If you spend any time on the internet, any time at all, you’ve probably already seen this absolutely wonderful viral video about Mugsy— a sweet dog who recently arrived at KC Pet Project in really rough shape:
What you might not yet be aware of is that less than a week after KC Pet Project’s Communications and Design Coordinator Katie Grissum put the video up on her phenomenally popular personal TikTok account, it had raised over $10,000 for the KC Pet Project Roadrunner Medical Fund to help Mugsy and other shelter pets.
The donations came in from hundreds of viewers, all over the world.
Obviously we had to speak with Katie about how she did it—and hear her lessons for other shelters looking to reach animal lovers through this new(ish) social media platform.
The following Q&A with Katie Grissum and Chief Communications Officer Tori Fugate has been edited for space. We’ve peppered the interview with more of Katie’s wonderful TikTok videos, too, of course, along with some videos made by other organizations she thinks use the TikTok platform really well.
How did you decide to do the video about Mugsy?
Katie: My content has always been about my personal experiences working at an animal shelter. I was leaving the shelter on a Friday and saw a man struggling to carry a crate. I asked if he needed help and he explained to me that the dog he had in the crate was dying and that the dog belonged to his neighbor.
The first thing I thought about was to get the dog to the vet clinic as soon as possible. Then when I knew that Mugsy was being taken care of, I started recording. I knew that if this situation was a defining moment of my day that it would be something that others would want to experience.
Did you think the video would get such a big reaction?
Katie: The only time I know that a video is going to get a good amount of views is when I am moved by a story. It makes it easier for me to create a better story when I am personally invested in it.
However, I am always shocked when videos go viral. You may have a feeling that a video will do well, but you NEVER think that it will get to viral status.
How can other shelters use TikTok to get people excited about and engaged with their pets?
Katie: The main thing that we focus on is storytelling. Our followers on TikTok are located in all corners of the world. So we had to ask ourselves, “How do you get someone that is on the other side of the world invested in one of our pets? How do you motivate them to take action through following, sharing, or even donating?”
Through storytelling (especially when using voice-over) you can easily create a connection. Getting comfortable using voice-over and storytelling takes time but it is all worth it when you see so many people all over the world coming together to help one of your pets.
Do you think others can also do significant fundraising on TikTok? Is the fundraising on TikTok different from on other social media platforms?
Katie: We hadn’t seen a significant amount of donations come through TikTok until I posted Mugsy’s story. Within a few days that video raised over $10,000.
TikTok does not have a way to place a link directly on a video, but you can use tools like Linktree to hold several different links in your bio. Thankfully, TikTok users have adapted pretty well to having to visit a creator’s profile for links.
We are really excited that we now have some solid proof that it is worth the time investment to create a TikTok.
Do you do anything to promote your TikTok videos, or is it all organic? How do people find them?
Katie: So far all of my TikTok video views and followers have been organic. When you post a video, TikTok first pushes it out on the For You Page to a small number of people. If it does well then they push it out to more people and the process repeats.
Since everyone’s For You Page is different because of their particular likes and interests, it is important to use relevant hashtags so it is shown to people that are interested in your type of content. I often use the hashtags #AnimalShelter #ShelterDog #ShelterCat #KansasCity #KCPetProject.
What do you see other shelters doing well on social media? Where is room for improvement?
Katie: Animal shelters are just now starting to start TikTok accounts so we are all still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Some shelters do a great job at posting pet-related content that closely follows TikTok trends, like Nebraska Humane.Society.
Other shelters have created themed weekly posts. They have a weekly featured pet or they post all adoptable cats weekly. These types of accounts provide consistency for the audience, they always know what to expect like Watauga Humane Society.
As a person that has worked in the animal sheltering world for over 7 years, I know that we tend to become used to seeing things like a kitten playing with a feather. Of course, we still think it’s adorable but what we need to remember is that our community may not get to see that every day.
This question is for Tori: The viral video of Katie with the Chihuahua is how I first learned about KCPP having a social media star on staff. What did you all think when this story went so viral?
Tori: I came into work the day after she posted that video on her personal account, and she just looked at me and said, “ummmm, we have this situation.” The video had received like 12 million views overnight, and she started getting media inquiries that day asking her about it.
She also said that day, “I think we need a KC Pet Project TikTok account.” So she started our account in October of 2020, and we’re at 866,000 followers with a growth rate of 21,622.59 percent since April.
Also for Tori: Did KC Pet Project set out to hire a social media influencer, or did things just have the great fortune to work out that way?
Tori: Not at all, actually! Katie was hired as our communications and design coordinator, and her role at KC Pet Project is predominately graphic design, videos, social media support, and any other marketing needs for the organization. All of this success on TikTok is totally on her. She’s just amazing at TikTok.
Social media can be STRESSFUL. People today are getting harder to deal with on social media, and I think that TikTok is a nice, informal platform for a lot of people. Katie’s videos have such a calming effect that you cannot get upset watching them. She really does such an excellent job, and it gives her a great way to show her creativity and her eye for videography.
What else should we know?
Katie: I know that stepping into a whole new social media platform is daunting for a lot of organizations. I want to ensure that the time that you invest into learning TikTok and video content, in general, will be very beneficial.
Because of TikTok and other video platforms (ex. Instagram Reels) I believe that video is going to become more and more important for brands. So diving in when we are at the very beginning of this change, will only place you ahead of the game.
Finally and most importantly: How is Mugsy doing now? Can you please give him a kiss for me??
Tori: I just checked with the clinic. It sounds like they’re seeking a hospice foster for Mugsy due to congestive heart disease. He has a heart murmur, and he’s on different medicines to help with that. He is heating well though and alert, and he is a super sweet boy. We’ll hopefully get him in a foster home soon, so he can be more comfy.
Katie: One thing I know of sure is that he is surrounded by love and will be for however long he has left. And, I will absolutely give him a kiss for you!