Is your shelter or rescue group’s “urgent pets” page on Facebook doing more harm than good?
That’s what Don Jennings wondered when he took over as Executive Director of San Antonio Pets Alive! (SAPA!), and saw the chaotic, often disruptive nature of the comments on the organization’s “SAPA Urgents and Adoptables” page.
“SAPA! was formed specifically to work with San Antonio Animal Care Services,” Jennings said. “We were brought in to meet the needs of a specific subset of uniquely vulnerable pets, and make them happy, healthy and adoptable, with the very old, very young and very sick as our first targets. That’s our contribution to making San Antonio no kill.”
SAPA! has taken in a little over 25,000 animals since 2012, focusing on pets who were on the municipal shelter’s euthanasia list for the next day and who had not been pulled by another organization. They take in as many as they can, but can’t take every pet every day. For those animals, they aggressively market them through their Urgents and Adoptables Facebook page.
“Some days we save them all, some days we don’t,” Jennings said. But every day, all those pets are marketed on that page, in the hope they’ll be adopted or pulled into another rescue group.
“The page had been rolling along on its own, and every single day it was filled with animals who were urgent, out of options, on a deadline,” he said. “This page was all they had left. Was it helping them? Who was seeing the posts? Was this the best we could do? We didn’t know.”
So he set out to find out.
“Cross-posters and other activist minded folks find their way to this page, and as you can guess, the drama is significant,” he said. “I saw it was not representing the best of either us or our supporters. It was an uncontrolled, unmanaged, giant mess. So after I watched it for a while, I tried an experiment.”
Jennings wrote a use and commenting policy, and posted it to the page. He posted frequent reminders about it. And then he started going in and holding everyone to the expectations of that policy.
“What this meant initially was a whole lot of banning,” he said. “I gave people opportunities, I gave them a link to the policy, and I reminded them to stay positive. I said this page has a purpose, each animal has a thread, and shaming and despair don’t belong here. We’re only here to try to find a home for that animal that day.”
Jennings did that for a month, then went back to measure the impact of the changes. “The things that were most important to me were how many people saw each post, and how many shares each one got, because those are the things that make the difference for the animals. Pledges, links, likes — none of those things help.”
So what happened? After 30 days:
- Post reach increased by 57 percent
- Shares increased by 49 percent
- Total reach for the page increased by 30 percent
Not only that, but despite a lot of initial banning, total likes to the page increased by 32 percent during that month. “I think it’s because the overall tenor of the pages began to completely change,” Jennings said. “People began to understand this is heartbreaking work and every lost life is a tragedy, but the purpose of this page is to find homes for specific animals, not a place for hysterical rants.”
Jennings is committed to the change over the long haul. “I believe that a difference is being made by the folks who engage for animals on Facebook,” he said. “What I know from watching this process is that a lot of the effort is wasted. We have to find things to do besides get pulled into a slipstream of emotions. We have to focus on saving that animal, that day, and forget the drama.”