There are scores of articles out there about how to gain a Facebook following, but what about the organizations that have already achieved that goal? How do those groups, particularly nonprofits run by skeleton crews, stay engaged with tens of thousands of social media fans?
That's the dilemma we faced at Peace & Paws as our Facebook fan base grew to more than 73,000 active participants.
Our mission is to match the world's best dogs with the world's best people. We have established solid relationships with southern US rescue partners, enabling us to transport, foster, and adopt out dogs from states that have numerous high-kill shelters. All of that is done with minimal staff and the assistance of volunteers. Facebook has become our primary platform for communicating with past adopters, donors, and dog lovers, as well for providing exposure to available dogs for prospective adopters.
Our Facebook community is vital to our organization, and we had to find a way to cultivate it without adding employees or taking time away from dog-rescue activities. Here are some ways we've learned to engage our large social media following to build a more successful organization.
Remember your mission, and reflect it in your posts
We founded Peace & Paws after adopting a dog from Alabama and learning about how many unwanted pets are euthanized there every year. Our organization's goal is to find forever homes for rescue dogs and support the foster families and adopters who love these animals. We want that to be clear in our social media communications when people "like" Peace & Paws on Facebook.
When people join our Facebook community, we want them to see posts that will help them care for their own dogs, as well as give exposure to dogs in need and celebrate those who are involved in rescuing them. We try to do that in a fun and engaging way without losing the thread of what we're about.
For example, some of our most popular posts involve the Tips of the Day with our dogs Giddy and Twinkle. These dogs show their personalities through the tips, which often involve a little sibling-like bickering. Often, we dress the dogs up in theme-appropriate costumes. While we want it to feel fun, the tips are often serious subjects that dog owners need to know. (If you look at this image we shared on Facebook for Valentine's Day, you'll get a sense of how we approach the goal of having fun while also serving our community.)
Communicate, don't broadcast
When we share a story of a dog that has been rescued or adopted, our Facebook followers often want to talk to us about that story. During these posts we try to engage as much as possible with our community.
Our recent posts about Luna, a dog being fostered by one of our partners in Alabama, are an example. Over the past few months, we've shared how Luna came to us from an abusive situation, how she was dumped at a shelter when she was pregnant and then delivered a litter of puppies on her second day in foster care. Luna was also treated for heartworms and she is participating in training to address her severe fear and aggression issues. A single post in February has received 2,500 likes, 150 comments, and 55 shares. That's not an unusual level of activity for our page. We try to arrange our posting schedule so that someone can respond to the comments in the thread.
We want our community to feel engaged in the work we're doing, because their involvement is critical to our success and they are an integral part of the journey. Commenting within an active Facebook conversation is one way we can show our supporters that we saw they were there, we read what they wrote, and we appreciate their involvement. To make sure that happens, we arrange our posting schedule with the need for engagement in mind.
When you need to grow, let people know
For a long time, we struggled with what to do with the number of dogs in need of rescue that were not yet ready for adoption or even fostering. Our partners in Alabama would alert us to dogs we wanted to help, but often we couldn't for lack of space and experienced foster homes. We decided to turn a barn on our property into a rescue facility for these dogs, where we could prepare them for eventual foster care and adoption. We estimated that we would need a minimum of $70,000 to make the Ruff House Retreat a reality, so we kicked off a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.
The Indiegogo campaign got off to a solid start, but we weren't sure how our Facebook community would react to donation requests. Midway through the fundraising campaign, however, donations began lagging a bit, so we decided to try to leverage our social media success to help us reach our goal. After incorporating Facebook into the fundraising strategy, we boosted donations by $35,000 in a single weekend and eventually surpassed the campaign goal by more than 40 percent.
The thousands of people who read and responded to our Facebook posts wanted to support our organization and the dogs we help; all we needed to do was ask. With their help, we raised almost $104,000.
Tell your story in a variety of ways
We have only a few people managing our Facebook efforts, but even with a small team we've been able to deliver a variety of content types to keep followers engaged. We share a lot of photos of our own dogs, dogs meeting their new families, and previously adopted dogs thriving in their new homes. We also post videos, share news articles related to our mission, publish letters from adopters, and update our cover photo to reflect what's new with the organization. We try to make sure we're sharing not only interesting, useful, and engaging posts but also a variety of material to keep people coming back.
It isn't easy for a small nonprofit to manage a social media program, but it is worth doing and worth doing well. Our social media efforts align closely to our strategic goals, and the work it takes to sustain these social communities is as satisfying as it is essential to our overall success.