AmPA! How To: The Basics of Building Your Social Media Presence

September 11th, 2019

The world of animal sheltering as we know it is massively shifting. The No Kill mission began in an era in which traditional, grassroots public relations and local media were the only way to establish shelter and rescue awareness. Today, that is far from the case. In fact, according to Nonprofit Source, 18 percent of donors worldwide have given through Facebook fundraising tools, 55 percent of individuals who engage with nonprofits on Twitter take action, and 53 percent of those same individuals end up volunteering.

Social media has become essential not only to your brand awareness, but to the continued functioning of your organization. It provides an extremely beneficial – and necessary – outlet to fundraise, recruit volunteers, and gain general supporters. 

So, if you’ve decided that it’s time to either a. Start your social media presence from scratch, b. Begin making it a priority, or c. Make changes to your current approach, we’ve put together a short and sweet rundown for you. Chances are, if you’ve attempted to make your social media a priority in the past, your hands got a bit clammy when you began to realize the necessary demand required to begin pushing your social media presence. Social media can be extremely intimidating. There are college minors and certificates completely dedicated to this beast; but this is the truth: all you need are the basics to begin making strides.

Before we move forward, I want to remind you of three things:

  1. Patience is a virtue.
  2. Use Google and Youtube for guidance when in doubt.
  3. Experiment.

Alright, now onto the good stuff. Here are 6 rules to follow as you start this journey:

1. Photo + Video Uniqueness and Quality

    While better quality photos are what get the big likes and shares, there are always exceptions to the rule. At the end of the day, individuals want a story that pulls at their heartstrings. Received a few iPhone photos of a foster pup and a baby snuggling? Even if those photos aren’t DSLR quality, they’re still going to captivate an audience. At APA!, our rule is that photos are game unless they are blurry, too dark and can’t be brightened, or grainy.

    2. Timeliness

      Allow time to work to your advantage. Intaking a sick kitty and need donations or a foster ASAP? Throw out an urgent Facebook post with the donate button attached. Father’s Day coming up? Prepare a cute, “Happy Dog Dad’s Day!” post.

      3. Transparency

        If you haven’t watched Kristen Hassen-Auerbach’s Keynote on transparency from this year’s American Pets Alive! Conference, we highly recommend it. Finding success at your organization depends on the level of transparency you’re willing to have with your community; and this transparency should be evident in your social media posts.

        4. Sincere Calls to Action

          People respond in higher rates of giving when you highlight an animal to your donation or needs plea; but the story about said animal should be genuine. This is an animal that you have saved, or an animal that was lost because of human malice or because of malpractice by another shelter or vet but your teams did all they could to save them. Altering stories to make you look better will not come across as sincere and could cost you supporters and/or donors.

          5. Event Promotion

            Event promotion is where you’ll really tap into a younger audience! Have an adoption event coming up? Make sure to not only create an event on Facebook, but to promote across all your channels as well!

            6. Be Consistent

              Setting a schedule of when you’re going to post social and what you’re going to post will help with the consistency of your posts (and which will ultimately lead to higher engagement rates and brand awareness). Below, we’ll get into how much is too much, but a general rule is that you should be posting at least once a day.

              MASONRY 24 small and cropped


              Facebook allows for the widest range of age demographics. Individuals young and old utilize Facebook one way or another – and you have the chance to target all of them.

              When it comes to Facebook, you generally want to keep it to 6-8 posts a day max, otherwise you run the risk of “flooding your feed.” People want to be informed, but they don’t want to just see your posts on their feed.

              Also, be sure to utilize the donate button on your page, if your organization allows it. This is an easy way for people to give and is an easy lift on your end! Learn more about enhancing your nonprofit on Facebook here.

              If your municipal shelter does not allow pleas for donations, we suggest setting up an Amazon Wish List to plea for items you might need like blankets, towels, enrichment toys and treats!


              Twitter targets both a younger and a professional audience. This is a great medium to share news, updates about your organization, and stories you may want to share on Facebook but don’t have the room for in your social schedule. This is also the place to get the attention of reporters, similar organizations, or companies you’re hoping to partner with in the future! There isn’t a real limit to how often you can post on Twitter, but we recommend limiting it to 8-10 tweets a day to avoid any flooding.

              It’s also important to note that all of your tweets should have a purpose behind them. Be sure to ask yourself, “Why am I tweeting this?” and “What’s the point I’m trying to make?”


              Austin Pets Alive! has found success in utilizing Instagram to post about their adoptable animals. While your captions are always important, you’ll want to make sure that they’re short and sweet on Instagram so that the focus remains on your photos. You’ll also want to be pickier about the photos used, and be extra caution about the rate in which you post. Try a few methods out, but posting more than once every few hours can hurt your engagement rates. Also keep in mind you have the opportunity to utilize Instagram stories! This is a good place to use the new Instagram donate button, to post about events, and post quick updates that don’t require their own post.

              MASONRY 133 small and cropped

              Teaching yourself social media takes time, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a pro. That being said, you can Google any and all questions regarding social media and get the answers you need. More of a visual person? Youtube has amazing tutorials that can jump start you. After that, experimentation is key. What works for Austin Pets Alive! may not work as well with your audience. Comb through the risks you may consider taking with a fine tooth comb, but the reward can be great – and could quite literally save lives.

              Once you begin building your presence, it’s beneficial to look for a volunteer (or, if budgeting permits, a part-time employee) to run your social media. This ensures that your brand and voice are consistent across all platforms.

              Have any further questions or need some advice on how to engage your community? Reach out at [email protected]!

              Sara Defibaugh is the Digital Marketing Senior Specialist at Austin Pets Alive!. When she's not advocating for shelter pets via the digital sphere, she's hanging out with her best fur friend, Holly, an APA! alum. 

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