Using Facebook for Animal Advocacy

I know I’m far from the only person who is still in a state of shock over Mercy For Animals’ Conklin Dairy Farms cruelty video. As I write this, more than 500 readers have clicked the “Like” button beneath my write-up from yesterday.

Many animal advocates have caught on to the fact that Facebook is an incredible tool for purposes of spreading word about vegetarianism and issues related to animals. Facebook is a platform in rapid transition, and it’s not like there’s an owner’s manual, so most of us are stuck figuring out best practices for Facebook on our own.

Given that there’s a closing window for spreading this Conklin Dairy Farms video far and wide, and just a few days’ time in which this video has the chance to go viral, I want to share one tip to using Facebook that isn’t yet widely understood, but that every animal advocate needs to know.

Recently, Facebook has began emphasizing its “Like” button, and has made it easy for websites like to add a “Like” button beneath every blog post. This is an amazing feature because, not so long ago, if you liked something you saw online you’d have to copy the URL and then visit Facebook to post it. But now, you can “like” things directly from any site that enables these buttons. Cool beans.

As the “Like” button has been incorporated into thousands of websites across the web, it’s become easy to lose sight of the fact that it is just one of two ways to share web content through Facebook. The other way to share content is to use Facebook’s “Share” feature. Think of “Share” as a vastly more powerful “Like” button, but one that’s subject to misuse.

Facebook is always likely to change how it works at any moment, but as of now here is the difference between “Like” and “Share”: when you “Like” something, all that happens is that a link to it will go near the top of your profile, until it’s bumped off the page by newer items you’ve liked. So, really, the only way for your friends to see that you’ve liked a given item is for them to visit your profile page. Facebook’s “Share” feature, by contrast, is a hundred times more powerful in terms of reaching your friends. That’s because hitting “Share” is essentially the same as updating your status. Not only do “Share” updates go atop your profile page until you post another status update, but, even more importantly, the item you’ve shared will likely end up in your friends’ Facebook news feeds. That’s something that never happens with the Like button.

All real power is subject to misuse, and the Share button is no exception. I’ve got a Facebook friend who was basically providing a textbook example of misusing Facebook’s “Share” feature: she would share every single item that PETA posts to its front page. She would post a dozen different PETA items each day, and these items would get into all her friends’ newsfeeds. If I cared that much about PETA, I’d subscribe to their RSS feed. Since this wasn’t the sort of content I wanted constantly appearing in my news feed, I just blocked her updates from showing up in my feed.

The thing to understand about the “Share” button is to realize that it’s immensely powerful, but it’s also by nature intrusive. So you want to be very sparing about using it. To “Share” a link is no different than updating your profile status, and that’s something you want to do sparingly, or you’ll run the risk of having your friends block you. As a rule of thumb, I think it’s best to limit “Shares” or status updates to once, or at the very most, twice a day.

The “Like” button, by contrast, is by design too lightweight and unobtrusive to be misused. Whether you click it once a month or a hundred times a day, you won’t be irritating your friends, or giving them reason to block you, since nothing you “Like” gets into your friends’ news feeds.

All of this brings me back to yesterday’s Conklin Dairy Farms cruelty video. This is in all probability the single most horrible undercover factory farm video ever produced. For something of this magnitude, with a short shelf life and a real chance of going viral, it’s time to break out the heavy artillery and use the “Share” button. What if you’ve already clicked the “Like” button? No problem. As we’ve seen, the “Like” button is too lightweight to bother anyone, and hitting “Share” after the fact won’t be redundant.

By hitting the “Share” button, you’re making a value judgement that a given item is important or interesting enough to deserve a spot in your friends’ news feeds. It’s as simple as that. And I think if there was ever a time for an animal advocate to use the “Share” button, it’s in the 72 hours after the release of a groundbreaking story like the Conklin Farms cruelty video.

I hope this overview has been helpful to you and to your advocacy. A couple last notes for regular readers. First, I’ve just added back a Facebook “Share” button that appears at the very bottom of every single blog entry I post. So now you’ve got an easy way to “Like” or “Share” any story on—most items I post are only worth a “Like,” but when you find a bombshell story then it’s time to hit the “Share” button instead. Secondly, I currently post what I view as the most “Share”-worthy items to the fan page. On a given day, I might blog a half dozen items, but I typically only make one post to the fan page each day. Maybe that post is only worth a “Like,” or maybe it’s worth a “Share.” Your call. But, for now, think of the fan page as sort of a “greatest hits” collection of my blog posts.

So, having written all this, I hope you’ll apply what you’ve learned to get word out about MFA’s undercover dairy investigation. With your help, the publicity from this video will inspire long-overdue safeguards for farmed animals, and create a ton of new vegans in the process.

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