Episode 122 – Bring in user-generated content and rely on digital ambassadors

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Episode 122 – Bring in user-generated content and rely on digital ambassadors

Bring in user-generated content and rely on digital ambassadors

Heather Friedman of LifeLine Animal Project joins the podcast to share what is and isn’t working in digital marketing, and how to bring in user-generated content and rely on digital ambassadors.

Adam: [00:08] Hi, welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

[00:28] My guest on the show today is Heather Friedman. Heather is the Chief Marketing Officer at LifeLine Animal Project, a nonprofit organization working to change the outcomes of thousands of animals in the community and community shelters. She leverages twenty years of agency and client experience in integrated and brand marketing, communications and digital marketing to now help save lives. Heather leads the brand and marketing strategy for LifeLine and uses the power of storytelling to activate the community and increase adoptions, donations and awareness for the lifesaving mission and the animals most in need. Heather is also guilty of bringing her work home with her in the form of a sixty-five-pound rescue dog she adopted from the shelter last year. Heather, welcome to the show.

Heather: [01:12] Thank you so much for having me.

Adam: [01:14] All right. My first question is what’s the dog’s name?

Heather: [01:17] His name is Samson and he’s a huge sweetheart of a pup. He was a heartworm-positive dog that came into our shelter completely emaciated, scars all over his face and I foster, took him home to help him during his treatment and I fell in love during that time when I met him and ended up adopting him. So it’s an honor to bring my work home with me, when it looks— In the form of that, it’s a lot better than paperwork.

Adam: [01:43] That’s right, that’s right, it’s a lot better than paperwork. Well, that’s great. That’s very encouraging. Samson, what a great name. I love that. 

Heather: [01:52] Yes, thank you. 

Adam: [01:52] If you’re ready, we can dive in. So first question related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has worked well for you?

Heather: [02:00] Yes, absolutely, and it’s kind of a two-fold answer given that we have sixteen thousand animals that come into our shelters every year, we run two of the largest county shelters here in Atlanta. The power of storytelling and being the stewards for the animals in our care, which means not just feeding and loving and caring for them until they transition out of the shelter and find a home, but also to be their voice and tell their stories so that we can help them find their forever home. So it’s been really amazing to see how we can take storytelling to the next level, changing the narrative around shelter pets and myths, and really showing the resilience and the gratitude and the need. 

[02:40] We do a lot of work dismissing missed around, bully-type breeds and shelter animals. So it’s been really amazing to work on the storytelling component. I’m sure everybody knows how much the internet thrives on animal content. I was just looking at tiny animals eating tiny foods and it’s this huge millions of videos, these cute little hamsters and so it’s just such a rich area. So we’re very fortunate that we can use the power of the Internet and what’s really relevant and of interest to not just show the sad stories with Sarah McLachlan playing in the background (inaudible 03:17) shows, the cute and silly side and most importantly, the human-animal connection because it’s really about that powerful connection because that story is what’s going to create a spark and a reaction in someone that ultimately is going to drive the action we need, which could be a donation and adoption, foster volunteering. 

[03:38] So it’s really, really rich and sometimes, we do these amazing before and after shot, because I do love showing the after because it’s all about inspiring people, like this is the outcome of care and love and what’s possible. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a glamorous, well put-together video. We had an incredible hoarding case two years ago. An officer went into a house and he took literally two steps in and there were thirty dogs that he saw cowering in just— The house was completely torn apart. It was dark, they were feral, they were frozen in fear. We released that photo off of his body cam that was so grainy as an image to say we need help. We need to make room in our shelters for ninety dogs in one night. And so with one post of that picture, we were able to raise $60,000 in three days. We had hundreds of foster applications and seventy dogs went to foster so that we could bring these animals into the safety of the shelter, where they could begin their recovery process. So (inaudible 04:40) it’s pretty amazing.

[04:42] The second part of the puzzle is really how do you deal with the scale and enormity of the challenge. So as I mentioned, running two open-admission shelters, which means forty to sixty animals come into our doors every day, we really need to think about scale and how do we help as many animals as possible. So the idea of digital ambassadors and this peer-to-peer realm has really worked for us—not just the social influencer side of things, but creating a pipeline for content and allowing our community to be part of that. 

[05:18] So we have paparazzi volunteers who come in and they take pictures and they get to know animals and they write new bios and add personality so we can put that on our website. Then we also have a centralized email that’s content@lifelineanimal.org and anybody who has interacted with any animal, maybe a volunteer, somebody who took a dog out of the day for a hike, they can send us pictures and videos and stories, and it fuels our pipeline to be able to help tell more stories through all of our marketing channels. So that peer to peer, bringing in the user-generated content and relying on our digital ambassadors to also then take those stories and help us get the word out has been enormous. Even on the fundraising side, I think last year alone, we saw that about 60% of the funds we raised on Facebook were through peer to peer actors alone.

Adam: [06:12] Wow, that’s a great number. 

Heather: [06:15] Yes, so it’s really amazing. Now we’re getting smarter and more strategic, and the assets and how we’re employing that. So we will provide— If we’re going to have a big campaign for Georgia, (inaudible 06:25) we’ll send out assets, we’ve created a, leaving a next door army that we can blast out information and content and flyers and they can help us get the word out to all of the different communities. So it’s not just coming from one voice either. It’s coming from the community to the community.

Adam: [06:41] I love from the community to the community. I love that. So next question then, related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?

Heather: [06:50] Yes. I think where I struggle with the day to day urgency of our work. There’s always cases coming in. There’s always an urgent need to get the support we need for the animals in our care. Sometimes the urgency prohibits us from really taking a step back and doing what we all know we should be doing with our data. Right? Looking at ways to test every time we’re communicating, every time we’re sending out emails, we always are trying to find the right opportunities where we can do an A/B test, we can look at subject lines, we can look at how does images perform, will an image with a person and an animal perform better than just an animal alone, or how does a before and after shot compel somebody or just the before shot, that’s really hard to see. So trying to test all of the different ways to drive engagement and looking at our analytics, I think that, testing on Facebook ads, obviously we use a lot of social media to help get the word out because we are a small, lean team and all the work we do, or any money that we’re raising, we’re always trying to put back into the life-saving aspects. So marketing budgets are very, very small. 

[07:57] I think that where we struggle is really having the time and being able to look at all those nuances and really keep testing. So we do it when we can and we have a monthly meeting to look over our data and our analytics and come up with hypotheses and things we want to keep testing. But sometimes in the day to day urgency, it’s hard. It’s hard to keep making sure that every opportunity, you are taking the time to learn from it and really glean those insights from your data just to make everything stronger.

Adam: [08:26] That’s right, and it is really— And not just from what you do either. I think we all have that tyranny of the urgent that we struggle with, as marketers that we just need to be careful that we’re taking that step back. We’re planting our feet and we’re really making the right direction and choosing the right path so that we can be the most effective. So last question related to digital marketing. Can you tell us something you are excited about?

Heather: [08:50] Yes. This summer we’re going to be opening a new community animal center here in Atlanta and it’s going to be a way of extending our impact in the city, in the community. So we are looking at all the different angles and we’re trying to understand why animals are ending up in the shelter so that we can help provide the solutions needed. And thinking about that next chapter of our work really got me excited about thinking about the speed of evolution that we’re experiencing within social media, within technology. It’s just really exciting to me that the way we communicate and share information today is not the way we’re going to be doing it tomorrow. So there’s this constant change of reaching new audiences and new platforms. Everything is so dynamic. Even with each Facebook algorithm change, our team is sitting there thinking about, “Well, how many times can we post?” and, “Do we post about events?” because events don’t perform well, but we really need to drive donations and we need engagement.

[09:43] Everything is such a fun puzzle to solve and figuring out how do you keep them reaching new audiences? Just seeing the technology change. We were looking between Myspace and Google Plus and IGTV and Vines and Boomerangs. The evolution is just every day, there’s something new to try out and to explore and maybe it doesn’t work and that’s okay. It’s fun to try. We did Pinterest for a little bit. We’re like, “Yeah, that’s not our sweet spot.” And now we are having tremendous, tremendous success on Instagram, with stories and our engagement rates are around 14%.

Adam: [10:18] Wow. 

Heather: [10:18] Yes, and I mean, of course, we’ve got really, really cute animals, so we’re very lucky.

Adam: [10:26] Right. (inaudible 10:26) those. 

Heather: [10:30] Who doesn’t want to click on a dog in a PJ? Or goats in PJ’s? So it’s been really, really fun. I’m excited about the challenges ahead and seeing how we can continue to utilize new tools and technology to have those meaningful conversations with our community to keep driving our mission forward because our mission is to save every healthy and treatable animal that enters the shelter doors. And that’s not something we can do alone. So I’m excited. 

Adam: [10:58] Yes. It’s a great mission. 

Heather: [11:01] Thank you. 

Adam: [11:01] Great mission and well said. Let me recap what we talked about so far, so that our listeners have a good takeaway. Number one, related to digital marketing, what’s worked well for you? You mentioned that you’re managing about sixteen thousand animals per year and so really you rely on the power of storytelling and being stewards of the animals that are in your care. So you are their voice, you tell their stories and you’re trying to change the narrative from a pet shelter to something more positive, to bring more of a story alongside, and also use the story to dismiss misconceptions. You use before and after shots and you’re just telling the animal story so that people can love the animals like they deserve to be loved. You also mentioned that you’re dealing with scale, so you’re leveraging volunteers for storytelling and content that they are your digital ambassadors and in that way you’re getting user-generated content that’s really helpful. 

[11:54] For question number two, what has not worked well that we can learn from? You mentioned that essentially the tyranny of the urgent is prohibitive of really long-term thinking and planning when it comes to marketing. I think that’s often true for many of us. You also mentioned the marketing budget is small and so testing can take time, and cost time and money to test, and sometimes it’s hard to find time or money. 

[12:16] For question number three, what are you excited about? You mentioned you’ve got a new community animal shelter that is coming soon and just the evolving dynamic of social communication, the ever-expanding opportunities you mentioned, I think as the first person on the show ever, you mentioned Myspace and Google Plus in the same sentence, but in that context, you went back to Instagram. That’s working really well for you. So that’s great and it’s great that Instagram’s working well for you, I can see—

Heather: [12:43] I met my husband on Myspace, so it’s near and dear to my heart.

Adam: [12:46] It was around as of a few years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve ventured over that way. 

Heather: [12:53] But I did get the breakup letter from Google Plus, so.

Adam: [12:56] Oh yeah, we all got that break up letter and all of went, yes, that’s been coming a long time guys. Like, why did it take you so long? Like, come on. We all moved on like fifteen years ago. Okay, not that long. It had potential. It had potential. Well this is great. Heather, do you have any final thoughts that you want to share with our audience?

Heather: [13:12] No, just to stay curious and just to consider coming to a shelter and support the community of animals that are in need.

Adam: [13:22] I love that. I love that. I think that’s an admiral admonition. So for our listeners if you would like a friend and companion, it’s a great way to go. So, Heather, thanks for joining me on the show. I really appreciate your time.

Heather: [13:36] Thank you. It’s been so much fun.

Adam: [13:38] Thanks for listening to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about nonprofit digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker, and on my blog at adamjwalker.com where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks, and tune in next time.

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