Millions Strong: How Top Animal Nonprofits Are Winning at Social Media

If anyone could give today’s A-list celebrities a run for their money in dominating the social media game, it would be the web’s favorite animals. Unsurprisingly, pets aren’t a hard sell for any online demographic. People love seeing dogs and cats pop up in their feeds as much as they like sharing moments with their own furry friends online. Perhaps that’s why so many animal-focused nonprofits are able to develop a robust social media presence, if not outright fame.

This isn’t to say, however, that these organizations don’t work for their success. When we see an organization bringing in hundreds of thousands of loyal fans, we know there must be some strategy involved. Counting up to the organizations with the highest follower counts, we’re going to take a closer look at what makes these expertly-designed social media campaigns work. 

Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

(110K Facebook followers, 8K Instagram followers at the time of writing)

We’ve heard the success stories of animals rescued from abusive situations, but what happens after the rescue mission? PAWS is specially dedicated to protecting performing animals and other abandoned and retired captive wildlife, and their social media is dedicated to telling their animals’ stories and providing education for the public. Followers flock to PAWS’ Facebook and Instagram pages to meet the animals while learning about the organization’s important work.

American Eagle Foundation (AEF)

(171K FB, 1.5K IG)

The folks at AEF are specialists, and their area of expertise is in the name. The foundation works to protect Bald Eagles and other birds of prey while educating the public on how to support their conservation efforts. AEF’s social media platforms are rich with striking photos and videos of the birds, fast facts about the different species, and plugs for different events held by the foundation. Celebrity supporters make an appearance now and then, including one of their most vocal sponsors, Dolly Parton. (And we all know Dolly’s vote of confidence is proof positive of a worthy cause.)

The Dian Fossey Gorilla FundInternational

(250K FB, 197K IG)

“Helping people. Saving gorillas.” This organization follows in its namesake’s legacy of finding ways to protect gorillas by studying them closely. Photos and videos on the foundation’s socials bring followers up close and personal with the gorillas living in a lush habitat that’s more in jeopardy than ever. Once you see a mother gorilla giving her young a piggyback ride or a baby gorilla swinging on a branch with its siblings, you’ll be as invested in the cause as the fund’s many faithful followers.

American Humane

(315K FB, 11K IG)

American Humane, “committed to ensuring the safety, welfare and well-being of animals,” takes on a considerable task by not limiting their work to certain species and situations, but their socials show that they’re up to the task. From fluffy Pomeranian puppies, to wild cougars, to marine life, American Humane is warming hearts across the country, both online and off.

Last Chance for Animals (LCA)

(357K FB, 15K IG)

Most of us find the horrors of animal cruelty a difficult issue to think about, meaning LCA’s social media team have an especially difficult task reeling followers in. Their numbers, however, are clear evidence of their success. LCA brings the good, the bad, and the ugly to the table, posting photos of everything from a carefree rescue dog running on the beach to the squalid living conditions of pigs raised for food. Regardless of their angle, they get us to care — a noble achievement in and of itself.

Alley Cat Allies

(482K FB, 16K IG)

Though they spend less time in the limelight than some of our other furry friends, the statistics surrounding stray felines are sobering. Of the millions of stray cats that enter our nation’s shelters, hundreds of thousands of cats are euthanized in our nation’s shelters each year. Alley Cat Allies advocates for public policy reform and changes to how we care for stray cats. Clearly, the people are listening. The organization’s socials intersperse adorable photos with opportunities to get involved by adopting a cat, donating, or learning more about the cause. 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA)

(489K FB, 145K IG)

Beautiful sea life plus breathtaking photographs makes a recipe for social media success. CMA’s socials provide insight into each part of their mantra: “Rescue, Rehab, Release.” Followers on Facebook and Instagram can see firsthand why the cause matters, and take action by donating to CMA initiatives or attending CMA-promoted events on social platforms.

The Elephant Sanctuary

(677k FB, 36K IG)

Chances are, few people in this Tennessee nonprofit’s neck of the woods have seen an elephant in its natural habitat in person. That’s why savvy social media usage is key for the Sanctuary; what their cause may lack in proximity to many of its supporters, it makes up for with up-close videos and pictures of the gentle giants thriving in their environments wherever they’re found. Clips from Sanctuary-run habitats identify the elephants by name, giving a personal touch that keeps followers coming back for more.

Sea Shepherd Global

(1.1M FB, 577K IG)

If you’re like us, you find any kind of nonprofit doing good exciting. Sea Shepherd, however, is in a league of its own, taking direct, on-the-scene action to defend, conserve, and protect our oceans from exploitation such as poaching, unsustainable fishing, and habitat destruction. Sea Shepherd’s socials bring followers into the heart of the action — and capping out at well over 1.1 million followers on Facebook alone, it’s safe to say it’s a successful tactic.

Ducks Unlimited

(1.1M FB, 655K IG)

Perhaps they don’t pack the same “wow” factor as a soaring bald eagle or a dolphin leaping from the sea, but make no mistake — these garden-variety waterfowl tote an enormous following. This conservation-focused organization works to protect duck habitats and to sustain the well-being of waterfowl across the country. From the hunter, to the chef, to the birdwatching enthusiast, Ducks Unlimited makes their social media a place where many can find their niche.

Best Friends Animal Society

(1.3M FB, 430K IG)

A no-kill animal shelter is something everyone can feel good about, and Best Friends is a leader for the cause. It’s no wonder that Best Friends’ socials are abuzz with over a million followers and counting. With a Facebook and Instagram showcasing tons of adorable animals given a new lease on life, people will keep coming back for the warm fuzzies. 

The Nature Conservancy

(1.4M FB, 750K IG)

Take National Geographic-level photography and add a charitable cause with a worldwide reach, and you get The Nature Conservancy. With initiatives around the globe focusing on everything from climate change to food and water sustainability, it seems the nonprofit would be of interest to nearly any environmentally-minded individual. Naturally, the Conservancy’s social media reflects that, highlighting a broad scope of their work on a regular basis.

Hope for Paws

(1.7M FB, 247K IG)

Having recently reached over a billion (yes, one billion!) views on their YouTube channel, it’s clear that Hope for Paws knows a thing or two about making their voice heard. Their unique mission makes for some extremely engaging content; not only does Hope for Paws offer adoption services, but they also do the work of rescuing and rehabilitating stray and abandoned dogs, cats, and other animals themselves. They say everyone loves rooting for an underdog, and Hope for Paws’ wildly successful social media gives their audience an opportunity to do just that.

Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

(2.6M FB, 366K IG)

With a reach as broad as their name would imply, it’s hard to find a better authority on fighting animal cruelty. Clearly, people are listening: with over 2.6 million Facebook followers and a hefty 366 thousand on Instagram, it’s evident that the folks at HSUS know a thing or two about outreach and advocacy. Bringing both the heart-wrenching stories of mistreated animals and happy-tears-worthy stories of animals who find better lives, followers get to see the organization’s impact in all its glory.

Big Cat Rescue (BCR)

(2.6M FB, 117K IG)

The abuse that non-domestic animals undergo can fly under the radar in the public consciousness. Luckily, as one of the largest accredited big cat sanctuaries in the world, BCR is making strides to increase awareness and make a difference for big cats who have been somehow abandoned or abused. Through BCR socials, followers get a close-up look at the wild felines that the organization works to protect.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

(5.2M FB, 1.2M IG)

Even for those who haven’t invested a great deal of time focusing on animal-related causes, PETA is a household name. Unsurprisingly, this makes PETA one of the first authorities people turn to when they want to learn about or take action for all sorts of animal rights issues. PETA keeps its several-million followers up to date on the latest news and initiatives, encouraging their followers to get informed and take action. Like many of these animal nonprofits-turned social media stars, they get people listening, and use that attention for good.

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