Social Media Advice for Cat Rescues

I've spent the last 18 months or so managing a Facebook page for a cat rescue, Seattle Persian and Himalayan Rescue. It's been a great tool for us to communicate and get stuff done.

I was also on the board for about a year. I'm taking a step back, so I resigned from the board and and the rescue decided to work more as a team on the Facebook page, so I wrote this to give them some notes on the strategy I have used.

I wanted to share a form of this publicly too, so I could use my knowledge to help other rescues out there. Please forgive the length and informality of this - I've tried to explain internal references the best I could, but don't have time right now to rework it completely for a generic audience.

For context: I work a full time job unrelated to cat rescue, and did this as a volunteer, so the strategy was formulated around getting the most bang for your buck time-wise. There very well could be better strategies out there, and Facebook is always changing, so this is as of Feb. 23, 2013.

1.) Content: Pictures, pictures, pictures.

The most common thing I post are pictures of the cats, ideally with some description and the Petfinder link if they have one (sometimes we get pics before we get Petfinder links so I go back and add them if I can). If the picture is putting out a call to action (eg. Fosters Needed) make sure to include the contact info on the picture. I have never seen any difference in the response on "professional" photos than the photos our volunteers take during their PetCo shifts. It's nice to have the more professional ones for marketing stuff or the cover photo, but in general people tend to respond well to eye contact photos no matter what level of professionalism or what have you. I think the fans like seeing the PetCO pictures too because they get a little insight into running the rescue. I always try to prioritize the ones that volunteers show up in.

I've noticed out of the different content types (status updates, links, videos, infographics, etc), photos get the most bang for your "buck" (in this case, time). We have had videos and infographics that have been popular, but they rarely get to the top of the list of most popular posts and they take more time to create.

There are some fun mobile apps to create collages pretty easily, and I've been using those occasionally. When I do that I try to include the SPHR logo as well. The pics render well on mobile phones then. People use Facebook a lot on mobile, so it's good to think about those users.

There are two albums I try to keep up to date, based on my knowledge of the cats' statuses - the Currently Adoptable and SPHR Alumni. I create a new "SPHR Alumni" album every few months because they get super full and hard to navigate. Photos often end up in albums called "Mobile Uploads" or "Timeline Photos" when I first post them, and I move them into Currently Adoptable when I can because people do look there.

We also have an album called Communication Images, and when we need to ask for transport or fosters, I share those pictures.

Cover photo - I change it once a week or so. The dimensions of the cover photo are long and skinny (you can find exact dimensions through Google) and it needs to be a higher quality photo because of the size of it. Most photos from high quality phones do work, though.

2.) Timing: Try not to post more than once per hour.

Sometimes it's necessary to post more than once per hour, or sometimes it's just more convenient, but if you post photos to the same album within an hour, Facebook will aggregate them in the feed and the users won't see the second, third etc at the time you post them.

If you do need to post more than once in an hour, posting photos to different albums or different content types (i.e. sharing a link rather than a photo) seems to work to avoid the aggregation issue.

There is a new feature where you can schedule posts using a little clock that appears in the box you type in to post. I haven't used that yet because I just found out about it around the time we started working as a team, and I didn't want to post something on top of someone else's post, but it might be worth a try if you can get some coordination around timing.

3.) Keep the content unique and focused 

Focus on SPHR, regional rescues, or Persian cat care. Lighthearted tone, concise, provide a way to act.

There are TONS of people on Facebook doing a variety of cat stuff. Just like we can't save all the cats, we cannot speak to all the audiences.

Cat jokes, cats in dire need all over the country, cat artists, blog posts, cat businesses,etc. all abound online. Sometimes people post stuff on our wall (aka Timeline) and unless it's offensive or an obvious plug for a business we know nothing about, I let it stand there, but I don't re-share it to our fans unless it is falls into these categories above. There is a ton of cat spam out there, and it doesn't seem appropriate for SPHR to become a cat spammer. I don't want to encourage our wall to become a generic dumping ground of cat spam either.

On the topic of cat jokes, blog posts, etc, I do share them sometimes, but probably no more than once a day and only if there is no other content available (i.e. pics of adoptable cats, etc). I try to use content like that if it comes from another page that is connected to us on Facebook and interacts with our page, although that's not 100%. There's nothing wrong with sharing jokes, and it can make it a fun place to visit/hang out/connect, but it's also not something that furthers our mission or makes us unique. It's so easy to lose your audience on Facebook, I feel like it's good to stay focused on what we need people to hear from us.

I try to keep the tone lighthearted because there is so much drama and pain for rescue cats and some of the pages go too far in this. It leads to a phenomenon called "compassion fatigue" where people turn it off and tune it out because it makes them too sad or tired. Then when we do get a truly sad story like the Cookie story [a cat who was dumped with us in very bad shape and eventually died], it's not just one of another long line of sad cat stuff. SPHR doesn't take on a ton of cats on death's door and our cats are more or less in pretty good shape most of the time anyway, so this kind of dovetails with the nature of the rescue, so to speak. Balance calls for help with happy ending stories as well; it gives fans the full picture and a good emotional payoff.

Finally, each post that asks something of volunteers or advertises something should ideally provide a way to engage and/or act, whether it's the rescue's email address or a Petfinder link.

4.) Focus on the Feed

Most people see Facebook content through the feed nowadays. Some of our core fans do come visit our page to check out what is going on. But when you think about it, how many Facebook pages do you visit, and how much do you just see in the feed? There is also an algorithm in the feed now where you only see things in your feed that you or your friends have engaged with (likes, comments, etc). People tend to click, scroll, click, scroll, click, scroll. Stuff goes by fast and you have to grab their attention.

So, to get stuff in the feed, it has to be posted by Seattle Persian and Himalayan Rescue, not an individual, and you can't post too often (see #2). That's why sometimes I will reshare things under the rescue's name when people post them on our wall (now known as Timeline). It's not common for people to visit the posts of others on a page and Facebook sticks them kind of off in a corner now.

Also, it promotes it higher in the feed if more people are talking on the post, liking it, etc. The more activity it gets, the more users' feeds it shows up in. So I try to engage the audience as much as possible (details in #5). There are also conspiracy theories around the feed and Facebook's programming of it, and you could get really detailed and technical about it, and certainly Facebook has a financial incentive to promote advertisers. But bottom line, the more engaged your users are, the more they see your stuff in the feed and it is still possible to have an engaged community without buying ads; you just have to work for it.

You can purchase ads to get more views in the feed, and I know something about that from some other Facebook pages I work on, but for the rescue, Robert [the Treasurer] and I have talked about it a couple times and decided the money is probably not well spent. I can tell you from other ad campaigns I've done, the fans you get from ads are not as engaged as the fans you get organically, and all of our fans are organic right now.

5.) Engage the audience!

We have a core group of people who watch our page for updates and help us; they are almost like a volunteer group. If you ask them to share posts about cats in serious need, they will, and we have found adopters and donors this way. Some of them are our foster parents and volunteers, but some of them are just people online who really like cats and purposely spend time helping rescues by crossposting. I try to remember their names and ask them questions sometimes about their cats and their rescues etc. It's also good to make general announcements sometimes about what's going on because these people will actually answer other people's questions sometimes!

These are the minority though - most of our audience is made of people who don't engage all that often. One big issue on Facebook nowadays is that there is so much going on that any given page gets a pretty low level of engagement. Basically, you have to get their attention to keep the page active. It's not really about pleasing the fans so much as getting those numbers up so that when we do need a response, we get our stuff seen in the feed (see #4) and continuing the mission of the organization to help cats. Even if they are just posting stuff like "cute cat" or whatever, it adds to the stats of the picture, which promotes it in the feed.

So to do this, I ask questions and make posts to encourage discussion, or even just funny things like "Caption This!"  I go in and "like" almost every single comment. People used to get notified when you did this; they do not any more, but it still makes a difference. Believe it or not, there are lots of people on Facebook who are very in tune to how others are responding to them on Facebook.

I also converse back and forth with them on the posts, and always as SPHR. If you use your own profile, unless they are your Facebook friend, they won't get a notification. People don't always get a notification when a page tags them any more, so I don't tag them, I just use their name if I am talking to them. They will get a notification that SPHR has commented on the post. Basically, it keeps them coming back to the conversation. If you want to make it clear who you are, or it seems appropriate because I am talking in the first person or about my own household cats or something, I still post as SPHR but sign my name.

If I'm home on Friday or Saturday nights, I try to post some fun stuff because a lot of people use Facebook as their social time on the weekends. I break my rules about focusing on SPHR-specific content a little more during these times too, just to get some stats and because it's fun/funny to talk about some other stuff with our cat friends.

People like to know about our volunteers too, and I have an album for that. They are especially fond of Alex. Many of our fans have met Alex through the rescue or his workplace [Alex is a cat groomer] and even the ones who have never met him know him by name and come looking for him at his workplace. When Alex is grooming one of our cats, he sends pictures and I post them. I try to be careful to only post about Alex in terms of the volunteer work he is doing for the rescue, and only mention the business when they have donated or sponsored something, rather than in terms of what Alex is doing for the cat business he works for. If people ask me where Alex works (and they do!), I have no problem telling them. The distinction is important in my mind because using the rescue's resources to promote a commercial enterprise can threaten the non-profit status of the rescue, and it also looks bad in some ways to certain types of audiences. [writers's note - this is not legal advice, but based on my instincts and knowledge. I am not a lawyer or tax expert. Partnerships with businesses can be very successful and helpful for non-profits. If you intend to work on a commercial/non-profit partnership, please seek advice from a legal and/or tax professional if you have questions.]

When conversations get specific to their adoption, application, issues they are having etc, I have always referred them to the rescue email for two reasons - to keep Facebook more as a PR tool, and because I often don't know the answer.


Twitter. We do have a Twitter account. Facebook feeds into it, and I never go into Twitter specifically. There are good uses for Twitter, but we get so much more bang for the buck on Facebook and I don't know as much about Twitter.

Final note: 

Writing style. Facebook posts work best when they are short and to the point. You feel like you have to repeat yourself a lot, and you do, because of the phenomenon of the news feed. Comments get buried fast. Always provide a way to act (email address, link to Petfinder, etc) whenever you can and don't rely that the people will remember it.

Also, with spelling, grammar etc - the internet is a little more forgiving on this than more formal writing, and it doesn't have to be perfect, but it might be good for people who are going to be doing posts to enable a spellchecker in their browser if they know they have issues with this stuff.

And if you have read all the way to the end: don't forget to have fun. 

xoxo Facebook peeps. I heart you. Thank you for helping cat rescues save lives.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:10 PM

    What you do best in my books is tell a story about each cat. Who they are, where they came from and then keep up the feed until they are adopted. After that you solicit from grateful cat servants how their new masters are doing.