Tips: Taking Risks to Tell Lifesaving Stories
If you work in marketing for an animal welfare agency, you’ve probably heard a lot of phrases from friends, family, and other working professionals. Things like:
“Your job is easy, you get to post cute pictures of puppies all day long.”
“I don’t know how you do it, I’d have to take them all home.”
What they don’t realize though is that your job is hard – like really hard. You have to decide every day what to share, which story to tell, how you’ll share that information, and you have to keep your audience engaged, which may be the most difficult task of all. You could spend every day sharing an animal, telling people what their personality is like, and urging your supporters to come adopt. But after a while, you may ask yourself why your engagement is down, your Facebook posts aren’t getting the likes you think they should get, and you could, at worst, lose followers, thus losing supporters of your organization that includes potential donors and adopters. You have to keep your audience engaged, and to do that, you sometimes have to take risks.
One way that we do that at KC Pet Project is by sharing the stories of the medical pets that come to our shelter, and when I say that, I mean sharing that pet from the moment they arrive at the shelter to the moment they go to a new home and even beyond. A lot of shelters would say that is risky to share an animal’s story when they first arrive, especially if that animal is critically injured. You may opt instead for sharing a big before-and-after photo when the pet is ready for adoption, just to make sure that he or she survives. I urge you to reconsider that approach and try taking a chance on this, for a number of reasons:
- Your Audience will be More Engaged: This is a huge part of this strategy. You want to keep a captivated audience to share the work that you’re doing as it coincides with your mission. Your organization will continue to grow on a local and national level when you keep your followers coming back to your page for more and sharing your posts.
- You’ll Gain Followers & Supporters: Your social media networks will grow as will your support network. The more people that know about you, the more adopters you’ll gain, the more volunteers and fosters will sign up, and the more your community will want to partner with your organization.
- You’ll Gain Donors: Donors love to know that their hard-earned dollars are going to an important cause. And if you can narrow down exactly where their donation will go to (i.e. to a specific animal), they are more likely to give to help that exact cause. Keep your donors engaged and thank them for all that they do.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Sharing Medical Pets
- Don’t share graphic posts: At KC Pet Project, we’ve always tried to share pictures and videos with our supporters that shows the extensive nature of the injury or illness, while being tasteful. We work in animal sheltering, so we see some things that would be distressing to the public. Use your best judgement when sharing and ask yourself, “If I didn’t work in a shelter, would this upset me?”
- Don’t get bogged down with medical terms: Most of the people that follow you in social media, won’t realize what an FHO is for a dog, or what renal failure means for a cat. Work with your vet staff to use terms that are easy to understand and convey your message, but also stress the urgency of the situation.
- Don’t share too many animals: At KC Pet Project, we received 4-5 pets per day that are injured or require extensive medical treatment. We could post multiple animals every day that are hit by cars or have mange, but instead, we try to limit to maybe one pet per month. When you post too often, your audience will become desensitized to your needs and you have to keep them engaged.
- Be as honest as possible: When telling the story of an animal who comes to your shelter, you have to be completely honest with your story and stick to the facts that you know. It’s easy for us as shelter professionals to get caught up with what might have happened to a pet, but unless you know those exact details, leave them out. Work with your veterinary staff, Animal Control, behavior team, etc. at all times to make sure that the story that you’re telling is accurate and be as forthcoming as possible.
- Tell people how they can help: You’re tugging on people’s heart strings when sharing stories of injured or ill pets in need, which in turn, may inspire people to open up their wallets. Give them a donation link where they can donate to help a pet. If you work with a system that allows it, give that pet a unique URL so you can track your donations coming in. If you’re working with a large scale emergency case, like a hoarding case, give your donors’ items that they can donate or a link to your Amazon Wish List with detailed items.
- Share updates without distracting from other posts: Once you share a pet’s story, give your followers updates on how they are doing, without distracting from the day-to-day posts you have to put up. You still have pets that need to be adopted, events to promote, etc., but keeping everyone updated is very important. If someone donated, they want to know that their well-earned dollars were put to good use.
- If the media calls, be available: The media is your biggest ally when telling your stories. They can help get the word out about your needs as an organization or the pet’s needs, help increase your donations, and inform the public about the good work that you’re doing. Don’t be scared to send a press release out and give them the details of the case and any pictures or videos they need. Be available for follow-ups and when the pet leaves the shelter, be sure to send them an update and a picture of the pet with its new family (with the family’s permission).
- Thank donors for their support: Your community will appreciate your updates about the pets and be sure to thank everyone who gave to support that pet along the way.
Since taking over the Kansas City, MO animal shelter in 2012, KC Pet Project has grown into a locally and nationally recognized animal welfare organization. Our Facebook following alone is up to 90,000+ members and grows by more every day. We work to be as open and transparent with our supporters as we can be by sharing what life is like every day at the shelter. It’s worth taking risks because your supporters will feel more invested in the work that your organization is doing and will want to get involved. You have the unique role as a marketer to tell the stories of your organization and share with the public about the work that you are doing. This is important work to your community – share it all with them and tell your stories of lifesaving.
About KC Pet Project: KC Pet Project is the nonprofit operator of the Kansas City, MO animal shelter. They care for more than 10,000 pets a year and are the largest No Kill shelter in Kansas City and the 3rd largest, open-admission, No Kill shelter in the United States. Kansas City Pet Project’s strategy has helped the shelter has become one of the area’s premier places for pet adoption, with three adoption centers, five Petco locations to adopt cats, robust volunteer and foster programs, a database of thousands of donors, more than 90,000 Facebook likes, and thousands of Twitter and Instagram followers.