Thursday, February 21, 2008

Using "Social Networking" to Help Shelter Pets

If you are a regular blogger, you are probably aware of several of the "social networking" sites. If you are a "social networking" newbie, Wikipedia describes "A social network service focuses on the building and verifying of online social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others, and which necessitates the use of software."

There are hundreds of different social networking services out there, but here are a few of my favorites, and tips on how you can use them to help shelter pets.

1. Myspace.

For all of its faults, Myspace is an AWESOME networking tool for animal rescue organizations. My cats have had their own myspace page for a couple years, and I've seen first-hand the power of networking there.

If your rescue organization does not have a Myspace page, drop what you are doing, and create one right now! It allows you to connect with thousands of pet lovers across the country, and even across the world. It is just another way to get the word out about your rescue efforts, and to spread the word about your pets in need.

The "bulletins" feature is especially helpful for animal rescue organizations. You can send out a bulletin to your "friends" with photos of your neediest pets, you can use it to announce a fund-raising drive, and you can use it to share good news. Even if you have only a few friends, some of those friends will inevitably pick up your bulletin and re-post it. Several organizations I support use this as a very effective fund-raising tool. If your friend list includes 300 people, and 30 of those friends pass your bulletin on to their friends list of 300, and 30 of each of those people pass on the bulletin, you can imagine the possibilities.

If you are a pet lover, you can help the efforts of animal rescue organizations through your Myspace page. Here are just a few ideas:

1. Add a link or banner on your profile page to your favorite animal welfare organization.

2. Blog about your favorite organization using the "blog" feature.

3. Join "groups" dedicated to your favorite organization, your favorite species, or your favorite breed.

4. Add animal rescue organizations as your "friends!" This is critical! The more "friends" these organizations have, the greater the reach of their network.

5. Make your favorite groups your "top friends" and proudly display them on your profile page. People browsing your page may be inspired to check out your top friends.

6. Pick a shelter or rescue organization and post a bulletin about their urgent pets in need, or post a bulletin about their current fund-raising effort. Encourage your friends to pass it on!

7. PASS THOSE BULLETINS ON!!!! This is the single most important way to help on Myspace!

Don't have any animal rescue friends on Myspace? Feel free to add Reekoe & Eddie, my cats. If I accidentally deny your request for friendship, please send a short note and ask me to add you. Most of the time I deny requests from "humans" because 99% of the time they are spammer profiles. Reekoe & Eddie's page can help you get started in animal rescue networking on Myspace.

2. Facebook

Facebook is another social networking site, similar to Myspace, without most of the junk. Generally, you don't have random strangers attempting to befriend you on Facebook, unlike Myspace. This is another site that animal rescue organizations should consider. You can keep your supporters updated on your efforts and help spread the word about what's going on with your group. Facebook is more "intimate" than Myspace, so your "friends" are much more likely to actually extend their support than your friends on Myspace, who are often simply "friend" collectors. However, it is somewhat more difficult to spread your network on Facebook than it is on Myspace.

For Facebook users, you can help animal rescue organizations by joining groups dedicated to various animal welfare issues, or by befriending animal rescue organizations. You can also help by posting information about your favorite organizations or posting links to their sites.

Think of the Care2 as a less trashy version of Myspace for online activists. There's all sorts of networking tools available on Care2, and to be honest, I haven't fully explored them all. Here's a brief rundown of the tools I have used:

1. Care2 is home to one of the two major "click to donate" sites. You can click daily FOR FREE to support various causes, including pets in need, saving the rainforest, ending violence against women, and more. Click daily!!

2. Care2 also has a vast network of "groups" which you can join which focus on a wide variety of interests. Each group has a "mini-forum" for spreading information about particular causes. These groups are an awesome way to promote pets in need! Not only can you cross-post information about pets in need and fundraisers throughout the Care2 community--you can cross-post that information to other social networking sites.

3. It also has a blog feature, and each time you post a blog, your friends automatically receive a copy of your post. In fact, anytime you contribute anything to the Care2 community, your friends are notified. It's a great way to keep your supporters or friends updated on your rescue activities, or the causes you support.

4. There is a News Network that is an incredible tool! You can submit news stories which are "noted" by other community members. The more "notes" they receive, the higher up they appear on the news page. Sort of like "Digg" for a different community. And since you are promoting stories to other people with similar interests, you usually get a pretty good response! This is a great way to help shelters and rescue organizations. If your favorite group is having a fundraiser, or if there is a dog or cat that is in desperate need of help, submit it, and it will be quickly passed around the Care2 community.

Care2 is one of my favorite sites. I get most of my information about what's going on in the world of animal welfare from this site. One of the problems with Myspace and other large social networking sites is that if you send out a message on behalf of an animal rescue organization, you often miss your target audience, or those you do hit, don't know what to do with the information, or simply don't care. With Care2, you are hitting your target audience square on. The best part about it is that the community is comprised of like-minded individuals, trying to do a little bit to make the world a better place.

Squidoo is sort of a cross between blogging and social networking. When you join Squidoo, you can create a "lens," which is essentially a simple web page. It's very easy! You don't need to know any html, and the templates are already made for you. You can even add templates to earn a little bit of money from your lens (although you have the option to donate any money to a charity of your choice). From there, you can link to other "lenses" of interest, and it creates a network of mini-websites. You can also add your "lenses" to groups to network.

Here's a sample of a "lens" I built to promote one of my favorite animal rescue organizations.

You can make your lens about any topic, and pet lovers, you can create one about your pet!
Squidoo is also a good tool for animal rescue organizations. Consider it an off-shoot of your main site, and keep it updated with your current rescue efforts, your fund-raisers, or your pets in need.

For pet lovers, you can promote your favorite organizations by linking to their websites, writing posts about them, or adding their "lens" to your "lensroll."

Stumbleupon is sort of a social networking site. What you do is "stumble" random sites or sites within an interest category you select. Then you give them the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," and you can also write reviews. You can also submit sites that you find interesting by writing a short review. By some magical formula, Stumbleupon occasionally decides to send a flood of traffic to the site you "discovered."

Stumbleupon is kind of hit or miss as to whether your submitted site receives traffic. But when it rains it pours. Stumbleupon has the potential to send thousands of "stumblers" to the site you submit. I've found, however, that "stumblers" tend to be a fickle bunch. They normally don't spend much time at the sites as they "stumble" through them, so you've really got to get their attention. They tend to be looking for "instant gratification," if you will.

Anyone with an animal-welfare related site should definitely "stumble" your site, as its a great way to get some extra exposure. For pet lovers, consider downloading the Stumbleupon tool-bar and start submitting your favorite sites! Simply by "stumbling" a site, you can potentially send thousands of viewers to take a look! And give a "thumbs-up" to the sites you enjoy as you are "stumbling." (Please note, "stumbling" through sites is quite addictive!).

I'm sort of torn about Stumbleupon. I use it regularly, but haven't had too much luck in directing traffic to the sites I'm trying to promote. Once in a while, though, one will really hit the jackpot and get several thousand hits. On the other hand, "stumbling" is quite fun (and addicting) and I've run across some really amazing sites through the service. Consider giving it a try!

Now you tell me! Which "social networking" sites are your favorites? How do you use them to help shelter pets? Are there sites to avoid? Thanks in advance for your input!!