While millions of people care about helping animals, many animal advocates may not think critically about how to maximize their impact. They may do what feels best for them and that step may be incongruous with effective advocacy. This article seeks to inspire animal advocates to consider how they can do the most good, even if it’s less exciting or elicits less of a response.
Does Your Language Help Animals?
A recent study confirmed that asking people to reduce their consumption of animals is much more likely to generate results than asking them to stop eating animals entirely. Further, it revealed that incremental change leads to more change. The study results also suggested that “animal advocates who wish to create the most diet change and thereby spare the most animals should focus on the suffering of farm animals (and possibly the environmental and health impacts of meat consumption). They should avoid focusing on the rights of animals, or how one needs to be vegan to have moral consistency.”
A recent study also confirms my position that using terms such as “cut out” or “cut back on” meat and other animals products is more effective than telling people to “go vegan” or “go vegetarian,” two terms I’ve long maintained have negative connotations to the general public that well-intentioned animal advocates often fail to appreciate. Although it may feel better to tell people to stop eating animals immediately, a more measured approach may generate better results.
Are Memes Effective?
The use of memes is one of the most common forms of communication in online forums. Memes engage audiences in an age where people prefer visuals with compact messages. But how effective are memes at affecting change? What kind of memes impact change? How do we know if our memes are reaching their intended audience? How many memes is too many memes? Is a person who posts too many memes perceived as passionate or unbalanced by the intended audience? The target audience is not the choir praising the memes; it’s the people who see the memes but likely never comment on them. Memes are fun but do they work?
As this article points out, memes can fall flat and “cause derision rather than audience loyalty.” Some memes are cringe-worthy, and may have an adverse effect on their target audience. Many animal advocacy memes get a lot of action on social media but that doesn’t mean they help animals or reach their target audience. For example, one meme shows a photo of an animal shooting a hunter with a gun, a popular scenario with some animal advocates. But does this image do anything to inspire people to stop hunting or would a more tempered approach focused on alternatives to recreational hunting be more effective? Reflective and strategic activists advocate to save lives, not simply to feel good.
As you analyze your strategies, you may also grow as an advocate by answering these difficult questions:
1. If my beloved dog or cat was facing certain death on a factory farm and I was advocating to save him or her, would I advocate in the same way as I’m currently advocating to save farm animals?
2. How much of my online advocacy is aimed at getting attention versus generating results for animals?
2. Am I more concerned with “likes” or shares on a post or getting across a message in a way that benefits animals?
3. How much of my time do I spend preaching to the choir?
4. How do I use social media to reach my intended audience?
5. Am I sharing specific examples of ways to help animals on social media and engaging in those opportunities (i.e. organizing events, speaking at schools, or raising money to benefit animal charities)?
6. Am I considering how my intended audience receives my message or simply communicating my message in a way that makes me feel good?
In short, think outside of the box, think critically about your impact, and take action that you can reasonably conclude benefits animals. The animals are counting on you.