All About Social Media For Your Animal Sanctuary

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Updated August 18, 2020

Don’t Discount The Power Of A Good Post

Social media might feel like an unnecessary luxury in the face of everything else a responsible animal sanctuary needs to accomplish in the course of their day. However, effectively leveraging and implementing social media strategies into your organization’s operations can lead to significant benefits for both your sanctuary and the residents in your care! Unless your animal sanctuary operates completely outside of the public spotlight, we hope that the following social media best practices will help lead to more clarified campaign goals, more consistent post engagement, a wider audience, and hopefully, greater public support for your organization.

Examples Of Goals For Social Media Posts

Whenever you decide to make a post on a social media platform, you should think about what the overall purpose (or purposes) of the post are before hitting submit; nothing should ever be posted on social media just for the sake of posting! Examples of common social media goals for animal sanctuaries may include:

Acquiring Supporters

Possibly the primary reason to cultivate a social media presence for your organization is to increase your audience, which will hopefully translate into a wider base of supporters as a result. Since animal sanctuaries should be non-profit organizations, your sanctuary likely relies upon new and existing supporters to help fund, volunteer, and amplify your mission to others. While not every post should explicitly be about raising money, most sanctuary social media posts are likely naturally geared in some way towards increasing interest and awareness of your organization and the life-changing work you do for your residents and others like them.

Fundraising

Social media can be a highly effective platform for fundraising, as long as it’s done skillfully and in an engaging manner. Sanctuaries often fundraise on social media, both for the general support of their residents and programs, as well as to help raise money for specific causes, such as supply purchases, emergency veterinary care, and to help acquire new tools and land. Whenever engaging in fundraising activities, it’s important to follow fundraising best practices, and try not to make every post about raising money, as the repetition can make audiences feel less engaged with your posts.

Promoting Volunteer Opportunities

Social media can be a great place to engage supporters and curious audience members to come volunteer for your organization, especially for specific events or tasks. Many sanctuaries have grown their reliable volunteer ranks through promotion on social media platforms. Just be sure that if you’re courting new volunteers, that you have volunteer leadership who can help guide new volunteers through your sanctuary’s expectations, safety considerations, and help instruct how to actually accomplish the tasks asked of them, in addition to providing gratitude and updates so that volunteers feel empowered and helpful! First time volunteers sometimes don’t return if they feel like their time was wasted or not valuable to the organization.

To Help Find New Staff Hires

For sanctuaries looking to hire new staff, they can use social media as a place to advertise new job role availabilities directly to those already invested in the sanctuary’s mission and have an understanding of the work due to following them via social media. This is a great first step when considering hires for certain roles- a number of sanctuaries have hired excellent staff members who were active in their social media communities. For more information on staff hiring tips for your sanctuary, check out our resource here!

Highlighting Other Calls To Action

Beyond requesting financial or volunteer support, sanctuaries can utilize social media platforms for other calls to action that may not fall under these categories. Perhaps your sanctuary wishes to help make a change in your community, or have your audience support a petition, or more seriously, perhaps you need help to carry out a contingency plan in the face of a pending emergency and need specific help. Social media can be a valuable tool in these instances, as long as the need is communicated effectively, and you are not posing every sanctuary need as a dire emergency, which can result in audience fatigue and reduced responses in cases of true need.

Providing Updates About Your Organization And Residents

Social media is most often leveraged by sanctuaries to keep supporters up-to-date about everything happening at their organization. Most sanctuaries use social media to announce new residents, update supporters on residents recovering from health challenges, recap how events went, and other sanctuary news.

There are numerous examples of individual sanctuary ambassador residents across the world becoming quite famous on social media, as audiences connect with their stories and learn what makes them special! Some sanctuaries create separate social media accounts for such residents if they become popular enough, which can serve as a gateway to get more supporters for their cause compared to an organization’s account alone, and can help promote sponsorship opportunities for more residents.

Promoting Events

If your sanctuary regularly hosts events, either in-person or digital, social media can be a great place to announce them, create a place to RSVP for them if space is limited, and update event-goers about what they need to know (including any barriers to access present) and whether any elements of the event change. Using social media to manage event discussions is also a great way to get a sense of how many folks to expect, which can be highly valuable when trying to decide how many supplies and volunteers may be necessary to create a good time for everyone!

Promoting And Highlighting Adoptions

If your sanctuary runs a responsible resident adoption program, social media can be a good place to highlight residents who are looking for a suitable forever home! In addition, social media can be utilized to provide audiences an update on how well adopted residents are doing in their new homes, which could encourage additional adoptions in the future.

Demonstrating Gratitude

Your organization more than likely relies upon the generosity, determination, and compassion of your supporters, volunteers, staff, and others trying to make the world a little brighter for animals. Social media can be a great place to show your gratitude to the world, give shout outs, and show that you appreciate all of the support your organization gets! Everyone likes to feel appreciated once in a while!

Educating Your Audience

Sanctuaries often utilize their social media posts as a way to educate their audience about issues facing their residents, those like them, or intersecting concerns in the world that resonate with their mission. This might be in the form of “did you know” posts, infographics, stories, videos, and more! One important note: If your sanctuary is posting educational content, please do some digging and verify its accuracy prior to sharing! Posting a false or exaggerated claim can do more harm than good!

To Uplift Others

It’s not a stretch to suggest that sanctuary work is often unforgiving, difficult, thankless, or some combination of the above. But often, those who help animals at sanctuaries get to bear witness to truly special moments, updates, and seemingly miraculous good news. Social media can be a lovely place to show the world the good that can come out of your organization, and the moments that aren’t often seen by the public. It is important, though, to always present information honestly, and balance out good news with the challenging realities at sanctuaries in a responsible manner.

Picking Your Platforms

There are many different social media platforms currently available in the world, with varying features, limitations, community guidelines, and audience sizes.

While these are always changing in popularity and relevance (remember Myspace? Friendster?), here’s a breakdown of some of the key players in the social media sphere currently:

Algorithms, Explained Briefly
Throughout this resource, we mention “algorithms” often in reference to social media platforms. In basic terms, an algorithm is what a site uses in order to decide how many audience members (even those who are already subscribed to see your content) actually get to see your content, and how prominently it’s featured to them (for instance, is it right when they open the social media application, or is it somewhere at the bottom of their social media feed?). How each social media platform calculates your page’s ranking is largely opaque, and allegedly changing all the time. If you want to learn about a specific platform’s current suspected algorithms and how to be more prominently featured, you can do some research online- just make sure that the source you’re looking at is as recent as possible!

Facebook

Love it or hate it, Facebook is currently the most populated social media platform in the world. More likely than not, you and most or all of your followers already have personal accounts! It’s easy to set up an official page for your animal sanctuary if you haven’t already, and Facebook generally does a good job of explaining how to best set up your page and content to attract more audience and followers. Facebook allows for text posts, captioned photos, albums, videos, question and answers, private messaging, post scheduling, audience polls, event reservations, and having multiple individuals easily collaborate on managing the page. Facebook also offers ways to start and promote fundraisers through Network For Good, which many sanctuaries utilize.

There are, however, some challenges with the platform, including their algorithms which frequently update that are nearly impossible to reliably decipher, a pretty substantial delay on actually getting the money from fundraisers, and they make it very difficult to know who individually donates to fundraising campaigns, making donor stewardship quite difficult on the platform.

(You can find The Open Sanctuary Project’s official Facebook page here!)

Instagram

Although also owned by Facebook, and although many of its features seem to be bleeding into Facebook (including through the direct linking between Facebook and Instagram accounts), Instagram is a discrete platform with its own massive user base separate from Facebook and its own style and content expectations. Similar to Facebook, Instagram allows for the posting of captioned photos, photo albums, and limited videos. Engagement comes through visitors “liking” posts, leaving comments which can be engaged with, sharing your content, and directly messaging you in private. Instagram relies heavily on hashtags, which are basically keywords that you can choose that define the content you’re posting or the ideas shared within it. Generally it’s frowned upon to use excessive tags, or tags that don’t represent the content.

Also of note on Instagram is its “stories” feature, which allows you to share updates that are only visible for 24 hours, which can be used to direct users to a permanent post, to share other users’ posts, run polls and quizzes, and more. You can now also fundraise using the stories feature.

As of writing, video on the platform is limited to either 1 minute, or longer if using the “IGTV” feature, and captions must be physically embedded into the video rather than being optionally toggled.

Instagram allows nonprofit organizations to declare themselves as such. Many sanctuaries have Instagram accounts, and use them for everything from new resident announcements to volunteer opportunities and events.

Another primary limitation of Instagram is that you are only allowed to have one external link to the internet on your entire profile, in the “bio” page of the app. You can circumvent this with web services like linktr.ee, though that will still require careful curation to ensure that audiences can always visit the links you expect them to.

Instagram is very much a visual platform, so those interested in using it should think of ways of optimizing their photo and video taking and sharing!

(You can find The Open Sanctuary Project’s official Instagram page here!)

Twitter

As a top social media platform, Twitter might have the most unique culture and post etiquette out of them all. If a sanctuary wishes to engage with followers or other twitter users, we would highly recommend that somebody with experience on the platform manages the organization’s account, as there are many conventions to know about for appropriate user engagement. Simply cross-posting a Facebook post into a tweet will not likely garner satisfactory user engagement, as the two platforms have different content expectations. We don’t believe it should necessarily be a sanctuary’s priority to have an active Twitter account unless it’s part of a specific social media strategy. 

YouTube

YouTube isn’t often thought of as a social media platform, but if you’re willing to put in the time (and frequently produce video content), YouTube can be a great place to grow an audience for your sanctuary. This will likely take the form of engaging in comments and with other accounts on YouTube. Due to YouTube’s public presence, you may have to engage in a fair bit more content moderation from commenters, but if you can create compelling content that finds its way into YouTube’s recommended content algorithms, you might find yourself with a substantial audience that you can convert into supporters. Just know that the likelihood of “going viral” is extremely low, given the unfathomable amount of content published to the platform every hour!

TikTok

If you haven’t been following the zeitgeist of internet culture in the past few years, TikTok might not be on your radar, but this platform for sharing very short videos (typically to music) is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world at the moment. Sanctuaries have successfully leveraged this platform to highlight residents, events, and stories to thousands of viewers. Whether your organization can leverage these views into genuine support is a more complicated matter, but it can be an exciting way to keep your sanctuary relevant in the digital age and increase visibility and awareness!

A short and cute TikTok post from Full Circle Farm Sanctuary

Pinterest

Although not quite as dynamic as some of the other platforms, Pinterest can be a viable (if not slightly lower maintenance) platform for your sanctuary to participate in, in addition to the other platforms. Sanctuaries can leverage Pinterest by sharing things like resident photos and stories, as well as information about their organization and educational materials. You never know where you might find your next major supporter, and Pinterest is a fairly simple place to expand your sanctuary’s reach, if you have the bandwidth!

Linkedin

While Linkedin might not require as active of a presence as other social media platforms, for organizations who wish to maintain a professional presence in the job landscape as they grow out their positions with more specialized roles, Linkedin can be a valuable resource. It can be a great place to list job opportunities as they arise and engage with professionals looking to move into the world of compassionate animal care or other sanctuary-focused nonprofit roles.

Yelp/ Tripadvisor/ Google Reviews

You may be wondering, “Are these websites really social media platforms?” In many important ways, they are! Many folks utilize these types of web platforms as a way to find activities that will resonate with them, in addition to leaving reviews for others. All of these platforms grant organizations like sanctuaries the opportunity to respond to reviews, both good and bad, in addition to clarifying questions that audience members may have. While you may not be posting heartwarming stories of rescues on a Yelp listing for your organization, it’s important to monitor these types of sites and actively engage with users to ensure that you have a say (or at least say nice things) when being provided any kind of visitor feedback. This can truly have an impact on your organization’s visitors and even volunteers, so don’t let these sites go unmonitored!

Consider A Content Scheduler, But Use It Wisely

Content Scheduling systems (also known as social media management platforms) can be a valuable resource when managing your social media post scheduling across multiple platforms. These allow you to manage all of your social media accounts in one spot, along with a calendar for creating posts in advance to be released across various social media sites. If juggling multiple social media platforms, it can be extremely helpful to have this consolidated set of tools, rather than having to manually visit each site.

The benefits of a content scheduler must be weighed against potential negatives. For example, some organizations use them to post the exact same information across multiple platforms, which some audience members may find boring or unappealing, especially on some of the more niche sites. In addition, strictly scheduling posts and not being present to engage with audience members as they leave comments or questions can also leave some feeling like your organization doesn’t actually have an interest in talking to the public.

If you do decide a content scheduler is right for your organization, you should be prepared to reschedule or update posts if current events or happenings at your sanctuary necessitate different information than what you scheduled. After all, it may come off as not odd (or worse, in poor taste) if a major event takes place in your region and your next post makes no reference to it!

Basic Elements Of Crafting A Sanctuary Social Media Post

When thinking of creating a social media post, especially stories about residents, it can be helpful to first consider the narrative you’d like to tell in terms of basic storytelling structure. This will help ensure that your post will be comprehensive, easily understood, and satisfying for an audience.

When thinking about how to effectively tell a resident’s story, think about this basic “timeline”:

  • What situation was the resident in prior to being at the sanctuary?
  • How does this compare to plights that other individuals from the same species face?
  • How did they find their way to sanctuary?
  • How has their life been since?
  • What do you want the public to know about them?

Just be sure not to stretch the truth of a resident’s story in order to more closely align reality to this structure! It’s always better to be honest than to have a more “polished” story!

When thinking about effectively talking about sanctuary news in general, sometimes it can be helpful to think about covering the “5 W’s”- who, what, where, when, and why. By first summarizing these points before sitting down to write a post, it can help organize your thoughts into a satisfying post that can cover all the relevant details.

If you’re also thinking of writing a press release to get formal media attention about a piece of sanctuary news, we have a more detailed resource just on that subject here!

Treat Residents With The Dignity They Deserve, Even Online

How you talk about your residents, even just in the language you use when referring to them and their activities, can be influential in how your audience perceives them. Try to talk about your residents online with the same dignity you’d grant them on a respectful tour. For instance, as cute as residents may be, try to highlight an aspect of their personality, or some way that their life has resonated with you, rather than simply reducing them to their physical appearance. This isn’t to say that it’s never appropriate to say kind, simple things about residents who you deeply care for, but there’s certainly a balance to be struck!

Represent Residents As Individuals

You know that your residents aren’t a monolith; you likely know each and every one of those in your care, what makes them special, what they prefer, who they spend time with, and so much more. As digital ambassadors for your organization (and in turn, representatives for the global sanctuary movement to some extent), it’s important to always center the idea that your residents are all unique, that they have their own names, wants, needs, and so on. You have the opportunity to help others potentially widen their outlook about animals that they haven’t ever given much consideration to, and demonstrating resident individuality is an important tool to do so! Try to avoid referring to residents frequently as a single block (or a single herd or flock), and try to always include details about the individuals you’re talking about. This can make a major impact on audiences who may not be familiar with this line of thinking, at least as it applies to animals who are not typically considered to be companions for humans.

Look At Posting Frequencies By Species And Individuals
Sometimes without even meaning to, organizations may end up highlighting one or a few species or individual residents much more often than other residents at the sanctuary in their social media. While this makes sense if there’s a particular species or resident that audiences seem to resonate with, it’s important to consider whether your organization’s centering of one resident over others is reinforcing messages about the relative care or importance of other individuals at your organization. It’s never too late to course correct and spotlight a more diverse set of residents to share their stories with the world!

Center Residents When You Can

If creating a social media post that includes both residents and humans (and in the case of more involved narrative posts, such as videos, it’s difficult not to include humans), it’s important to try to center the stories and perspectives of residents over those of humans when possible. A sanctuary’s work should focus on the residents, and how to make a better world for them. Although humans can be effective “translators” to explain their plight to other humans, try to ensure that your content does not frequently put humans at the center of attention. If you are noticing this trend, consider taking a close look at the media you produce and discussing as a staff how you can re-center the stories of residents and reduce the presence of humans (especially humans making frequent “I” statements or who could be interpreted as “saviors” of the residents).

If Including Humans, Show More Faces

Building off the above tip, sometimes it’s inevitable that you’ll include human faces and voices in content for certain types of posts. If this is the case, take a look at the content you’ve produced, and see who gets included as a representative of your sanctuary. Is it always a small number of individuals? Sometimes, one or a few folks end up being “assigned” this role, even if they aren’t particularly interested in it. We recommend getting more humans into your social media posts to help remedy this. You likely have amazing helpers, volunteers, veterinarians, or even staff members who might not always get the spotlight- social media posts are an excellent opportunity to show your audience how lovely and important your community is, and that a sanctuary is typically more than just one or two individuals, especially as it grows.

Social Media Practices To Consider Adopting

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, we have some suggestions for some general principles for animal sanctuary social media engagement!

Above All Else, Practice Principles Of Honesty And Transparency

As we cover more in depth in this resource, honesty and transparency are two extremely important guidelines for sanctuaries to follow in the public sphere. Sanctuaries can very easily lose the goodwill of the public on social media if they are proven to stretch the truth, or leave out important details that are necessary for a full picture!

Determine Your Post Frequency And Stick With It

Regardless of the social media platform, it’s important to think about how often you plan on posting content and engaging with other users and their content. Each social media platform has their own algorithm that prioritizes showing audiences different kinds of content, with different rewards for different levels of posting, and these post frequency algorithms are opaque and frequently changing. Generally, most recommend posting at the very least once a day on each platform, though you can find specific up-to-date guidance for each social media platform online.

Be Active Or Consider Deactivating
When choosing to be active on multiple social media platforms, we would highly recommend implementing a policy of either committing to active posting and engaging with others with each platform, or consider not being a part of platforms that you cannot find time to regularly be an active member of. Often, it’s better to not have an account at all rather than having seldom-updated content spread across many accounts. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as if you wish to secure your organization’s account name on a platform that you wish to later engage with, or if you have specific content that you reserve each platform for. Cross posting content directly between a number of platforms, while convenient, is often not considered an optimal way of using social media compared to crafting each post based on the style and general etiquette of each platform.

Know When Not To Post

While consistent posting is an important element of an organization’s social media strategy, it’s also important to think about when it might not be appropriate to post, or even if you might want to reschedule a post you’ve made in advance. Things like unexpected current events, issues being brought into the public spotlight, and other times when your post might come off as insensitive or uninspired, might be cause to consider refraining from releasing a post (unless it thoughtfully covers the topic your audience is talking about from an authentic place that does not co-opt the words or movements of others).

Prioritize Contextualization

We believe that in most cases, it’s very important to provide context for things like pictures or video clips, especially if what’s going on could at all be misconstrued or misinterpreted. This is doubly true for imagery of events like health treatments for residents, individuals healing from ailments, and so on. As an animal sanctuary, many will be looking to your organization for both inspiration and sometimes guidance on best practices and principles. Therefore, whenever you can provide a little more information in the caption of a post, including what’s going on, where the resident came from, and why your sanctuary is taking the action in the photo (if relevant), you will have a much better chance of not causing any misunderstandings or accidentally contributing to harm of any kind.

Work Towards Excellence In Photos And Videos

Beautiful photos and videos don’t require experts or thousands of dollars’ worth of pricey equipment! With some general principles, and a fair bit of practice, you can take stand-out photos and make spectacular videos to share with audiences! Folks tend to resonate more with higher quality media, and will also be more likely to share it with their own networks. To learn more about the basics of photo and video best practices for your animal sanctuary, check out our resource here!

Mixed Media Posting

Try to switch up your post types regularly to keep up your audience engagement! Utilize a mix of media types, such as photos, albums, videos, text, and even things like event invitations and user engagement like questions, giveaways, and quizzes! This can keep your social media accounts dynamic and interesting to your audience. This isn’t possible with the formats of some platforms, but it’s good to try different approaches where you can!

Think About Moods

Related to mixed media posting, it can be helpful to think about what mood or tone you wish to generally (or always) convey with your posts. There isn’t a hard and fast rule necessarily, but it can be valuable to have a team discussion about what kind of content you’d like to share. Will your organization always keep it upbeat? Update audiences with disappointing or sad news as it comes up? Post only victories for animals? Or will you discuss setbacks as well? Thinking about moods in advance when mapping out posts can have a huge impact on how your organization plans on presenting itself on social media platforms. Just be aware that there will always be audience consequences for different kinds of posts! Some audience members may tire of only seeing happy animals without context (which sounds a little surprising to us, but that’s just us!), whereas others may only be following your page for happy animals, and may subsequently decide to no longer follow your account if you post something more intense. For these reasons, it’s important to think about your overall strategy and what you want to accomplish through social media.

Follow Fundraising Best Practices

On social media or off, it’s always important to follow best practices in fundraising! That means often establishing a specific need for the funds, practicing gratitude to those who give, and providing follow-up later on to show how the funds were used. For more information about fundraising basics, check out our resource here!

Maintain A Consistent Voice

Each organization you follow on social media, whether you notice it explicitly or not, has their own voice that they use when posting and engaging with others on social media. Part of that includes deciding beforehand the tone of discussions, the kind of language used when talking about residents and sanctuary work, and deciding how to engage with more sensitive topics, especially in comments. It can be sometimes odd to have mismatched tones between posts, or come off as a disjointed effort towards social media. This could happen unintentionally if multiple staff members are regularly contributing posts or comments from a single organization’s account without some coordination or a style guide to help guide how to best handle different situations.

Part of maintaining consistency in voice includes trying to maintain authenticity towards your organization’s mission and values at all times. Even though some conversations can be difficult and require more sensitive discussions, audiences can usually tell when an organization is not being true to their stated values.

Use Consistent Logos And Branding

If you’re just getting your organization launched in the digital space, you may not yet have a strong sense of visual branding, but this is an important part of creating a strong, memorable presence online. Things like logos, color schemes, fonts, watermarks, and text elements like slogans or commonly used phrases can all help audiences recognize your organization across platforms, especially over time with consistent messaging. As your organization matures, you might even decide to put together a “style guide”, which is basically just a visual representation that you can give to staff, volunteers, and vendors, to ensure that everyone knows exactly how to make content that matches your expectations.

Engage With Others

Social media has the word “social” in it for a reason! Most folks engaging with organizations on social media hope to have conversations with them to some extent, either publicly or through private messages. Engaging with others can make your social media accounts more visible through their systems’ algorithms, and will generally make more folks want to engage with you in turn. But it doesn’t just have to be individuals! If there are causes and other organizations on social media platforms who closely align with your organization’s values, it can be valuable to engage with them, and be proactive about it. This could mean sharing posts that resonate with you (with their permission, if appropriate), or even just commenting on their posts with words of encouragement. As long as your organization is clearly being sincere and sticking to your values, this kind of engagement can be highly valuable for raising awareness of both your organization and those you’d like to uplift or bring attention to.

Practice Gratitude More Often Than Not

This might seem like a point that we make often, but that’s because it’s so important! Gratitude is critical for animal sanctuaries and rescues, as often they are only possible through the generous contributions of others. Gratitude for things big and small, from modest donations to a successful event, can show that your organization truly appreciates every contribution that the public is willing to make, and can also inspire others to contribute upon seeing your appreciation! Of course, if an individual gives to your organization and makes it abundantly clear that they don’t wish to be acknowledged in a public way, you should absolutely honor that as well.

Social Media Practices To Consider Avoiding

While the landscape of social media considerations is broad, and we cannot possibly cover everything that sanctuaries should make a habit of doing on platforms that constantly change with opaque algorithms, we do have a list of things that all sanctuaries should probably make a habit of not doing, for a variety of reasons!

Try Not To Oversaturate Your Social Media Accounts

It is true that there’s a sweet spot in many social media platforms of content posting and user engagement on a daily basis. However, consider putting a limit on both the number of posts that you schedule each day, as well as not posting the same type of content frequently in succession, unless it pertains to a current event happening at your organization that folks want to know about particularly. Although the social media platforms may appreciate how much you’re posting, members of your audience will likely quickly tire of seeing an excess of content from your organization, and your hopes of increased engagement through lots of posting may instead translate into losing audience members due to disinterest or a feeling of being bombarded with your content.

Try Not To Make Promises You Can’t Keep

This should go without saying for all of your organization’s communications, both internally and towards the public, but it’s important that you never make any suggestions of commitments that you either don’t intend to follow through with or are unlikely to be possible. This could be in response to things like individual visitation requests that you cannot honor, or more serious issues such as responding to requests to rescue animals that you do not have the resources to take in. Being caught in an unhonored promise on social media can seriously impact your organization’s reputation, and therefore, support from the public.

Try Not To Pretend You’re An Expert If You Aren’t Sure

The daily compassionate care of animals (especially farmed animals) is a challenging job that requires substantial knowledge in a variety of fields that have few experts in them. Although it can be tempting to answer questions about things from audience members (either about animal care, or animal agriculture industry practices that you may wish to highlight), unless you are absolutely sure of something, it’s better to not position yourself as an expert, or at least provide enough of a caveat in your response or post to make it clear that you aren’t (even writing “this is only based on my personal experiences at the sanctuary, and might not apply to the individual you’re asking about” is better than not providing this context).

There are unfortunately many individuals online looking to catch folks promoting inaccurate information online, even if you had the very best of intentions, and doing so can cause social media audiences to have more caution or distrust towards future communications, regardless of their accuracy. This also goes for exaggerating information on social media- if you get caught making claims that are inaccurate, it can cause significant harm!

Don’t Promote Harmful Practices Towards Animals (Or Dangerous Practices To Humans)

Regardless of what species you care for at your animal sanctuary, it’s important not to promote or positively display directly or indirectly harmful practices towards animals in your social media feed. There’s a very good chance that you’ll lose supporters who feel like your values do not align with your mission, regardless of your intentions. If you wish to use your social media platform to highlight imagery or content illustrating the current plight of animals outside of your sanctuary, we would highly recommend contextualizing the content with some sort of warning to illustrate that it is not a practice you condone.

In addition, try not to share any imagery of something that could cause harm to humans, such as a less-than-safe healthcare practice or interacting with a resident in a way that is truly only safe given the individual human and resident. Posting these things without abundant context (and even sometimes with that context) can lead to irresponsible behavior by those who see the action and believe it’s safe.

Try Not To Engage With Significant Negativity In Comments

If dealing with substantial negativity (or folks attempting to provoke you into defensive or attacking comments for their own amusement), we would recommend that organizations not get into the habit of getting combative with individuals or their posts on social media. While there’s always space to state the facts and provide your own firm perspective on matters, there are direct, and more effective, professional ways to do so, as opposed to aggressive approaches that may come off as less professional to audiences. Plus, if folks learn that your organization often quickly turns to heated discussions, it might embolden additional negativity, which may lead to a loss of audience members or supporters who expect more professionalism.

Try Not To Start Conflicts With Other Sanctuaries On Social Media

Although there can be challenges inherent with multiple animal sanctuaries serving a similar region coming into philosophical disagreements, we believe that it is typically a net benefit to all organizations in an area to maintain a cordial relationship if at all possible. Therefore, we would highly recommend that sanctuaries not engage in conflict with other organizations or their representatives via social media. This can sometimes happen if another organization makes a post or claim that your organization may wish to provide your own perspective on; in events like these, even if another organization uses their social media platform to say concerning things, we still believe that not engaging (or replying in a way that maintains a spirit of cordiality rather than hostility) is preferable, if at all possible. If nothing else, it typically is quite clear which organization is acting more professionally online to outside observers.

Try Not To Co-Opt The Content (Or Movements) Of Others

This is a basic social media practice, but it’s very important that your organization not co-opt the work or the words of others, nor co-opting other movements for your own aims. If someone else has taken a picture (even of your own residents), it’s important to ask for permission to share the content and provide appropriate credit (and compensation, if it makes sense to do so). If someone has written extensively on a subject and you would like to share it with your supporters, this is just as important to provide credit for! Nobody likes to feel like an organization took credit for their hard work!

And finally, this may be more abstract, but it’s important not to co-opt other movements or their words and iconography to promote your own work unless they directly pertain to what your organization stands for. Social media audiences will be quick to point out that this is not an appropriate thing to do for a variety of reasons, including the optics of taking attention or resources away from different movements in a self-promotional way. If you wish to highlight the work of other movements, it’s better to work with those already engaged with that work, and not use it as a way of trying to get support for what you’re doing directly if it doesn’t quite apply to your mission.

Try Not To Guilt Your Audience Into Supporting You

While it can sometimes be frustrating or upsetting to have a fundraising event or request for help go less answered than you may have hoped, generally it’s better to keep your platform filled with gratitude and positivity whenever possible and appropriate. As important and selfless as your work may be, being a nonprofit organization does not mean that the public is required to give you their resources- and focusing on organizational disappointments or a lack of support is more likely to lead to a smaller audience over time.

Try Not To Go Too Far Off-Topic

When thinking of engaging content to post, it’s important to stick to information that pertains to your organization, or causes that align closely with your organization’s values. Try to keep personal information on personal accounts, rather than posting things that might be considered unrelated or off-topic, which could result in decreased audience interest.

We hope that this resource got you thinking a bit more about social media best practices for your sanctuary! If you have any additional questions, please get in touch! We’d love to update this resource as we get social media questions from sanctuaries and rescues.

Updated on August 18, 2020

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