6 Tricks to Effective Animal Networking
It’s true that we can’t do it all, but we can each do something.
Appeal to the Heart
We’ve all seen those Sarah Mclachlan commericals; sad music with sad dogs and cats in cages and some blurbs about animal cruelty. Those ads alone have generated more than $30 million for the ASPCA. They work because the appeal to the heart, not the brain. If you’re an animal lover just try and watch one of those without feeling great sadness.
This is also why the Hope For Paws videos are brilliant, they appeal directly to our emotional side, making us feel compassion and instantly compelled to help out and share. They make it seem so plausible, something we ourselves could be doing. They’re inspirational. Studies have found that feelings drive charitable donations, not analytical thinking and statistics.
Feelings Driving Donations
Here’s a pop quiz. Read the following two paragraphs and see which is more apt to tug at your heartstrings:
A) Any money that you donate will go to Rokia, a seven-year-old girl who lives in Mali in Africa. Rokia is desperately poor and faces a threat of severe hunger, even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed and educate her, and provide her with basic medical care.
B) Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than three million children. In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42% drop in maize production from 2000. As a result, an estimated three million Zambians face hunger. Four million Angolans — one-third of the population — have been forced to flee their homes. More than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.
If you answered A, you are like most people, according to a new study conducted by Deborah Small, a Wharton marketing professor, and two colleagues. The researchers found that if organizations want to raise money for a charitable cause, it is far better to appeal to the heart than to the head. Put another way, feelings, not analytical thinking, drive donations. – Wharton University of Pennsylvania
Make it Personal
Personal stories or what academic researches call “identifiable victims” are those that drive the most donations. Rokia, with her personal story rather then the plight of all famine victims is more likely to receive charity. The statistical data in example B, the statistical victim, is less likely to receive donations.
When giving money to charity they found that people don’t “value lives consistently.” Large amounts of donations are usually concentrated on a single victim with a personal story, rather then a whole village that suffered a tragic event. The heart rules the brain. Even though we statistically know that more people would be helped by disbursing the money throughout a village we continue to give to single victims.
Stick To This Basic Formula
- Make it personal; include details that identify the victim clearly
- If you’re going to use statistics pick high proportion ones
- Less can be more – make the animals you network really stand out
- Use poster dogs for a specific cause with the promise to help more like them
- The photo is what will draw people in so choose the best available
- Make it emotional; the most important rule when it comes to compelling people to act
How These Rules Apply to Effective Animal Networking
So what does all this have to do with networking dogs online? The same principles that big companies use to gather support for human victims work just as well for animal shelters and rescue organizations. Emotions work; as do great photos, taglines, and details that help you identify with the animal in need.
Don’t Skip Out On Details
You need to make it personal. Don’t skip out on the history or events the dog may have been through; those help make the dog stand out amongst the crowd. There are networks and campaigns that specialize in senior dog and specific breed rescue and adoptions; without including these details you lose your appeal to targeted niche groups of animal advocacy groups.
There are a lot of great rescues out there that specialize in placing senior dogs. I found a great senior available at a local rescue named Tori who had some amazing photos available. By adding some details to the photo itself it’ll draw more attention to her details – people don’t have to read my own description when I’m sharing her because they’re already available on the photo itself.
This works extremely well on Twitter if you attach a photo; if you don’t know how to attach a photo to your tweets check out a free tool like Tweetdeck. These types of photos with details do well on Pinterest, Facebook, and Google + as well.
If the animal your networking is a senior be sure to share on groups that specialize in helping senior dogs find homes – same goes for special needs, local groups, and breed specific groups. You can find a lot of great specific animal networking groups on Facebook.
Use Statistics Wisely
Don’t overdo the statistics in your networking, and don’t ask to save all dogs at once. We can connect better with high proportions; the chance to save 1 out of 10 dogs, rather than 50 out of 500 is likely going to elicit more of an emotional response and willingness to help, even if the percentage is the same. It’s hard for people to generate feelings towards statistics.
If you overwhelm your networking with the daunting statistics of pet overpopulation and euthanasia you might end up with your readers feeling overwhelmed and helpless. They’ll be less likely to reach out if they don’t see a chance that they can make a difference in one animal’s life. You want to inspire hope in your reader, let them know that they can make a difference for your special dog.
Less Can Be More
I know it seems counterproductive to advocate for a few specific animals when so many are in need, but if your goal is to create action, adoption, shares, and donations it needs to be somewhat personal if you want to reach more people. The targeted personal ads are the ones that stick out and resonate emotionally; rather than getting lost in a flood of nameless dogs.
And while networking only a few specific dogs at a time seems counterproductive remember that your effectiveness is what counts. The sooner your chosen dog gets adopted or sponsored the sooner you can start networking your next animal. If you’re sharing 50 photos of dogs in cages a day you might alienate your readers by making them feel helpless.
By highlighting a few specific dogs once a day or weekly you’re more likely to create interest and a feeling of hope; don’t overwhelm your audience. If you readers feel hopeless they’re a lot less likely to act; you might just end up depressing them.
Using Poster Dogs
Short, compelling stories or headlines with a great photo go a long way. This is why companies use poster children; they generate the highest amount of donations. Don’t feel bad about using poster dogs, if they work to spread the word of your cause it’s a good thing.
Choose a dog with a sad story and a great image to get your point across that so many great dogs are just waiting to be saved. If you’re going to promote one specific rescue or shelter there’s nothing wrong with using one or two animals as your poster dogs; just add something along the lines of “to help BUSTER and more dogs like him please donate.”
Making it Emotional
Although it isn’t strictly animal networking who can forget “I died today?” It’s the story of a dogs last day on earth, filled with photos and short statements about how he spent his last day. It appeals directly to the heart; anyone who has lost a pet understands the sentiment completely.
When you can appeal directly to someones heart they’re much more likely to share. All those wonderful Hope for Paws rescue videos are emotional and inspirational; they get millions of views. If you can get creative and appeal to someones emotions you’re much more likely to receive the shares needed to effectively network an animal in need.
Good vs. Bad Example
Check out these two examples:
Compelling vs Depressing
The first example of Missy is from the New Hampshire SPCA; they make these simple and compelling photos for their animals. Nothing too flashy or wordy; a great photo and a compelling concise message does wonders.
Compare this to the photo of a dog with no eye contact leashed to the wall with the number 11867. Even though our brains tell us that the dog in the second photo is probably just as scared and in need of love as Missy we may not be nearly as emotionally compelled to act or share. Emotional response is key. Missy’s example has a compelling image and message.
The great thing about the Missy photo is that it’s still pretty general. You don’t have to personally know the dog to write a great tagline like hers. Just knowing her name and that she’s fearful can give you enough to write a great quote. After looking at her I do know that she deserves a great home and I’d love to help.
Fix Up Bad Photos and Name The Dog
I understand that many shelters are underfunded and understaffed. Sometimes it’s not possible to get great photos; and it’s almost always volunteers that do the networking. If possible at least give the animal you’re networking a name, it’s a lot easier to remember “BUSTER” than 11867. If you only have poor quality photos of an animal to work with do some magic with an online photo editor, such as Picmonkey, Canva., or Fotor.
I am by no means an expert with photo editing but within 5 minutes I made this new ad for the second dog. I wouldn’t normally use extreme quotes, but for a dog with no name they can work to pull people in and make people share the photo. Dogs Trust, Home Fur Ever, and Best Friends Animal Society consistently share compelling images if you want to see more great examples.
Kyra & Delaware – The Photo That Went Viral
Remember these two dogs Kyra and Delaware? These two dogs who didn’t know one another were put in a pen together and someone took a great photo of how they managed to bond so amazingly.
The response to this photo was overwhelming. It was shared over 20,000 times and has over 125,000 facebook likes, not to mention all the other tweets, stumbles, and shares on other social networks. What’s most amazing about it is that it’s just one emotional photo. There wasn’t a long and detailed story, the photo was emotionally compelling enough on its own.
And if you like happy endings you’re in luck:
Joanie & Chachi
In July Joanie & Chachi made national news. They’re known as the dog friends who got adopted together after less than a week of being at the shelter. Joanie is a white Pitbull mix that had been seen carrying her little Chihuahua mix Chachi around, who had an injured eye. After their story went viral the shelter received numerous adoption applications from across the country.
Getting Started in Networking
If you want to delve into the world of animal networking local shelters are going to be your most practical choice. You can easily stay in touch with the shelter and find out a great amount of detail about the dogs you’re looking into networking. Take a trip and snap some great photos of the dogs if the ones they’re using aren’t of the greatest quality.
If you want to stay local you can use the simple search tool from petfinder to find some shelters and rescue organizations in your area.
You can also opt to look for urgent lists online; many states have volunteers already working on sharing and networking animals from kill shelters. Some of the best known urgent kill lists are Urgent Pets on Death Row, Inc based in New York City, Pawsitively Texas and Urgent Ohio Dogs.
If you’re the creative type you can help out the urgent lists; they’re working with so many animals they need people to create compelling images and stories. You might only have a photo and basic stats to work with but they always need people with creative minds and some photo editing skills to help to spread the word.
It’s Not For Everyone
You may be accused of spamming if you network animals on your social media outlets. Some people don’t like seeing animals in need all the time because it’s depressing. It is certainly depressing. It’s completely up to you if you want to network for shelters; there are other ways you can help advocate for animals that don’t involve the personal backlash you might receive from people if they feel like you’re “spamming.”
Some people ask why the urgent kill lists are shared so often; it does generate a lot of posts and photos that can be overwhelming; it’s because there are actually that many animals are currently in need of homes. Read this great article from the Pawsitively Texas on why they share the urgent kill lists.
As I said before, it’s not for everyone. There are so many ways you can help animal shelters, networking is only one option. But if you’re going to do it, do it well just like the big companies do and get an emotional response. One great photo or post can change the world for an animal in need.