Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.
We all know social is a powerful platform for great storytelling, but the real secret sauce is when that great storytelling is paired with the immediate connection social offers. This is especially true for nonprofits like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA, which uses social to drive awareness of its causes, exposure for animals in need and fiscal support to operate its programs. Because it relies on donations from the public to fund much of its work, the ASPCA expends great effort to connect with animal lovers through the stories of the animals it helps (and the humans who love them). Social allows the organization to tie those stories directly to actions of support: donations, adoptions, lobbying and awareness.
Founded in 1866, the ASPCA is the oldest humane society in the United States and supports the mission that “animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans and must be protected under the law.” As one of the largest animal rights organizations in the world, the ASPCA uses its platform to support the work of shelters and animal rights organizations everywhere and social media has become one of its key channels for doing so. According to a report the ASPCA released in 2018, 86% of animal shelters and rescue groups surveyed say social has increased general awareness, while 66% say it has increased adoptions overall and 55% say it has made it easier to place hard-to-adopt animals like seniors and disabled pets.
But identifying exactly why those numbers are so impressive, and how it relates to other nonprofits and their efforts, is where this Spotlight gets really interesting. Like many organizations dedicated to making the world a better place, the ASPCA has emotional stories to tell. But how it organizes those stories across social, executes against specific objectives for each type of story and grows and expands its relationships with different audiences is what makes the ASPCA’s social strategy especially strong.
For instance, adoptable pet stories are most relevant to those with the ability and means to adopt in this moment, but shelter success stories will appeal to just about any animal lover, and animal care tips will be relevant to all animal owners, regardless of how they came to own their pets. Creating multiple “ways in” emotionally expands the relevance of the ASPCA’s messages, which opens up new audiences and potential sources of support for the organization’s mission.
- Goals: The ASPCA’s goals for social are as multifaceted as its objectives as an organization. The most foundational is awareness for the plight of homeless and abused animals in America, which drives a significant percentage of the content across all social platforms. Video is the primary format for this type of storytelling, and the ASPCA does a great job of profiling how its efforts bring people and animals in need together. Video also enables the social team to use highly emotional levers like music, narration and graphics to create moods for the content, ranging from solemn to urgent, to celebratory.
- Engagement is another visible goal for the ASPCA’s social efforts, specifically driving donations. The organization takes full advantage of the social platform functionality that makes giving relatively simple, including Facebook fundraisers (which it also encourages individual followers to set up) and Instagram’s recently added Donation sticker, which allows users to add a direct donation option to their personal Stories. What I appreciate about the ASPCA’s donation calls to action is that they are interspersed with storytelling, so there is plenty to keep audiences engaged with the organization’s mission until they are ready to make a donation or adopt an animal. Finally, the ASPCA seeks to educate its audiences about a number of topics related to animal welfare. One of my favorites is Paws-On Projects, a Facebook video series about how to make homemade pet treats, because it’s relevant to any pet owner and provides viewers with low-lift inspiration to be more involved in the lives of the animals they love. The ASPCA also offers live Q&A opportunities on social for those interested in fostering or adopting a pet but looking for information on the process.
- Offline connection: Driving donations is the key offline connection social provides for the ASPCA, and as mentioned above, the org is taking full advantage of onboard donation tools on the various social platforms. My favorite move is that rather than limit the calls to donate to its own channels, the ASPCA makes it frictionless for individual supporters to solicit donations from their own family, friends and followers by creatively promoting the use of Facebook’s Fundraiser feature and Instagram’s Donation stickers. This not only helps widen the net of potential donors but also helps the ASPCA avoid “ask fatigue” by over-saturating its own audiences with requests.
- Key channels:
- Instagram – I love how organized and easy to navigate the ASPCA’s Instagram profile is. Story Highlights are categorized by animal type (i.e. Puppies, Horses, Farm) and engagement (Donate, Take Action, Q&A). It’s easy to find exactly the information you’re looking for in an approachable, actionable way.
- YouTube – The ASPCA’s YouTube page is a repository of great video storytelling, including adoption stories, profiles of donors and supporters, and documentary-style content about how the ASPCA staff cares for animals in recovery. The content is rich in educational information and emotional resonance, and gives a wide-range view into all that the organization does to support the whole lives of animals.
- Facebook – Despite Facebook still being the world’s largest social platform, it feels rare today for brands to be creating content explicitly for that channel. But Facebook is still where users share the emotional stories that resonate with them, so it’s a must for nonprofits. The ASPCA does a nice job of playing to the strengths of Facebook, particularly sharing and driving donations through the Fundraiser feature.
No one would say that nonprofit marketing is easy, but social has certainly made it easier to spread awareness and galvanize support for worthy causes. One advantage nonprofits will always have is the altruistic nature of their promotional content – the goal is to help others, not to generate profit for a private company. It’s the responsibility of the organization to capitalize on this advantage and create content that connects emotionally and drives action.
- Don’t leave us hanging! If you share a call to action for help with a specific situation, invest time and resources in creating follow-up content that shows your audience the impact their support had. Everyone loves a good success story, especially if they had a hand in the happy ending.
- Be a community resource. Make your expert staffers available to all subsets of your audience, from those ready to open their wallets to those just trying to satisfy a curiosity or learn something new about your cause. Every piece of content is an opportunity to create a stronger bond, no matter where someone is in their journey with you.
- Get organized on social. More and more people want to learn about causes on social media rather than your website, so make that as easy as possible for them by keeping your content organized. While the ASPCA has Instagram nailed, I’d love to see them create a more easily navigated experience for all the great content they’re publishing on YouTube. A couple of playlists can go a long way.
- Activate your audience! Most social platforms have built donation capabilities into their experiences, so don’t just rely on your own followers for donations. Encourage them to engage their personal networks on your behalf by soliciting support from their family and friends for a cause they believe in.
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