what I had going for me is the determination to find help. I kept asking questions until I found a lady who stepped forward.
Despite my mistakes, all cats in question received alteration and vaccinations. One even found a home! Since my initial contact with Terri Guidera, I have received updates telling me that the cats are okay and are being cared for by residents.
Anyone who is truly passionate about saving animals would do well to do their research. The use of social media to bring the plight of homeless animals out of the shadows has been around long enough now that there’s even an entire website, Animal Rescue Marketing, dedicated to the topic. In addition, Maddie’s Fund hosts dozens of resources about best practices. We owe it to animals to make our efforts count.
Editor’s Note: Please watch for follow-up interviews with Sarah Matula and Terri Guidera
EFFECTIVE SOCIAL MEDIA
- Animal Rescue Marketing
- Maddie’s Fund University
- 5 Tips to Writing Effective Pet Bios
- How to Get Homeless Dogs Adopted Through Writing Good Descriptions
- Marketing is Not Adoption Counseling
- 36 Animals with a Better Social Media Strategy Than You
- Your Social Media Activity Can Hurt Animal Rescues