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Don't you just hate it when your shelter or rescue group's Facebook posts about animals in need get a string of comments that don't actually offer any form of help? If so, you might want to take comfort from a simple peculiarity of Facebook that makes those "useless" comments useful after all.
It should be obvious that when shelters and rescue groups post a story about a pet in need on Facebook, they're doing it to get that pet adopted, to recruit volunteers and fosters or to raise funds. Dozens or hundreds of comments begging "someone" to do something, or saying "I'd take this dog if I didn't live in France and already have 14 pets" can be incredibly frustrating to whoever has to read endlessly through the comments looking for an adoption offer or important question.
"I manage the Shelter Pet Project's Facebook page as well as those of some smaller adoption and animal welfare organizations, and I know first-hand how frustrating that can be," said social media consultant Christie Keith.
"But on Facebook, those comments are actually incredibly valuable, because every single time someone comments on your post, Facebook interprets that engagement as a sign your post is interesting to your followers, and rewards it with increased reach."
In other words, even if the content of the comment isn't helpful, the fact that someone cared enough about your post to make the comment is.
"It's a fact of life that many people aren't going to read the whole post, let alone click on a link," Keith said. "They'll miss information you've already given them, like if the pet needs to be an only dog or cat, or where he or she is located. And they'll also persist in saying those things that drive us all crazy when we're trying to accomplish something specific. But discouraging those comments by our own restrictive remarks is counter-productive in the Facebook environment."
How can shelters and rescue groups handle this problem? Keith has one suggestion: "Find one of those people who live online and ask them if they'll monitor the comments and text or email you if they see a legitimate offer of help or a question that needs answering. That way, you can turn an armchair rescuer into someone who can free up other volunteers or staff members to do more concrete offline tasks."
Beyond that, she says, managing online community is not a simple, "just the facts, ma'am" kind of job.
"It's a specific skill that can make a huge difference in terms of getting more and better reach on adoption, recruitment and fundraising pleas," Keith explained. "We can't always be in crisis mode; we have to be more strategic with our social media plan. And that means finding a way to accept the reality of human nature and use it, rather than try to change it -- which we'll never be able to do -- or silence it, which in this case will work against us."
So the next time you're faced with two hundred "useless" Facebook comments, just remind yourself: Comments equal reach!
Also of interest:
When TV veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker recently shared a story about the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida with his half-million Facebook fans, it quickly became clear that many of his followers, pet owners and veterinarians alike, thought it referred to veterinarians working in shelter-affiliated clinics serving the public.
Shelter medicine is something entirely different. It's the management of the health, housing and behavior needs of animals who are in shelters. It's about preventing and responding to disease outbreaks. It's about ensuring pets in shelters are happy, healthy and headed for adoption in the shortest possible time.
The practice of shelter medicine means veterinarians with special training in the needs of shelter animals are in charge of making decisions and policy about their care and well-being in animal shelters.
Shelter medicine is also a newly-recognized specialty in veterinary medicine, with the first group of shelter medicine veterinarians scheduled to sit for exams to become board-certified this fall.
At Maddie's Fund, we know that without shelter medicine, we can't save all the healthy and treatable pets in our nation's shelters, and can never become a no-kill nation. That's why we're the largest funder of shelter medicine education programs in the world.
You can learn more about the past, present, and future of shelter medicine in this Maddie's Fund mini-documentary.
Guess what? You can.
Best Friends' Marc Peralta, who heads up the organization's Los Angeles location, shared his strategies for putting together the right team to get pets adopted and save more lives at the recent American Pets Alive! No-Kill Conference. And we've got that presentation for you right here!
In it you'll learn:
Can't wait to get started? Just click on over to our website, or watch it below.
First, some background.
Facebook posts that share a link with a nice, in-focus, full-column-wide image do better than posts that show without an image, or with a thumbnail. (Note: this is about sharing links on Facebook, not actual uploaded photos.)
Sometimes the website displays its logo or an ugly or irrelevant photo; sometimes it shares a small, square, thumbnail-sized image. In those instances, on desktop only, Facebook pages (but not individual accounts) can upload their own image instead, making the post more share-worthy and ensuring more people will interact with and see the post.
But what if no image at all comes up?
Very rarely it's because the website itself has no graphic image associated with the page. If that's the case, there's nothing you can do about it.
But usually, there is an image; it just doesn't get delivered to Facebook in that moment.
First, close your Facebook page on your browser. Then go to the Facebook debugger at https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/.
Enter the URL of the link you're trying to share.
Here, you can scroll down and see the error messages that prevented the image from displaying. If this is your organization's website, make sure whoever manages your website sees them so they can be fixed.
If it's not your website, or after you've copied the messages, go back up and click "Fetch new scrape information."
Then, for reasons no one can really explain, click it again.
Now, open your organization's Facebook page again. Paste in the URL. This time, it should work correctly!
Remember: If the post looks unappealing, it won't perform as well. Take the time to make sure every shared link has a photo that takes up the whole column, not just a thumbnail, logo, etc. It's worth the few extra minutes to get it right!
If you're not sure how to go about doing that, don't worry: Bruce Walker and Bob Breeze of Austin Pets Alive! have now built several in the Austin area. Their habitats are:
In a recent presenation at the 2015 American Pets Alive! No-Kill Conference, they covered the basics, including securing locations and designing and building your own low-cost yet nice looking habitats.
Find out everything you need to get the job done by visiting our website or watching the video of their presentation below!
Very few people would defend that position, but it can still be hard to change old, entrenched ways of thinking, especially when we believe they're in the animals' best interests.
But what if animal shelters hadn't evolved the way they had? In fact, what if animal shelters had never existed, and you were creating the first? Would you automatically assume that every single shelter needed to take animals in literally around the clock, 365 days a year?
And if you did, how would you implement that policy? Would you have 24/7 staffing? Unattended drop boxes? Veterinarians on call for sick or injured animals?
How would you handle such admissions when the facility was full, and there not only was no more housing space, but not enough money to pay to feed the animals, or get veterinary care?
What if that admission policy meant you could only take in animals around the clock, no questions asked, if you routinely killed other animals who had been there longer?
Those are the challenges of an unmanaged admission system, that puts no restrictions on when or how animals will enter the facility. Either care suffers, or animals lives are lost, or massive resources are needed to provide space, time, veterinary attention, food, water, enrichment and adoption opportunity for a large numbers of pets who might come in at a specific time.
Now, imagine a different system. Imagine you asked community members to schedule non-emergency surrender for their pets. Imagine you had publicized this policy, and most -- not all, just most -- people knew about it and accepted it.
Would your intake level out, allowing you to avoid the peaks and valleys of kitten season, or a hoarding bust, and still keep some capacity for emergency intake for pets whose families couldn't or wouldn't wait?
Or would animals just be turned loose in the parking lot, to suffer an unknown fate, or taken to nearby shelters that kept the old, unmanaged admission policy?
Shelters that have turned this from a thought experiment into a real one have found, often to their own surprise, that the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Most community members accepted the change. Many people were able to overcome obstacles to keeping their pets during the waiting period, often with resources made available to them through the shelter. Sometimes, all that was needed was help with spay/neuter or vet bills, or a little pet food to tide them over while they sought a new job. In those cases, the cost to the shelter was usually far less than if the pet was admitted.
Additionally, other facilities in the region didn't see increased intake, and the number of stray animals and those found dead in the road did not go up.
Is it possible that, by managing admission in some way, animal shelters can actually serve more animals, and serve them better?
If that question intrigues you and you'd like to know more, visit our Manged Admission Learning Track. While you're there, pay particular attention to Managed Admission: Giving Shelter Cats Their Best Chance at a Great Outcome, a recent webcast with Barbara Carr, Executive Director of the SPCA Serving Erie County, NY, and Kathie Johnson, Senior Director of Operations at the Animal Humane Society in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.
Then ask yourself: Is what we're doing now really the best we can do? Or is there a better way?
"Far less often than we think," said Christie Keith, social media manager for The Shelter Pet Project. "But that doesn't mean shelters and rescue groups shouldn't ever tell heartbreaking stories."
For those who are still firmly entrenched in telling about the hard-luck or even abused pasts of the pets they're trying to find homes for, this may seem like a crazy conversation to be having. But in recent years, a body of research and experience has demonstrated that most adopters -- particularly new adopters -- don't respond to sad stories about pets.
"To save more pets than we're saving now, we have to reach people we're not already reaching," Keith said. "And those people, who aren't involved in the animal welfare world, prefer to learn about pets' personalities and what they'll be like to live with, making the adoption a happy occasion for their family."
In fact, too much focus on sad stories can drive many adopters away from shelters and rescues, out of concern that the pet might have behavior or health problems related to his or her past, or because they find it depressing at a time when they want to be joyful.
But there are times when a sad story, told correctly, is the single most powerful tool you have to get a pet adopted. The Internet is full of viral stories about horribly abused or neglected pets who have hundreds or thousands of people clamoring to adopt them, all because they were moved by compassion to turn that pet's life around.
"The key is the line between inspiring action through compassion, and overwhelming people with despair," Keith said. "Does the story or image make you want to go out and start a soup kitchen? Or does it make you want to go lie in bed in the fetal position, and never get up again?"
She offered as an example this video from the Shelter Pet Pet Project, about a senior dog named Shemp, animated by renowned Mutts cartoonist Patrick McDonnell:
"I've never watched that without getting tears in my eyes," Keith said. "But they're the kind of tears that make me want to run out and adopt a senior pet, not the kind that make me want to never leave the house again."
Additionally, if your organization is always telling sad stories, people will begin to tune them out. Only the people who respond to that type of story will stick around to see them -- and those people almost certainly have already rescued as many pets as they can. The stories may start out effective, but that effectiveness will dwindle as time goes on.
So when you have a pet with a compelling story that you think will motivate people to adopt him, go for it. Just don't do it too often, and above all, be inspiring!
Also of interest:
And how have they continued to achieve a high save rate every month since?
Cheryl Schneider, Director of Animal Services for the shelter, shared their story and lessons that can help other organizations get the same results, at the 2015 American Pets Alive! No Kill Conference in Austin, Texas.
View her entire presentation below, or on our website.
If you just can't get enough of diseases spread between animals and humans -- well, reading about them, anyway! -- you need to follow the Worms and Germs blog from Drs. Scott Weese and Maureen Anderson of the Ontario Veterinary College's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses.
In recent posts, the authors debunked the really bad, horrible, truly terrible hype masquerading as science about cats, mental illness and toxoplasmosis. They gave us all a reassuring reality check on canine giardiasis, and took a hard, critical look at rescue transport and disease. (For a second opinion on that last subject, check out Dr. Elizabeth Berliner's recommendations here.)
Education about zoonotic disease isn't always the most appealing sheltering topic. Rarely do posts about zoonoses go viral on Facebook, and they're not the stuff of Instagram celebrity pets' bios. They're typically not the workshops everyone's buzzing about at conferences, either.
But if you scan the newspaper headlines, you'll find health risks to humans from animals get a lot of hype -- hype that can be as deadly as the diseases themselves when pets are wrongly blamed for health threats all or mostly attributable to other causes.
And for those of us in the shelter world, a lack of understanding of zoonotic disease can turn into a medical and PR nightmare if the wrong microbe gets past our doors.
You can stay up to date on the bugs of biggest concern to sheltered pets by subscribing to Worms and Germs via RSS or email -- the sign-up links are in the right hand column at www.wormsandgermsblog.com