The Humane Society & Social Media: A Non-Profit Social Success Story

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...April 26, 2011

This article is part of a series titled “Social Success Stories” in which we explore social media successes by platforms and organizations

The Humane Society of the United States is one of the largest and most successful non-profit organizations operating in the social space with over 700,000 Facebook fans and 55,000 Twitter followers to date. As the nation’s largest animal rights and welfare organization, the information it disseminates and campaigns it runs reach a large contingency of advocates.

“Social Media is an integral part of our overall online communications strategy, working in conjunction with our online advertising, website, email programs,” says Carie Lewis, Director of Emerging Media & Online Communications with HSUS. Asking for help is no small task but the organization has learned how to tell a story, build relationships and cross-pollinate to serve its core mission. We’ll examine how the Humane Society uses these key elements for success and how other non-profits can implement similar strategies.

Tell a Story:

Veteran social media strategist J.D. Lasica recently shared the importance for non-profits to engage via storytelling before trying to fundraise or ask for a handout. The Humane Society’s success is a perfect example of this strategy, taking social media one step at a time beginning with the very first interaction. By focusing on a single, compelling issue, the Humane Society can inform and appeal to a wide group of people- the first step towards conversion.

Using compelling photographs, video and other forms of media, the Humane Society draws attention to its causes and appeals to people with digestible stories that can be readily absorbed on a lunch break or while scrolling through the Facebook newsfeed at night. It also asks for users’ own stories and pictures that relate to the causes it advocates.

Build Lasting Relationships:

The Humane Society doesn’t take for granted the power of the smallest communication over the long haul. Every social media user has the potential to be the next volunteer, activist or donor for HSUS and their policy is to listen and respond accordingly.

“We spend a considerable amount of time building relationships with our fans, answering their questions and asking their opinions,” Lewis tells me via email correspondence. This open communication is crucial to any organization looking to broaden its reach and better understand its clients. What’s more, it turns out to be remarkably cost effective despite the initial time it takes. As fans and advocates grow, results likewise increase exponentially.

“After we’ve built those relationships, they feel more empowered to create Causes, take action on our issues, participate in campaigns, and even donate,” says Lewis.

Call to Action & Cross-Pollination:

The call to action is the ultimate ticket to success. Once a goal has been identified, social media enables organizations to direct people to do something and measure the subsequent success- two powerful attributes that were virtually missing before social networks.

The Humane Society serves many roles within the context of animal welfare and accordingly its campaign goals vary and include petition signatures, boycotting products, donating and volunteering. Leveraging social networks alongside its website, HSUS can target specific audiences to achieve unique campaign goals.  

The organization’s social feeds serve up unique, daily information on its latest campaigns in addition to updates on previous goals. HSUS ensures its campaigns align across these networks with a tailored approach and call to actions on every network. While its Facebook page enables rich multimedia and communications, the Twitter feed offers easily absorbed and relevant information and links. HSUS interweaves these networks via cross-pollination, giving users the ability to obtain and share information across a range of networks. 

“The key, we’ve found, is to keep people on Facebook,” says Lewis, rejecting the old idea that keeping people on your website is paramount to all else. By replicating their ask campaigns on Facebook rather than sending them directly to the website, the Humane Society continues to engage and interact people in ways that can only be done on social media.

The ‘Do List’ for non-profits in the social space: create unique, fascinating content that’s easily digestible. Follow up by listening, not asking, and building relationships with your advocates. Cross-pollinate when creating your call-to-action campaign for measurable, widespread results. Above all, learn what social media has done for other organizations and how you can leverage it for your organization’s mission.

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