Should You Share This Video?
The growth of social media has made it possible to bring advocacy messages to a much wider audience. In just seconds, you can pass along comments, photos, and videos to educate people about animal issues. But just because it’s easy to forward the latest Facebook post, Twitter or blog entry, doesn’t mean it’s effective.
For example, have you seen “Katherine Heigl’s, “I Hate Balls” video? It’s gotten a fair amount of visibility and positive buzz. And why not? It takes an entertaining approach to the important subject of neutering animals.
Research from a project I was involved with for The Humane Society of the United States suggests otherwise. Focus groups with residents of Mississippi and Louisiana who had unneutered animals revealed the following:People do like to be entertained. So if more people watch an engaging video, than that should result in an increase in spay/neuter, right?
- People did not like humor or innuendo. Although in general we want to make animal-friendly behavior fun for people, this is one issue where using a “fun” presentation backfires. People see spaying and neutering as a medical procedure. They want serious, professional discussion of the issue. Think about it. If you were considering sterilization services yourself, would you want people joking about it?
- Celebrities were not credible spokespeople. Participants questioned the motives of stars other than long-term advocates such as Betty White and Bob Barker. Veterinarians and humane organization personnel led the list of influential messengers.
- The most effective message was that the offspring of one’s own animal could be among the thousands euthanized. The video doesn’t discuss this important benefit to spaying and neutering.
If you like it, why doesn’t it work?
This example illustrates the fourth point in the ACHIEVEchange framework, my seven-step system for effective advocacy. The “I'” stands for “I am not my target audience.” What appeals to us doesn’t necessarily resonate with the people we’re trying to change. If they thought the same way we do, they’d already have altered their animal (or gone veg or rejected fur), and we wouldn’t be trying to persuade them to do so!
We can’t look in the mirror, like our bird friend at left, to find what works. If we base our messages on what appeals to us, we may wind up talking to ourselves.
Know your audience
What might it be costing you in time, money, energy, and morale to talk about animal issues in a less than optimal way? The only way to find out what works with the people we’re trying to influence is to listen to them. HumaneSpot.org includes a variety of studies on people’s attitudes toward animal issues. The research database includes the HSUS findings on spay/neuter under the title, Messaging Spay/Neuter: Lessons from the Gulf Coast Spay/Neuter Campaign. It’s a must-read for spay/neuter advocates. There are many other not-to-be-missed studies in HumaneSpot.org that can make the difference between spreading messages that work and sharing communications that fall flat.
If you don’t find what you need, you may benefit from customized research. Faunalytics specializes in helping animal protection organizations discover insights that enable them to craft more effective campaigns. Research like this is one of the best investments your organization can make to help animals.
As individual advocates, we can engage in a little informal “research” by asking people sincere questions and listening to their answers. Use “open-ended” questions – ones that don’t prompt a simple “yes/no” or other short answer. Depending on your issue, try inquiries such as:
- What do you know about spay/neuter? What have you considered in deciding whether to spay or neuter your dog/cat?
- What do you see as some of the benefits of eating more plant-based foods?
- What are your thoughts on fur-trimmed coats?
When you understand what matters to people, you can engage them on the most relevant points. Making your interaction a discussion, instead of our all-too-common activist monologues, can not only help you identify the most effective message but also build trust and a more positive relationship.
Understanding the people we’re trying to inspire is the foundation for effective advocacy. Remember “I am not my target audience.” Use HumaneSpot.org, custom research, and even simple questions to learn about the individuals, businesses, and government officials you’re trying to influence.
Save the Katherine Heigl video for the folks that you know will enjoy the laugh … and have already had their animals spayed or neutered.
A version of this article originally appeared in “Animal Impact Insight,” a free e-newsletter available at http://www.facebook.com/AnimalImpact/app_62088208022. Thanks to Emily Garman, of the Social Animal, whose piece, “Is Katherine Heigl’s “I Hate Balls” Campaign a Good One?” highlighted this video.