Twitter and Blogging: Should You Try Social Media for Your Shelter?

Are you noticing that more and more companies and websites are listing their Facebook page, an invitation to follow them on Twitter, or “go online right now and blog?” Have you considered setting up a blog or a Facebook page to increase your animal shelter’s audience by reaching those who prefer blogs or social networks over websites?

What should you consider before adding social media to your online presence? Following are a few ideas.

How can you minimize your efforts but get maximum results?

Sites such as Facebook allow users to set up a page very easily. You can also set up a blog with platforms such as WordPress or Typepad. Often these are available to you through your web hosting company.

Our local newspaper, the Santa Fe New Mexican, has a pet social networking site using the Ning platform. If your local newspaper or other potential partner has a social network like this, animal shelters could set up a page within those networks on their own “member” pages. Since your newspaper is targeting locals, this would be a good way to interact with your local volunteers or donors. Take a look at the “Scoop” and you’ll see listings of local fundraising events for animals, pet sitting services, etc.

Or, think of ways you can partner or piggyback with your local newspaper’s “pet page.” These are pages set up as any other news page on the site that include videos, contests for the best pet photo, pet stories, etc. As more newspapers set up pet pages on their online editions, you may be able to team up with them with your own section within that page. Ask if you can contribute new videos, photos, stories, and updates from your shelter as well as a sign-up form to your email newsletter. That would be an excellent way to reach pet lovers with a minimum of effort on your part. See an example of a “pet page” for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Do you have the time and staff to participate in social media?

For any nonprofit, a major drawback in setting up a blog is the time it takes. The web is littered with abandoned blogs. Commercial sites often have staffers assigned just to social networking activities. Most nonprofits don’t have the resources to do this. Do you have a computer-savvy volunteer who could handle this? Or, do you have a volunteer who could handle the technical aspects, such as design, setup, and maintenance, and ask another volunteer to act as the administrator who writes and interacts with your visitors?

Some users of Twitter participate for a while and then decide it’s too much effort. Try to figure out the best use of your time upfront before starting your social media participation

What do you hope to accomplish?

Carefully think through what you would gain for the effort. If you’re trying to get more donations, what are you going to do on the blog that’s different from your website? Could the same thing be done on your website with less effort? If you can generate interest in your shelter from a new group of donors or volunteers who enjoy using social media, you might add another revenue stream.

Who do you want to reach?

Perhaps you’re trying to involve more kids. Could you find a responsible teenager who likes to write and loves pets? A blog might be a great way to bring a new group of volunteers and nurture our future animal caretakers. Or, could you nurture a whole new group of donors and volunteers with a blog just for seniors?

If you publish a blog, what criteria would you establish?

If you publish articles or news in a blog, outline a strategy before you start. How often will you post? What categories of posts or articles would you include? Readers can select the option to “subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed.” That option allows your readers to be notified of updates immediately. The ability to add comments to a story or news item makes the blog interactive. Will you follow these comments on a daily basis? Will you allow comments to run as they will or will you attempt to moderate? How will you handle dissension?

Some blogs have no rules at all; anything goes. Others have rules they ask you to read upfront. Some sites have buttons to “report abuse” that allow visitors to report comments that are offensive.
See the rules established by the Dog Channel. You’ll see that attacking and harassing others aren’t allowed.

Another common problem is going off-topic, ie., the responses go astray from the original question or article. Will you attempt to move the conversation back to the original news item or article?

Blogs are searchable by search engines so others may find your shelter or rescue group through your blog rather than your website. Keep this in mind when you establish your “rules of the road” concerning posting. If a newcomer to your site discovers argumentative and rude comments, he may not return.

Do your research.

Before making the decision to set up any social media activity, spend time online reviewing other sites that reach the audience you’re trying to reach. How are these sites or blogs run? What rules are in place? What topics do they cover? How often are new topics or articles posted by the moderator or administrator? What do you like and dislike about the tone of the participants? You’ll see everything from nurturing and sharing to argumentative and outright rude.

Ask several people in your target audience (seniors, teens, etc) what they like and dislike, why they use these sites, etc? Are they looking for information or just a place to socialize? What makes them continue using or visiting a site? This research will be priceless; you may totally change the direction you first envisioned.

How will you attract visitors/members?

You’ll need to develop a strategy to increase traffic. Specifically, you want folks to enjoy your site and be repeat visitors. This requires interesting content generated by the administrator/sponsor of the site as well as the members or other bloggers/commenters. Others will link to your site if your content and activity are valuable to their visitors. Photos and videos of the animals at your shelter can help attract visitors.

Does your shelter have a permanent pet mascot? He could blog on a weekly basis, updating your visitors on new animals, upcoming fundraising events, etc. Upload a video of your mascot and take him to fundraising events. Post a video on YouTube. A shelter in our area has a mascot who’s become a “spokespet” and attendee at many of their events.

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