Social Media and Puppy Tough Love

 If you need more convincing on the value of social media engagement, Richmond's puppy tough love should do the trick.

 If you need more convincing on the value of social media engagement, Richmond's puppy tough love should do the trick.

If an organization needs a reason or an example why it should become active on social media, look no further than the Richmond Animal Care and Control Department. It has experienced the highs and lows of social media – all in the name of protecting puppies and dogs.

Like a lot of government-operated animal shelters, Richmond faced the constant prospect of euthanizing dogs and cats to make room for a new wave of abandoned or battered pets. Department Director Christie Chipps Peters decided that was untenable, so she turned to social media to effect change.

Now when more pets are rounded up, Peters goes on social media with pictures and stories about dogs ready for immediate adoption. Instead of waiting for kind souls to show up at the shelter, Richmond dispatched an open invitation to anyone paying attention online.

Peters told NPR in an interview that the shelter’s euthanasia rate has been cut by 40 percent. She says 90 percent of the dogs at the shelter leave via adoption instead of a body bag, and she gives the credit to social media.

The authenticity of the shelter’s Facebook posts make the difference. An example: “We’ve taken in 40 animals, we need to find loving homes for 40 dogs that are in house. Can you lease help?”

Of course, authenticity is a two-way street. The slater gets online blowback for the 10 percent of the animals it does put to sleep, often because the animals have bitten their owners, become unmanageable and are too dangerous to introduce to a new family. 

“In the past, animal control agencies have put a cloak over the unpleasant side of our jobs,” Peters explains in her NPR interview. "And while that is, unfortunately, a very real part of our job, the reality is if you’re able to share your story and tell the truth and allow the public to see completely your operations and how you’re doing things, and ask for help, the response has been incredible.”

Instead of a negative, Peters sees the interaction with skeptics as a positive. “It gives up an opportunity to explain the truth of the matter.”

For CEOs fearful of having their organizations engage on social media, remember that your critics are already there. The only voice missing is yours. Takes it from Peters, it is simply a fact of puppy tough love.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.