When I first started in animal welfare, a rescue organization sent me to pull a dog from a local public shelter. When I arrived, they gave me a list of 12 canines that were scheduled to be euthanized the following morning. Looking into the eyes of each of these dogs, it was absolutely devastating to know that I could only choose to take one of them. I knew at that moment, we had to find a better way to get more homeless animals into forever homes.
Facebook has given modern-day shelters the golden opportunity to promote these powerless animals. Doing so effectively yields tremendous results and can be accomplished at low cost and with relative ease — as long as we don’t overthink it.
Driving Adoptions: How to Turn It Around
In the spring of 2015, Woods Humane Society had a Facebook audience of about 7,000 people and adopted out an average of 975 animals per year. At that time, Woods Humane made dynamic changes to broaden intake practices and to ensure that the beautiful, fully-staffed facility was using all available resources to serve as many animals as possible.
Over the course of a year, thanks to the implementation of a few simple strategies:
- The Woods Humane Facebook audience grew over 400% to 37,000.
- The most recent annual adoption figure jumped to 1,759 dogs and cats. This is an 80% increase in adoptions over the prior four-year average.
- The average length of stay went from 31.7 days in 2014 down to 16.8 days over the past year. That’s a reduction of over two weeks!
We know this isn’t a fluke. We now use Facebook to keep our adoption programs moving. Here are the strategies that we have found to be most effective:
- Frequent posts of highly adoptable animals. Nothing drives traffic to your facility better than quality images of highly adoptable animals. Sometimes we refer to these as “adoption candy.” Posting such animals on Facebook is the best way to truly “fast track” those animals out of your facility, while drawing people in to see all of the amazing animals in your care. We recommend you post at least two adoptable pets per day to keep your animals at the forefront of public awareness.
- Promotion of special needs animals. Animals that have been at your facility for an extended period of time, those that have special needs, or pets that are not doing well in the shelter environment can really benefit from Facebook promotion. In our experience, these posts seem to work best with reduced frequency. We typically post no more than one or two per week.
- Group posts. Our shelter often receives dozens of animals at a time from shelters within a 150 mile radius. As larger groups of animals become available, we like to post a dozen or more photos at a time to let the public know that we have a wonderful variety of animals available for adoption. Often, several of the posted animals are adopted that same day.
- Videos. Videos are another powerful tool to help animals find great homes. You can do this whether you have someone available to edit them and lay down a nice sound track, or simply post a brief clip that your staff member of volunteer was able to capture on their phone. The ability for people to observe the animals in motion is often very compelling.
- When to boost. Facebook has made it very economical for our organizations to reach more people. As the administrator of your page, you are offered the option to “boost” your post at the dollar level of your choosing. For as little as $5, you can “boost” the post of your adoptable animal to help it reach the Newsfeeds of more people in your area. Boosting posts is a great strategy to help increase your page likes while letting your community know that your facility is full of awesome animals just waiting to meet them.
- Helping your posts go viral. With the caveat that we don’t want to “cry wolf” and over utilize this strategy, it is very effective to post special needs animals with a post that emphasizes that the animal is not doing well in the shelter and urgently needs a permanent home. Use a terrific photo or video and briefly make your case as to why this one is extra special. For example, a recent post promoting two Huskies up for adoption at Woods Humane was seen by over 120,000 people. At my former shelter, a post promoting an elderly German Shepherd was seen by over 500,000 people. That shelter now has a Facebook audience of over 58,000 people!
The Nuts and Bolts of Executing Your Strategy
I quickly learned that carving out that 90 seconds to grab an adoption photo, paste the description, reiterate our contact information, and post it to Facebook became the biggest driver of foot traffic to our shelter. It didn’t take long until adoptions took off and people were coming from near and far to meet the animal they just saw on the platform.
- Managing Facebook in your organization. It takes just a few minutes to post and schedule posts of adoptable animals on your Facebook page. You may find it easiest to assign this task to one person. Find someone that you trust plus a few others to help monitor comments, questions, or feedback posted by users to help answer questions that arise.If you are from a public agency with strict policies about social media, do whatever it takes to get your animals up and promoted on Facebook anyway. The animals are counting on you and any bureaucratic red tape may cost them their lives. If you truly can’t manage to do it, get a non-profit “friends of” your shelter group to help you out.
- How to describe an animal. Animal descriptions can be really fun and creative if you have the right people writing them. Focus on positive qualities and try to attract the right adopter. For example, a dog looking for a running partner will have a different appeal than a dog that likes to lay on the couch and watch Netflix.People will often ask how the animal gets along with other pets or children. If every meet and greet has been a disaster, it’s ok to say that the animal prefers to be the single household pet. On the flip side, if you know the pet has previously lived with other animals or children, please say so. Any information helps. However, if you are a large municipal shelter and don’t have the ability to write descriptions, just post the photos with the animal’s number and approximate age. Let people know what you have in your shelter! Groups of photos without descriptions can still make a major impact on your foot traffic.
- What not to say. When it comes to how an animal interacts with other pets or children, try to refrain from making statements that sound like fact. The animals in our shelters are experiencing new stressors, and often behave very differently when they get into a new home. “Fido has interacted well with the children he’s met at the shelter” is a safer bet than “Fido is great with kids!” Additionally, if an animal was an owner-surrender, please be very careful about communicating that. Refrain from using language that chastises, or causes your Facebook audience to judge someone for surrendering their pet. Public shaming of owners who surrender their pets will hinder your organization’s ability to serve as a true safety net for the animals in your community.
- Post adopter photos. Engage your community by posting photos of adopters with their new pets. Try to take photos of all adopters with their pet before they go and include a photo release form in our adoption packet.
- Business-related posts. One of the greatest things I learned about fundraising and marketing in animal welfare was from Best Friends — do good things for animals and tell people about it. People care about our animals and care about them finding homes, and they may not be terribly interested in other topics. Keep business-related posts to a minimum or carefully incorporate them into posts about adoptable animals.
Actively sharing animals on Facebook may be one of the most rapidly rewarding new shelter practices. The animals in our care are counting on us to be their advocates. The model of waiting for people to come to our facilities or take the initiative to visit our websites is simply not sufficient.
Let’s meet people where they are instead of waiting for them to come to us. People are on Facebook! The better we are at promoting our animals, the more rapidly we’ll be able to increase the number of available homes. By increasing our adoptions at Woods, we have been able to save 80% more animals and reduce the burden faced by shelters in high-risk areas. Just imagine what you can achieve!
The opinions and advice expressed within this article are the opinions of the author, and not of SAWA or its affiliates.