I’ve long admired the current social media strategy of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (HSSV); it is infused with humor which humanizes the shelter in a way that people on social media crave. I’ve said it time and time again, people come to social media to be entertained, inspired or informed. HSSV has mastered all three goals beautifully, and enjoys a robust social following.
Full disclosure: I got my start in animal sheltering and rescue at HSSV (more years ago than I care to admit) as an adoption counselor, before moving to health check after I became a vet tech. I do have an affinity towards this particular shelter, but I swear, my love for their social media is totally unbiased. It’s just plain awesome.
HSSV’s communications associate, Finnegan Dowling, and Digital Marketing Manager, Leah Llach, were generous enough to talk to me about the strategy behind the shelter’s social media presence. Take a peak to see how HSSV is mastering the social space:
1. How long have you been working for the HSSV and what drew you to working with animals?
I’ve been with HSSV for three years but I’ve been in shelters and rescue for over twenty years. I started with an internship in college and got hooked. I was lucky enough to come to HSSV in a Customer Care role – doing adoptions and intake – and then transferred into our marketing department.
2. How did you get into the social media side of things?
I worked with a shelter in Nicaragua and started a personal blog about that. It snowballed and wound up becoming a great fundraising vehicle for us. While doing adoptions and receiving here, I started working on the HSSV blog and the rest is history.
3. HSSV’s social presence is filled with humor, what do you think is the importance of humor in the shelter’s social strategy?
It’s HUGE. Traditionally shelter media has been a really grim place. Places like Best Friends and BAD RAP have done an awesome job with making it more accessible but we still have a long way to go. Sad and urgent posts might get people to share once, but they don’t encourage people coming back to your media. We want shareable media. We want people coming back. We want as many eyes on our animals as possible.
Two of the biggest misconceptions about shelter adoption is that A) our animals are damaged and B) going to a shelter is going to be a depressing, sad experience. The number of people who won’t come to shelters because they don’t want to be depressed is significant. There’s the old cliche of ‘A shelter? I couldn’t go there. It’d be so sad I’d want to take them all home’.
Neither of these things are true. Most of our animals are here because their owners had a change in life circumstances. We’re not a sad place. We’re a place where happy endings start. Humor helps overcome those objections.
4. What kind of changes have you seen in your social media analytics since implementing the current social media strategy?
I can touch on the anecdotal side of this but actual questions about analytics I need to refer to Leah Llach, our rock star digital marketing manager who came to us from Na’ankuse, a wildlife refuge in Namibia.
For my anecdotal bit, I’ll tell you we’ve seen a lot of growth across all our platforms. We’re up over 10,000 followers on Facebook since August and we’ve more than tripled our Twitter following. And these are actively engaged followers who are sharing, liking and commenting our content. We just started with instagram a while back and we’ve come out swinging on that with the help of a certain celebrity kitty that was adopted from us. We’ve just begun growing our LinkedIn and that’s going great guns as well.
Analytics is ever-changing for us at Humane Society Silicon Valley. We’re taking every opportunity to measure the impact of posts (particularly on Facebook) on important mission goals like adoption inquiries, especially based on the type of animal and its qualities. We’re actually re-launching the website later this year so that we can have better insight into our audience and our ability to analyze them, so we’ll have more to share then! Over the last few years, working for the sanctuary and now Humane Society Silicon Valley, I’ve been impressed by the impact of analytics on these types of institutions. Sometimes you won’t find anything of use for months, and sometimes you find little quirks that end up helping you drive 2x more funds than the year before. The knowledge that analytics can help us find opportunities to change lives is what makes me excited to come to work every day, aside from the fact that I work with very driven, smart and positive people.
5. Have you gotten much feedback from the public in regards to the shelter’s current social media presence?
We get a lot of anecdotal feedback and people love it. People remember our animals, they mention the blogs and the posts, they ask for updates on Phoebe and Regina, they share, they email us – it’s great.
I swear when I die the words ‘Tantastic Tuesday’ will be on my tombstone. When I tell people in Silicon Valley what I do for a living, a lot of times the first words out of their mouth are ‘Tantastic Tuesday!’. I take that as positive feedback.
6. By my count you have Mutt Monday, Meow Munday, Tantastic Tuesday (featuring adoptable pets who are tan), Sunday Bunday, Caturday and Foster Friday, am I missing one? This is a great content setup, how did you concept this strategy, and how has it performed?
A lot of it was looking at the groups of animals we have and making sure they’re all getting coverage. Tan dogs, particularly chi mixes, are really common in shelters here and super overlooked so we wanted to make sure that we gave them a day to shine. We also wanted things to be catchy and memorable. Some of them, like Caturday and MuttMonday are existing popular hashtags – we do a lot on Twitter as well – and some of the other ones, like Bunday and Tantastic Tuesday, I’m really hoping will catch on, hashtag wise.
7. One of the pitfalls of trying to do social media when you work for an animal rescue organization, such as a small shelter or all-volunteer rescue group, is finding the time to fit it in – what tips and tools help you run the shelter’s social media efforts efficiently?
We’re very, very lucky in that HSSV is really progressive and understands the importance of social media. My tips for smaller organizations would be to make it a priority and actively recruit volunteers that have both passion for animals and social media dexterity. And invest in a social media management tool like HootSuite or SproutSocial. The ability to pre-program a few days worth of content, see all your incoming comments and queries and shorten and track links in one place is a huge time saver. I’ve been able to run our social media programs from other countries while on vacation with those tools.
Also leverage your younger volunteers. If you have younger volunteers with cell phones, you have an Instagram army to help get your animals up there. Hashtag, hashtag, hashtag.
8. The HSSV blog is just as entertaining as it’s Facebook page. In fact, your Puppyzilla post is what initially got my attention. Are you the sole author of the blog, or is it a group effort?
Thank you. It’s a group effort. I write the dog blog and Erica Sanborn, who works in Customer Care and is amazing, does the cat blog. Our biggest and most valuable members, though, are our volunteer photographers. They make my job so easy. Malcolm, Jackie, Elizabeth, Kelly, Iwona and Betty are a dream team. I can lob the strangest ideas at them and they come back at me with these awesome pictures. A lot of the blogs are built around these crazy and beautiful photos they take that just inspire me. They capture our animals so well.
9. I hear from many shelters who are hesitant to have a robust social media presence because they are nervous to open themselves up to the public, or fear a social media misstep that may result in bad press for them; was this a concern you ran into? What are your thoughts on that?
Not really. I think there’s more danger in not having a presence at all. We need to be more open as an industry. We need to show people that these are good places to get great animals. We’ve had a couple dust-ups were people didn’t like certain content and we address those head on with an open mind and a lack of defensiveness. It’s all feedback and it’s all dialogue and therefore it’s all valuable. The only way to get more people invested in shelters emotionally is to talk to them, to answer their questions and bust the stereotypes that limit us. Social media is that talk.
10. What are the top 3 things that you think are essential to an animal rescue organization having a successful social media presence?
1) A great attitude – if you can’t present your animals positively, don’t present them.
2) Consistency – you can’t post a lot one day and then not post for days.
3) Photo collateral. I can’t stress enough the value of good photography. You can have the best text writer in the world but without great photos to grab people’s attention, you’re sunk. I could talk your ear off about nothing but photography.
11. And finally, confession time: how many pets do you currently have and what are they?
I personally have a 5 year old very deadpan, very lazy yellow lab/sharpei mix named Sister Frances Banana. She comes to work every day and sleeps under my desk. Our marketing team also has a chiweenie named Peach, a chihuahua named Elmo and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Milo. We’re a diverse group. And we brainstorm during doggy pee breaks quite a bit.
Thank you, Finn and Leah, for taking time out of your busy schedules to tell us about your fabulous work!
Want more? Finn will be leading a table topic on positive blogging for shelters and rescue at the Blogpaws convention in Las Vegas, which takes place from May 8th-10th. Check out Finn’s Speaker Spotlight here on the Blog Paws site. If you will be at the conference, there will be sign ups available Friday at the conference for the various Table Top lunch tables, including Finn’s.
If you would like to follow HSSV (and trust me, you should), here’s their digital paw prints:
And of course
Thanks ladies, for doing such a great job speaking on behalf of the animals!