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!
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