Getting into marketing was one of the most intimidating, exciting, overwhelming, and fun things I have ever done in my professional career. I had always loved taking pictures of animals at work, and they would usually come out okay. They were never totally in focus and the lighting was sometimes a little off, which I thought was just the camera. Turns out no one actually knew how to use it.
I will never forget when HeARTs Speak came to do our first Perfect Exposure Project workshop, and everything changed. With a few simple adjustments to the settings, backdrops, and new ideas for writing bios, our social media presence suddenly had an entirely different feel.
Putting your work out there can be tough, especially while you’re still trying to figure out what works best for your following. It can be disappointing when you invest time into a post and it doesn’t get the reaction you hoped. The thing to remember is that it still reached someone. You can research all you want about marketing, but the best way to really find out what works for your followers is to try different things.
If you are just starting to dive into marketing, I have a few simple pieces of advice:
Marketing is a team effort!
I learned quickly that you can’t do it alone. Many of my posts and videos have videos or pictures shot by other staff members. You can’t be everywhere, and there’s no harm in asking people to take a quick video while they are in the play yard or cleaning out a cat room. It will save you time, and makes more people feel included, which is always a plus!
Bouncing ideas off one another is a great way to get your creativity flowing. Sometimes just saying things out loud can help you figure out what you want to say about an animal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to someone “I’m trying to think of a way to say (fill in the blank)” and it always results in something better than what I originally had.
Learn to step out of your comfort zone.
Social media is always adding new features and ways to reach people. I didn’t post stories for the longest time because I just wasn’t sure what the point was, and now I post multiple stories a day. IG TV is the newest thing we’ve tried. At first, our videos had 5 views. Each video we post slowly gets more views. You’ll never know what kind of impact these different platforms have if you don’t try!
Don’t get caught up in everything being perfect.
There have been plenty of times where I have a specific vision of what I’m trying to photograph, and sometimes even the best-behaved animals just don’t cooperate. Before I know it, I’ve spent a half an hour trying to get one shot, and let me tell you, it’s not usually worth it.
While working with one dog, Indy, I was trying to get a video showing her personality, and literally, all she did was walk around the room and stop to lick the faces of the people around her. This was not what I was going for at all, but I was short on time and figured I’ll just do a kissing video since that’s all she wants to do. I gathered as many people as I could and had her give kisses to everyone for a couple seconds at a time. Within an hour, I had one of my most successful videos. Nothing really goes as planned in the shelter world, so sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got!
Efficiency is key in the shelter world, and it doesn’t get much more efficient than live videos. I mean, it posts as you’re making it, and there’s no editing required! Going live can be really intimidating… I paced back and forth for about ten minutes before doing my first one. It’s still something I’m getting used to, but it gets easier with practice, I promise! Live videos typically reach more people than any other posts. It may be scary, but the animals you’re trying to help get adopted can’t afford for you to be scared.
If you really can’t bring yourself to do it, find someone in your organization who can! Our Adoptions Manager is great at doing live videos, so usually, all I have to do is remind him when we need one. We have had adopters call for certain animals within minutes of seeing a video!
Sometimes marketing isn’t about a specific animal, but your organization as a whole.
This has been one of the hardest lessons for me. Some animals you can post five different ways, and they still won’t get adopted until the right person happens to walk in the door. And that’s okay! Each time someone notices one of your posts, they are noticing your organization, making them more likely to adopt from you.
It’s important that people feel good when they see your content. In my experience, people are more likely to be drawn to animals that seem like they are happy. So keep posting videos of dogs playing and cats snuggled up in cozy beds, and adopters will come!
Getting started may be scary, but it is SO worth it. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the totally ridiculous things to get an animal to look at you (like faking a sneeze, true story) to get a good picture. I don’t think I can quite put into words how good it feels when something you’ve created gets an animal adopted. I hope that reading a little bit about how I started (and still am) figuring out this whole marketing thing will encourage you to give it a try too, your animals will thank you!