Strategic Spontaneity: How the Humane Society Got 21,000 Shares of Campaign Message on Facebook In 48 Hours | Beth's Blog

Strategic Spontaneity: How the Humane Society Got 21,000 Shares of Campaign Message on Facebook In 48 Hours

Digital Strategy

It is a nonprofits dream – to have its advocacy campaign messaging go viral on Facebook or social media channels.   And that’s just what happened to the HSUS  Farm Animal Protection campaign,  an effort to call attention to and reduce the suffering of farm animals raised for eggs, meat, pork, and milk.     The above photo and statement was posted on Friday and within 48 hours was shared over 21,000 times, 18,000 likes, and thousands of comments.

Here’s an analysis of what and why it happened from the HSUS’s Director of Emerging Media – Carie Lewis.   Her insights are useful to other nonprofits working on integrated advocacy campaigns.

What happened?  Did you just post that photo and it went viral by itself?

A representative from the National Pork Producers Council made an insensitive statement about efforts to create more humane standards for pigs on factory farms. We have a campaign against the pork industry’s use of gestation crates going on right now, so we decided to use the quote as an element of the campaign.

Our Farm Animal Protection campaign posted the quote in the form of an image post on their Facebook page (275k fans). They got 18,000 shares in under 48 hours. We could tell the message was resonating, so we decided to share it on our main Facebook page on Friday (1.4m fans).

Observation from Beth: Two best practices here.   The HSUS has built its network before they needed it and the listening and paying attention to what is resonating with your network.

How did the National Pork Producers Council react?

Within an hour of HSUS posting it on our main Facebook page, NPPC had completely deleted their Facebook page. They already had blocked the ability to comment on their page. Because we monitor our comments and have an internal policy to respond to everyone that comes to us with a legitimate question or concern on our posts or our wall, we could tell that our fans were contacting NPPC. They were telling us they were sending NPPC private Facebook messages, calling their phone number, and using the contact page on their website. Now, the contact page on NPPC’s website has also been taken down.  As of this writing, we’re up to over 37,000 total shares of the graphic and this is the most shared piece of content we’ve ever posted on our page.

What is your takeaway and learning from being on the other side of social media crisis?

I think this is a good example of jumping on an opportunity, like your opposition making an asinine quote, and using it to further a campaign you’re working on. Our Farm Animal Protection campaign came to us right away and said “look at this! We need to use this somehow!” and a Facebook share graphic was born.

We also have a good internal structure when it comes to program Facebook pages – we use the “gatekeeper” model at HSUS where we have one main Facebook page that the social media department manages, and we train the rest of the organization to make it a small part of their jobs (over 100 people.)

Our Farm Animal Protection campaign also did a great job of inserting emotion into the post (“look how out of touch the NPPC is with mainstream America’s views on caring for animals!”) and a call-to-action (“share if you think pigs deserve better!”) which helped the posts’ shareability. When HSUS posted it on their main page, we asked people to “share this and tell the National Pork Producers Council that pigs deserve better!”) How could you not agree with that?

Did the HSUS have to do anything more to get your community to take action?

What struck me about this whole thing was it proved to me that we’ve built an action-driven community on Facebook. Sure, our page has photos of cute animals and engages people in fun conversations about their pets. But when there’s a serious issue at hand, our fans are ready to do what it takes to create real change for animals. We didn’t even ask people to contact NPPC, but they did.

And that’s what I think I’d do differently next time: have an action alert along with other ways people could contact them ready. The #1 thing people ask when we post something like this is “what can I do?”

What advice would you offer to nonprofits are the other side of a social media crisis?

This is a textbook case on what NOT to do in social media when you find yourself in a crisis. NPPC originally blocked comments from their page and when that didn’t work, deleted their page entirely! Social media crises suck. The HSUS has been through quite a few of them. In fact, I think every social media manager needs to go through one. But shutting down only makes it worse; you have to weather the storm.

Here’s more advice from Carie and others about how to handle a social media crisis:

Carie Lewis: Social Media Crisis Tips

The Five Stages of A Social Media Crisis

Mack Collier:  Social Media Crisis Management 101

Carie Lewis:  Five Free Social Media Tools To Use in A Crisis

Kivi Leroux-Miller:  Case Study of Komen for the Cure Social Media Crisis

Infographic: Gone Viral

Infographic:  All You Ever Wanted To Know About Viral Marketing

29 Responses

  1. […] It is a nonprofits dream – to have its advocacy campaign messaging go viral on Facebook or social media channels.  […]

  2. Jay Geneske says:

    This is a fantastic report. So many great tips and best practices here. Congrats to HSUS for a meaningful campaign.

  3. Dalyce McCue says:

    If people want to make a real impact, it can only be done with their wallets. Stop buying pork en masse. Remember the 60’s when mothers all across North America boycotted sugar to bring down the soaring costs. That’s the only way. When they’re no longer making any money on pork, then and only then will they change things.

    It will probably be better for everyone’s digestive systems to stop eating pork any way. Pigs are scavenger animals who will eat anything. They have strong enzymes in their stomachs called putresene and cadaverene for the purpose of breaking down the rank stuff that they eat. Check it out. Do some research.

  4. Carie Lewis says:

    Thanks for writing this up, Beth! In an interesting development, NPPC has put their Facebook page back up, along with a statement on their right to delete comments. Let’s see if they handle things a bit differently this time…

  5. Edie Gross says:

    More amazing work by HSUS. It’s also a great lesson from the NPPC on how NOT to handle controversy. Just because you cover your eyes and ears and can’t see us doesn’t mean we went away. 🙂

  6. Beth says:

    Carie: My pleasure – glad that Virgin has wifi and that I could write this post at 30,000 ft. now off to Cambodia and good luck with this campaign.

  7. John Haydon says:

    Beth – Whoa! Great example! I’d be curious to hear why they didn’t promote the post to milk more reach from this update?

  8. Fabulous example! Thanks Carie and Beth for sharing, as always. Will include in our Mixed Links on Friday.

  9. Carie Lewis says:

    Hey John, we actually wanted to see how far this would go without any paid promotion. That will be a tactic we’ll use once we’ve got the advocacy alert functioning.

  10. John Haydon says:

    Carie – Awesome. I’m generally recommended that NPOs promote posts like this that go viral. That way, they can squeeze every last bit of juice out of the update. Plus, promoted post analytics show you how many fans you received as a result of the post (Insights doesn’t not presently show this).

  11. John Haydon says:

    Carie – props to you though! You knew ahead of time that this would be well, precisely because you know your fanbase, the cause and your brand. Three thumbs up!

  12. Carie Lewis says:

    Thanks – maybe we SHOULD consider promoting it earlier though!

    ps – thanks Kivi!

  13. […] It is a nonprofits dream – to have its advocacy campaign messaging go viral on Facebook or social media channels.  […]

  14. Dan Michel says:

    Very timely post – thanks for sharing! A great example of the shift in reach and shares being a key metric for social engagement (It’s review time and figuring out those goals for my own community management with my boss). I love the direct correlation to action too.

    Also, love how simple yet powerful this infographic is. No need for designers – per se.

  15. Dan Michel says:

    Crap – forgot website link. Well – needs to improve on review will be “understand SEO basics”

  16. […] It is a nonprofits dream – to have its advocacy campaign messaging go viral on Facebook or social media channels. And that's just what happened to the.  […]

  17. […] on Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in […]

  18. Dave says:

    The HSUS is NOT the “Humane Society.” They use that name to prey upon people who support their local animal shelters, which are often called the “Humane Society.” HSUS has a much different agenda, and is much more insidious in its intentions.

  19. Carie Lewis says:

    wow, surprised it took that long for one of our haters to chime in!

  20. Dave says:

    Just pointing out a fact. HSUS is very effective at using the media and duping the public by hiding their real agendas behind an innocuous name lifted from organizations with worthy missions. Truly a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” if there ever was one.

  21. Just pointing out a fact – our members and supporters know the work that we do for animals. We are effective, and that’s why groups like NPPC and CCF oppose our work. We aren’t affiliated with local shelters, and don’t pretend to be. The quote from the NPPC, and the defense of dog fighting by Congressman Steve King demonstrates why our work is so important. So rather then parrot the lines of CCF and their ilk, I’d encourage you to do some research on them (

    Quite frankly, I’d be more concerned that groups like NPPC are that out of touch with reality that they are completely comfortable defending inhumane treatment.

  22. John Haydon says:

    Get the boxing gloves out! 😀

  23. Marcia Mueller says:

    A member of the NCCP insensative about pigs! Who would have thought it. Judging by the way the animals are routinely treated, I’m sure that was no mistake.

  24. Beth says:


    Wow, I’ve been in transit from US to Cambodia for the past 30 hours, and excited to see the discussion. Also, thanks Carie for modeling how to deal with the haters …

  25. Ray says:

    Great points on how to handle a SM crisis. Kudos to Carie for seeing an opportunity and running with it. Please take a look at to see what many farmers and others in the food chain are doing to constantly improve what we do.

  26. […] It is a nonprofits dream – to have its advocacy campaign messaging go viral on Facebook or social media channels.  […]

  27. Mimi Cook says:

    Thanks Beth for a great post, and congratulations to Carie and HSUS on such a successful social media campaign! It’s fascinating to see such a good example of how an active and engaged community on social media can make an impact. Also interesting to how both sides deal with negative response online: NCCP deletes or ignores negative comments, while HSUS directly addresses them. Which, do you suppose, is more effective?

  28. […] at Beth’s Blog she’s taking a look at how the Humane Society of the United States got over 21,000 shares on […]