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When it’s Not a Good Idea to Post a Facebook Event…and Why

Screen shot of pet wellness and vaccine clinic Facebook Event

Click on the picture to view the Facebook Event.

If you read the title of this blog and thought to yourself, “Why would it not be a good idea to post a Facebook Event?” Well, let me save you some stress, time and heartache.

Each fall, some of our veterinarians, students and many volunteers hold an outreach event to provide free pet care and human care to underserved/low-income neighborhoods in Denver. It’s truly an amazing event to be a part of. This year, we thought (keyword: thought) it would be a good idea to post the clinic as a Facebook Event to target pet owners in those neighborhoods. If you haven’t guessed it by now, BIG MISTAKE.

Within one week of posting the Facebook Event, it reached more than 100,000 people. Two thousand people marked they were interested in the event, and five hundred marked that they planned to attend the event. Did I mention we had enough volunteers and veterinarians to serve around 100 pets?

So, how did it spread so quickly? Great question. I have no idea. I do, however, have a few ideas.

  1. The power of Facebook Events and sharing: I’ve posted Facebook Events plenty of times before, and they typically perform pretty well. But, why did this one explode? I’m guessing it had something to do with including the words “free” and “pet” and “wellness” and “vaccine” in the title. We love our pets, right? But wouldn’t the promise of free veterinary care make life a little easier?
  2. NextDoor: We heard the event had been shared on the popular neighborhood app NextDoor, and I’m guessing that’s really what fueled the Facebook Event fire.

Anticipating that the event might attract an additional 400 people (or more) hoping to get free pet care, here’s what we did (along with a couple of lessons learned):

Don’t assume your audience reads the fine print

We began receiving Facebook messages almost immediately after posting the event. Appointments were required for some of the services, like spay/neuter surgeries. Although the appointment information was included in the Facebook Event description, we received many questions about needing an appointment and whether we could book the appointments for them. We realized if there were that many people asking if they needed appointments, then there were likely many more who didn’t know they needed an appointment at all.

Another hurdle: The organization staff helping us make the appointments were overwhelmed with calls and voicemails for appointments, and couldn’t return them all at once. This led to many people messaging us to ask if we’d received their voicemails and if they had an appointment. We had no idea.

As I mentioned, some services required appointments. Vaccines were not one of those services. But, our veterinarians only had a limited supply of vaccines to give them to animals. Here’s what we did next.

More volunteers, more veterinarians, more vaccines

The lead veterinarian (Dr. Danielle Frey), our communications director (Kristen Browning-Blas) and I met immediately to come up with a game plan. Dr. Frey (poor, amazing, wonderful Dr. Frey) ordered more vaccines in anticipation of more animals. However, more vaccines meant we would need more veterinarians to administer them because we were working within a specified timeframe for the event. She began exhausting all her contacts to find additional volunteers and veterinarians.

Update the Facebook Event…over and over

Updated post on the Facebook EventWe questioned whether or not we should just take the Facebook Event down, but we felt like that was unfair to people who saw the event. Deleting the event without answers or explanations? It might be the easy way out, but it wasn’t effective (people would still come), nor was it a good way to build relationships with our community.

We realized that people weren’t reading the details of the event, so we knew we had to catch our audience’s attention within the first couple words. We changed the title of the event from:

“Free Pet Wellness and Vaccine Clinic”

To this:

“At Capacity: Free Pet Wellness and Vaccine Clinic”

We unfortunately had to also require appointments for all services, which was tricky for those who saw the event, decided to go, and then never looked at the event again. We had no way of ensuring everyone saw the updated appointment information, and sadly had to turn away a few attendees toward the end of the clinic.

We edited the title and description, and posted updates regularly as changes were made. All posts were translated to Spanish, as well.

Last, we provided alternatives for low-cost or free veterinary services. It was important to us that we didn’t just say, “You’re too late. Sorry. Better luck next time.” Instead, we pointed them in a new direction.

Answer questions and messages as fast as possible

As you can imagine, we caused a lot of confusion by changing the event details, and undoubtedly made some people upset. I kept a close eye on our messages and comments on the Facebook Event, and responded quickly to everyone. Kris, who is bilingual, was able to answer questions in Spanish. By answering quickly, acknowledging frustrations and providing apologies, we received understanding responses.

Create signage

We weren’t sure exactly how many people without appointments were going to show up to the Saturday event, but we figured placing signage outside of the parking lots and building would help manage the masses. Our awesome graphic designer, Billy Babb, created a few sandwich board posters for us to inform attendees that appointments were required.

The outcome

It could have been worse. It really could have.

Thanks to Dr. Frey, the increase in volunteers, doctors, veterinarians and vaccinations allowed for even more animals to be treated. Everyone worked for eight straight hours to help animals and people who needed care. We were able to accept many walk-ins, and only turned away around 30 people/pets (which I still feel horrible about and forever will).

Did our over communication work? I have no idea. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Wish I could give you a better answer on whether to follow my advice or not. But, I know one thing: It didn’t hurt.

I doubt we will post the event to Facebook next year, unless we can figure out a ticketing system and people can claim tickets through the Facebook Event. But even then, I doubt we will post again.

My biggest takeaway: We all love free services. We all love our pets. If your event combines the two but has limited resources, really think through whether a Facebook Event is the right way to communicate the event or not. You never know if it might reach 100,000 more people than you intended.

To leave on a high note, here are a few of the wonderfully positive things that came from the day (via Dr. Frey):

  • The Denver Post covered the event.
  • One attendee brought his dog and as he waited in line, he felt a little anxious, so one of our volunteers took him to the side while they waited and heard his story. He just got an apartment and was working to exit homelessness, but he couldn’t afford care for his dog, who had been his companion through it all. After sharing his story, our volunteer brought him over to talk to the behavioral health support staff and they were able to provide him with support and a consult, while someone stood in line for him to get his pet seen.
  • Another attendee saw the event on Facebook and made an effort to travel all across town to get his pets cared for. His history as a veteran and reentering society also led him to experience a bit of anxiety, but was able to talk about his experience with the behavioral health staff and still get his furry family cared for.
  • The Pet Resource Center of DFL held a follow-up grooming event after our clinic, and 13 dogs and their owners attended, and very excitedly learned how to trim nails, clean eyes and do some grooming at home. One matted little dog even received a full shave down.
  • The Pet Resource Center and the Denver Dumb Friends League noted that of the 180 patients we examined and vaccinated that day, 120 were intact (not spayed or neutered). They worked to follow up with those clients to get them signed up for low cost surgery, and 15 of those pets have already received surgery.
  • In total: 180 dog and cat exams and vaccines, 92 flu shots, 30 spays and neuters, and 10 people registered to vote.