Social Strategy for the Dogs. How social media is saving animal lives.

shelter dog


By Jessica Rogers, {grow} Contributing Columnist  

Most people read {grow} to see how social media is connecting brands and people … but I wanted to share how it is also connecting people to animals in need, too. In fact, social media is saving lives.

Adopting a pet who has been  abandoned, rescued, abused, or simply unwanted, is a wonderful thing for a person to do. Not only do you get a loving companion who adores you unconditionally, but you get a sense of purpose and true responsibility to this innocent  life you saved from being put down unnecessarily. By also helping via social media, I hope that my “lives saved” tally reaches far beyond the paws I have in my home.

The story of the dog

Last year my family lost two of our dogs due to old age and subsequently began our search for a new pet by visiting shelters every Saturday. Each week we saw plenty of contenders, and then I would go home and visit them on Facebook to see who got adopted, new strays that had been rescued, and the antics the shelter staff would post. This went on for weeks until I was introduced to a beautiful fluffy white dog with a pink nose  who had just been posted on Facebook:

bitly the dog bitly shelter photo

About 45 minutes later we were going home with our newest addition “”

But connecting people with pets is just part of how social media is helping shelters. Just last month the shelter was able to reunite two stolen senior Basset Hounds from Missouri, Aggie and Clyde,  who were dumped here in Texas!  You can watch the reunion here. My local  shelter has many happy tails, and many not so happy tails of abandonment, neglect, abuse etc. But the point is, they use Facebook. They use it well. With little staff and money, they have managed to pull off consistent stellar Facebook engagement. Some things  they do:

  • Reply to posts within hours to inspire engagement
  • Post intake and adoption photos daily, updates on animals who have been adopted to drive consistent activity
  • Post professional photos of animals up for adoption, some of which are really quite adorable and shareable
  • Promote fund raisers; coordinate volunteer initiatives to get folks involved and posting to the page

Their community is wonderful. There is a lot  of activity, personality, and of course sharing. So why weren’t they on Twitter?

The Twitter connection

One day my son (4) says out of the blue,”Mommy I want a kitten. A black kitten.”  I have no idea where this came from but he never let it go. So we re-started our Saturday shelter visits with a new purpose. I was getting more and more involved with the wonderful shelter pets but noticed there was no Twitter feed. Why wouldn’t they share these animals with people on Twitter too?

So, I sent a Facebook message to the gals at the shelter (we are old friends at this point) and told them I could help them set up a Twitter account, show them how to use Hootsuite, and leverage Facebook posts in this new platform. Easy enough right!?

Not really.

Twitter best practices for a shelter

Well here in lies that pesky problem of time. The shelter needs time to post, which they are already doing and Hootsuite would basically just copy the posts to another social platform, Twitter. But they also need time to devote to building a following, sharing Tweets, and also answering tweets. They simply did not have the resources to do this and asked for my help in setting up and maintaining their Twitter feed.

Some time saving strategies I use, and suggest are:

Set up scheduled backbone tweets. The shelter has many “core messages” they can run over and over on Twitter on a timetable by scheduling through Hootsuite or Buffer. An example would be monthly remiders to followers about donating goods selected from the shleter’s Amazon Wish List.

I like to schedule posts that are pretty basic and not  terribly time sensitive.  The scheduling process is as easy as writing your short blurb, adding the link (Hootsuite and BufferApp will shorten the link for you), click which social networks you wish it to post to, and pick a date and time that you want it to post. There is also the “auto schedule” option that lets Hootsuite choose the most optimal times to post for you. Scheduled tweets can not be the only part of your strategy, but they help free up time to do real time engaging. Don’t forget to add relevant hashtags to help your post be “found.”

Utilize add-ons. Buffer and Hootsuite’s extensions are excellent time savers. The extensions are on your web browser, so you basically only have to click the icon on your browser window when you want to share something as opposed to opening the full dashboard. The shelter might want to use this for any article they run across or even YouTube video that is relevant to their audience. You can choose to post immediately or schedule as described above on Hootsuite and BufferApp as well. You can post to multiple platforms.

Utilize Twitter’s mobile App. I have the Twitter app on my phone (of course) and can toggle between my accounts and the shelter account. This is great for live Tweeting.  The shelter might be able to utilize this at off site functions, of course while utilizing appropriate hashtags. You can also check any mentions, messages or the like while on your smartphone.

While this list is by no means inclusive, it may help you get started with organizing your social media efforts when you don’t have much time.

I hope that through a few  minutes a day of my Tweeting I can help someone find that perfect pet or a shelter animal find their forever family, like “Marlo” or “Roxie” who have been at the shelter for 276 and 236 days respectively. Eventually, I am sure the shelter will be able to take over tweeting, but for now I enjoy it.  My ROI is knowing that I might be able to save one animal life.

And, in case you were wondering, here is “” with our new addition “#hashtag” the black kitten:

bitly the dog

Do you have any experience using social media to help with animal causes? I’d love to hear your story in the comment section!

jessica rogersJessica Rogers is a Dallas-based Adjunct Marketing Instructor at Texas A&M University- Commerce and faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University. She is currently working on her PhD in Business with an emphasis on Marketing; her dissertation research is focused on Social Media. Follow her on Twitter and her blog.

Top photo courtesy Flickr CC and Woody Hibbard

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  • kgoodling

    Hi Jessica, I was so happy to see this headline in my inbox this morning. Thanks for shedding light on how social media is also used to help causes like animal shelters. I haven’t seen many shelter Twitter accounts but think your best practices could help them experiment with it.

    In addition to the use of social by shelters, I think social media has also helped many people find their lost pets. Currently I follow a Facebook page called Help Us Find Abby that has grown a following of over 5,000 fans (the missing dog’s owner calls fans “Abby’s Angels”) who use WOM & social media tactics in the search for Abby, a rottie who has been missing three months (since July 4th). I’m continuously amazed at how many dogs are found through people assembling through Facebook groups & pages!

  • geofflivingston

    Great piece. Hope many NPOs get to see it.

  • Alexandra Fulford

    Hello Jessica. This post totally resonates with me as I do the social media for a charity in Romania called Hope for Romanian Strays ( and we depend almost exclusively on Facebook for funding and rehoming (and yes I do not have enough time to work on the twitter side!). Most of our rehomes are outside of Romania so most people (myself included) “meet” and select their adopted pet through photos and then only meet them in real life once they arrive in their new country.
    Right now we are involved in a big online campaign with other charities against the planned slaughter of strays (including the 700 strays from the shelter we work with). Unforunately despite the huge social media uproar so far politicians are ignoring the issue – but we perservere! We will also be using social media when we launch our campaign shortly to try to get as many strays into safe shelter (either private sponsored or outside of Romania) as well as to pay for all the injured strays we are expecting from the pogroms. To be honest without social media 100s – if not 1000s – of dogs from Romania would already be dead so it truly is a life saver.

  • I love this piece, it is good to see your story because there are so many extremely devoted animal rescuers who just haven’t started using social yet. In general, people who rescue animals, in my experience, or work in this area are some of the most dedictaed and selfless people out there. I can’t tell you how much work I have seen done off the social netowrks- then I think about what coudl be done with the help of people who can be reached on social, and its amazing. A couple of years ago, I had a friend who was out every day rescuing kittens. Every day. The devotion level she had was enormous, but she was doing it almost alone and needing help. After a while I was able to convince her to start a blog and helped get her online. As a result she was able to take advantage of opportunities only available to those who are online, like the Aviva Community Fund contest. This is an example of her entry here, although she didnt win, this activity did bring more awareness to her cause and helped make connections in the community to help care for the cats she was so devotedly trying to help.

    There is no doubt that the moment you get online, you have access to finding more people who share your passion and causes, and you link up with more people to support you and join forces in contributing to these causes. For example, like I saw her situation and did what I coudl to help her get online.

    A project does not need to go viral to see significant results and it is just that little push that can help things turn in a more favorable direction.

    Unfortunately after I set everything up and helped for some time, not being internet friendly, she was not able to continue her blogging and decided to focus her energy more on the actual rescue part than on the writing & posting – it was too much to do all at once – another challenge non-profits and smaller groups face when getting online…

    I can’t help but think that if people became more familiar with the possibilities online, and realized the potential to help by getting involved, they woudl dedicate a little more time to exploring or committing to onlien activity. The help they are able to provide, as well as the fact that the aweareness they are able to generate multiplies and the effects are much greater.

    All small and local non-profits face these challenges, thank you for writing this post and sharing ways online activity can help and change things.

    I for one, see rescue animals and opportunities on my timeline in Facebook all the time, I know its working, and I know these movements are growing!

    Lets keep reaching out and encouraging and helping others to get involved. And for those of you who are in Canada, with an online presence and the drive to make a difference, look for opportunities like the Aviva Community Fund or others – corporations are starting to realize the value in making their donations through social contests or other online activity- take advantage of this! Being online allows for alliances that help you expand your reach – don’t give up and keep working at it: it is worth it!

  • drjrogers

    You should send my Abbys page! I will share! I was so thrilled to hear the Bassets (in my post) were found by their owner! Amazing reunion for sure. Thank you so much for your kind words!

  • drjrogers

    Alexandra that is so wonderful that you all are doing what you do! Its such a huge undertaking but the rewards are amazing. Please connect with me via social and I will share what I can! Educating folks about this issue is paramount.

  • drjrogers

    Thanks Geoff!

  • kgoodling

    Hi Jessica! Here’s Abby’s page: The Abby’s Angels team actually just started collecting survey responses (last I saw about 200 people replied) to see how the Facebook community can help out. Thank you so much for sharing!! 🙂

  • drjrogers

    I will have my Marketing research students have a look as well, we are discussion survey’s etc this month. 🙂 Great example to show that does not fit the “norm” for marketing research…

  • drjrogers
  • drjrogers

    Mila thank you for your kind words…. there is so much potential for
    rescue groups and shelters as well as owners of lost pets via social. I
    know every little bit helps, keep sharing those posts in your FB

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  • Sylvia Fronczak

    This is a great article! I recently took over the Twitter account of the shelter I volunteer for (Shelter to Home) and the most difficult thing seems to be getting followers. The majority of our followers are other rescues. That’s great, but I need help getting followers that are real people. Any tips for me?

  • thesocialobsrvr

    Sylvia I am encountering the same thing on Twitter. I feel if I can get the major (breed specific) rescue group members to follow that could be a great start! ^@drjrogers

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