Shelters Use Social Media Strategy to Find Homes for Pets

When you're trying to find a home for homeless animals, it's all about reach.

It was an all-caps Facebook message and accompanying photo that prompted Susan Kissell to adopt a German shepherd mix named Jimmy. The pup had spent months in a shelter in Indiana, as reported in the The Star Press, he found a home once his picture appeared on social media.

“There was something about them eyes that did it,” Kissell told the paper about her decision. But the nature post itself may have prompted her decision. “URGENT!!!!” it read. “JIMMY MUST FIND A HOME BY TOMORROW BY 5PM.”

Many regional animal shelters have turned to social media to help spread the word about homeless pets beyond just the area they serve. Organizations like Maddie’s Fund and The Shelter Pet Project help to amplify this effort by aggregating pet photos and stories around from the country and posting them to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and even Pinterest.

Petfinder, one of the most popular databases for these listings, notes that for shelters, shares are the most important engagement factor to request from an audience. The odds of a pet adoption depend on the reach of a post, not the likes.

The post that saved Jimmy walks the line between urgent and informative, a challenge of tone that affects all brands, especially non-profits. Shelters with kill policies in place must be particularly sensitive when hoping to gain shares from animal-lovers.

“People don’t want to look at the pages of animals that are going to be put down the next day if there’s nothing they can do,” Abby Volin, a rescue group coordinator for The Humane Society, told Animal Sheltering.

To help more pets find homes via social media, The Humane Society has issued this set of guidelines to help shelters tug at heartstrings:

Back to the basics. Include information about the organization you are representing, such as location, contact numbers, public hours, and a link to the website. If there is no website, you may want to include information about adoption policies as well. Just make sure everything is accurate, and notify the group holding the animal in question so it won’t be surprised by an increased number of calls.
Make it simple and sweet. Start out each adoption or foster post with the animal’s adorable photo, location, ID number, and a date — important information that allows the pet to be tracked through multiple shares. Don’t neglect that picture—images are more likely to get shared. On Facebook, follow this with a short story about the animal’s best characteristics.
Catch more flies with honey. Focus on the pet’s best qualities—a beautiful coat, a playful nature, a loud purr, a calm temperament, an amazing trick. Save the appeals to the negative emotions for extreme situations; you can convey urgency without conveying hysteria.
Keep photos positive. Try to catch an animal playing with a toy or looking happily at the camera rather than huddled in the back of a cage looking miserable. Photographer and rescuer Robert Cabral also recommends short videos that capture the pet’s personality—easy to do with a smartphone or tablet.
Target your posts. Does your Ohio shelter want people driving from California to help? The answer may be yes — many groups work with rescuers around the country these days. But if you’re not doing out-of-state placements or only work with local rescuers, make that clear and target your Facebook posts using the “location” function for your listings.
A current affair. Make sure that every animal’s status is updated regularly, listing whether he’s still available, adopted, gone to rescue, etc. Some administrators keep the main page clutter-free by moving animals who are no longer in the shelter into a secondary photo album. Even if his status is unchanged, try to put new comments on the post to keep viewers interested: “Took Fluffy for a walk today. He’s very interested in squirrels!”
Close the loop. When your posts result in adoptions or placements, update followers with a happy photo. It helps remind the public and your network of helpers that their support is saving lives.