I stumbled across the Sacramento SPCA's Facebook page after seeing several shared posts by Facebook friends. They caught my eye for a several reasons:
- The posts are well crafted with a specific story to tell. They always include adorable (or moving) photos and a simple and clear call to action when applicable.
- The posts and videos not only get a lot of likes (20k+ in most cases and 100k+ on the most popular), but their followers share and comment in the hundreds – often thousands!
- A steep rise in engagement starting around April of 2015.
- Since the Sacramento SPCA is a non-profit, I assumed much of the response was organic versus paid. If so, the organic reach was amazing when compared to current averages.
I wanted to know who was in charge of their social media, and what type of strategy they had created. It turns out that just two individuals –Communications Director, Lesley Kirrene and Foster Care Coordinator, Sarah Varanini – are responsible for all the of the Sacramento SPCA's social media (Lesley wanted to make sure that Sarah received the lion's share of credit for all social media content).
What I realized right away was that the bump in engagement corresponded to Sarah taking over social media, and that she has intuitively discovered what works on social with no formal training in social media, marketing or communications.
Increase in Facebook Followers from April to October, 2015 = 10,000+
Sarah has worked at the Sacramento SPCA for ten years, eight of them as the foster care coordinator. Her position puts her in a perfect positioned to witness everything going on at the shelter. She sees the animals that come into the facility, knows which animals are in foster care, who is up for adoption, who needs extra medical attention, etc. Lesley knew this was the perfect type of person to put in charge of their social media. Previous individuals possessed the knowledge, but not the love of animals or the level of engagement with the shelter that Sarah has.
Lesle ~ A perfect storm happened when Sarah took over. She has grown up in the shelter, knows what we do, and what we're about like the back of her hand. Plus [she has] the creative side and the interest in social media.
With her position, she is up at the front of the shelter, she knows the foster [side], she sees all the special cases. I wouldn't know if those animals came in unless someone came and told me... she's right there. It's perfect.
Sarah also manages the Sacramento SPCA Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest accounts. Admittedly Facebook is her favorite, but she is expanding the shelter's presence on all the platforms. We focused on Facebook for the interview.
Lesley and Sarah meet once a week to discuss the "must haves" such as upcoming events, shelter needs, etc., otherwise Sarah is free to post as she sees fit.
Sarah dedicates anywhere between 20-30 hours a week to social – some of it after hours during her free time (she also fosters at home). She uses the tools at her disposal including her phone and iMovie.
They currently do not have a budget for boosting posts or tweets, all engagement is organic. They have experimented with some paid advertising with mixed results. Sarah doesn't currently utilize management tools such as Hootsuite or SproutSocial; however, if engagement in the different platforms continues to grow, she may look into it.
The Goal for social
Sarah and Lesley want to use social to get Sacramento SPCA's brand out there. Currently there is confusion between the different area shelters, where they are located and the type of services they provide.
Sarah ~ What I'm trying to do is carve us out a little niche explaining this is us, this is what we do, these are the services we offer, this is how we're different.
Since fostering and veterinary care are two services that set the Sacramento SPCA apart from other local shelters, she posts as many of these cases as possible highlighting the success stories.
Sarah and Lesley admit they can't predict which posts will be popular, or which will be shared. The DoDo recently picked up a post about Pinky, a little dog that was left at the shelter's door overnight because of a flea problem. They aren't sure why this particular story drew the attention of The Dodo, but Caitlin Jill Anders contacted Sarah to do an interview and wrote a nice piece on Pinky and the circumstances surrounding her situation.
Physical donations given after social media posts have have been a pleasant surprise!
One of the most surprising things Sarah and Lesley have discovered is that social is not a good place to solicit cash donations; however, it is a GREAT place to ask for physical donations such as food, toys and other supplies.
The post below let followers know that the shelter was receiving an influx of kittens daily and had run out of kitten food. This one simple post resulted in hundreds of cans being donated to the shelter. In fact, UPS was delivering packages for a week after this post.
The number of people sending personal messages or posting personal stories to the Sacramento SPCA's timeline has tripled in recent months.
Successful adoptions stories are a big part of the Sacramento SPCA's story. As the shelter's social media presence grows, so does the amount of unsolicited stories Sarah receives via Facebook. Fan generated content is another sign of a healthy social media campaign, as is the fact that Sarah rarely needs to delete or hide negative posts.
Sarah ~ I try not to delete them... because I feel like if you delete them it just insights more [negative comments]. A lot of times I'll try to hold off and then people will jump in for us, which is nice.
Lesley ~ Which happens a lot.
So, why IS the Sacramento SPCA's social so successful? Here are key things they are doing right:
- The person in charge (Sarah) of the social media content is actively involved in the shelter, is passionate, knows which stories will interest people and can make timely posts. Passing your social media off to someone who is familiar with the platforms, but NOT your organization, is a huge mistake.
- The Sacramento SPCA knows their audience and they respond and engage with them every day. All questions are answered, additional information provided and they thank their followers when appropriate. Social media is just that, social. You need to interact with your followers to create a strong community.
- They don't "advertise" on their pages. They rarely ask for donations, and when they do, it's for physical items they desperately need. They simply tell their story and followers get a real idea what is going on at the shelter in real-time.
- Their pages are always active but they don't inundate their follower's with superfluous posts.
- The communications and marketing departments at the Sacramento SPCA see the value of social and have given Sarah the opportunity and time to do it right!
- Most importantly, they focus on good storytelling. It doesn't take fancy tools or programs to tell a good story, it just takes passion for the subject matter.
I want to give special thanks to Lesley and Sarah for taking time out of their very busy schedules to talk with me. Their dedication to animal care is truly inspiring.
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