Instagram's Going to the Dogs (and Cats) - Make Sure Your Rescue Stays in the Game!

Tuesday, Jul 5, 2016


At Sparkie we probably speak with 5-10 different rescue organizations/rescuers every week, and we follow a ton on social across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and now even Snapchat. While almost every rescue is on Facebook, fewer are active on Instagram, and among those that are, there's a range of approaches - some really good, others not so much.

In keeping with our focus on social media for our #TechTipTuesday series, we thought all rescuers could use some guidance about this unique, visually-forward platform, including:

  • What makes it different from other platforms out there?
  • How you can make each post go the extra mile for you?
  • And, perhaps most important, whether or not it's worth investing the time to set up a profile for your rescue?

Let's get going!


We know rescuers don't have a lot of time, so if you can't read any further, at least read this: Instagram is about (and one might argue ONLY about) good VISUAL content...only posts that are engaging visually are going to get noticed.

So if you want to post on IG, be sure you can commit to producing good quality photos and videos and catchy captions (side note: this doesn't require you finding a professional photographer; in fact, IG's built-in editing features can go a long way!). But if you can't commit the time to making posts like this, then you may not be ready for IG yet...and that's OK! If you are though, keep reading...


Instagram is great for showing off photos and videos of your rescues and volunteers, as well as for engaging people who support your rescue and want to be kept up to date with what's going on (in a visual way of course).

With 500 million monthly active users (300 million of whom use Instagram daily), that’s a whole lot of potential engagement on your content and brand! In fact, IG drives 58 times more engagement than Facebook and 120 times more engagement than Twitter, so if you have the time to dedicate to an IG account, it's likely going to pay off at some point.


Unlike Facebook and Twitter (but like Snapchat), Instagram is exclusively visual and mobile (meaning you can only post to it through your phone, though there are ways around this), so your content strategy and how you execute it are going to be fundamentally different than other platforms.

While lots of rescuers use Facebook for urgent pleas to help find homes for animals, and Twitter is used to provide updates on how events are going, Instagram is about longer-term brand building and engagement. Let's face it, people are on Instagram because they want to be entertained and, more importantly, smile. So keep that in mind when deciding what to post.


We've observed over ~50 IG rescue accounts and noticed a few things that seem to work well. So here's some suggestions based on what we've seen:

  • Post Frequency: To keep engagement levels reasonable high, try to aim for at least 1 post a day. If that's not possible, that's OK..the important thing to keep in mind is that whatever cadence you come up with, be sure to keep that frequency consistent (maybe it's every other day, or every Wednesday and Saturday).

    One of the worst things to do on Instagram that will tick off your followers is posting erratically; for example, 10 posts on a Friday, 0 posts through the weekend, and then 1 post on Monday. In order to establish content value with your followers, slow and steady is the way to go.

  • Certain photo types/styles work best: A good rule of thumb before you upload a picture is to stop and ask yourself, "If I were to see this same exact picture on my IG feed, but from another rescue, would I react?" If the answer is "no" then guess what? You may not want to post that picture!

    Remember, when people pull up their IG feeds, they likely have 100s if not 1000s of photos to scroll need to give them a reason to stop on yours and then engage with it.

    Posts that we've seen do well in this regard tend to be:

    1. Photos taken outside; there's just something about dogs and cats outside that gets people excited.
    2. Posts where the caption is the animal talking: nothing like adding some human elements to our furry writing a post as if it's coming from the rescue's mouth is a great idea (just be sure to use quotation marks so people can understand it's the animal talking and not you).
    3. Posts where the rescue looks at the camera directly in the eye (bonus points if you can come up with a funny caption).
    4. Posts with families: people love to see animals with their forever families, so be sure to include happy shots of your rescue's forever home when you can.
    This post from our friends at Mr. Bones & Co did better than any other post that week - notice something? it was taken outside
  • Keep captions short! And if you can't, make use of spacing to make it easy to read: When writing a caption for IG, keep your "Twitter" cap on if you can; in other words, act as if you can only write up to 140 characters (like a tweet). Again, why do people use IG? To see COOL VISUALS, not read a novel!

    If you do need to write more (and there's nothing wrong with doing that, we've seen lots of rescues leverage IG very effectively to tell a story about an animal) then we recommend you make liberal use of lines and spaces to break the text apart.

    Now, if you try doing this in the IG app on your phone itself, you may notice the program doesn't let you add spaces between paragraphs. That's why you need to write the post somewhere else first (like in a draft email or the notes app on your iPhone, if you have one) and then cut and copy it into IG.

    Here's a look:

    Open either the notes app in your iPhone or just a blank email message...start typing your ig post. Once you get past 2 lines, break it up using the 'return' button or the underscore line to make it easier to read. then when you're done, cut and copy THE TEST into the ig app itself, on your phone


    You can see here that we wanted to break apart the story of puppy mick with the caption, so we first typed it out on our phone, then cut and paste it into the ig app.
  • Leverage popular hashtags/topics to bring in new followers: Sometimes hash-tagging topics that are trending can help bring in new followers. So how do you know what those topics are? Well, truth be told it used to be easier to find out but IG changed things up a bit so now you can only really see posts that are suggested to you based on what you already like (using the magnifying class in the bottom left of the IG app).

    But one quick way to see if hashtags you want to use are, in fact, popular is as follows: as you start typing a hashtag into a post, it will automatically show you how many posts use that you'll want to pick the one that has the most.

    For example, one of us here at Sparkie has a rescued cocker spaniel named Hershey (he's kind of a big deal if you haven't heard of him yet). As you start to type in #cockerspaniel you get a bunch of suggestions (see below). While we might prefer to use the second hashtag, we always stick with the first suggestion.

    While we personally prefer the 'cockerspaniels of instagram' hashtag, we chose the regular 'cockerpspaniel' one given it has over 1MM POSTS ASSOCIATED WITH IT.
  • Make clever use of your profile for support links. This isn't entirely obvious at first glance but something to keep in mind is that Instagram posts can’t contain hyperlinks, which just means that people won’t be able to click on a link directly from a post like they can on other platforms.

    So where do you put links you want people to go to? That's right, your PROFILE. Rescues that do a good job getting people to donate through Instagram end every post with some type of note telling people to "check out our profile to donate." Once someone gets there, they can then click the link in the profile and be on their way!


    A final thing to note about this: unlike Facebook (but like Twitter), on IG you only have 150 characters to describe yourself on your profile. So if you want to include a link, consider using a link abbreviator like, which is free to use. This will cut your link down to fewer characters, but will takes users to the same place.

    If you register with a free account on, you’ll also get access to a dashboard where you can keep track of all of your abbreviated links and see how much activity they’re getting via your social posts.


So we just dropped a lot of info on you, so take some time to digest it before deciding whether or not to get into the IG game. But if/once you do, keep in mind that users of Instagram are more engaged with branded content than on any other social media sharing site. So be sure to interact with them - follow them if they follow you and keep people updated on the status of the rescues you post about (again, people LOVE getting updates on the progress your rescue is making!)

Keep in mind as well that measuring success on Instagram is largely about brand equity and brand building, not necessarily fundraising. You should always be striving to tell visual stories with a branded voice, and unique, high quality content. This is what will most help get your rescues noticed; and after all, it's getting noticed that ultimately helps them get adopted!

Tried using IG but still confused about how to make it work for your rescue? Or curious to try it out for the first time? Email us at and we'll help ya out!