Monday, March 15, 2010

Canine Companions for Independence

"I used to be the kid in the wheelchair, Now, I'm the kid with the amazing dog."
—Cory and Skilled Companion Melly

In “Engaging stakeholders through social networking: How nonprofit organizations are using Facebook” (week five), authors Richard D. Waters et al. studied the Facebook profiles of 275 nonprofits in an effort to determine how successfully they were connecting with their stakeholders. Each profile was assessed for evidence of disclosure, usefulness and interactivity--three characteristics that are crucial for cultivating online relationships. I decided to check out the social media footprint of one of my favorite nonprofits, Canine Companions for Independence® (CCI), an organization that provides highly-trained assistance dogs for the disabled.

CCI on Facebook

I searched CCI’s Facebook profile looking for evidence of disclosure, usefulness and interactivity. I found it had most of the important items, such as a logo, a URL, pictures, discussions, and donations; I also saw some interaction between the organization and its fans, but the organization was represented only by an anonymous logo, not an individual with a name and personality. (On its Causes page, CCI does list administrators, so we can assume one of them is actually posting and replying.) CCI updates promote the organization’s Web site and Twitter page, helping to build the brand. While I am not wowed by the FB profile, I do think CCI is trying to engage with its stakeholders.

CCI on Twitter

CCI has two Twitter accounts, one maintained by the organization, @ccicanine, and one by an individual puppy raiser, @ccijourney. @ccicanine is rocking along at about the same pace as the FB wall, with 415 followers and a limited number of tweets. I think @ccijourney is attempting to share a more personal, engaging story but is not succeeding; I was hoping for a tweeting puppy, but it is in fact the human, and her tweets are not informative, fun or inspiring.

CCI on YouTube

CCI’s YouTube channel offers videos, of course, but also a brief organizational profile with links to the Web site and an opportunity to make a direct donation. With only 177 subscribers and just over 33,000 uploads in two years, this platform doesn’t seem to be wildly successful. I watched several videos and concluded that CCI needs to entertain while they inform. Puppies are cute, and it’s wonderful that they are service dogs, but the videos all look and sound like PSAs.

CCI on LinkedIn

I was surprised to see that CCI has a presence on LinkedIn with a complete corporate profile and a group of 114 members. As of this writing, my membership in the group is pending approval, so I can’t really determine the value of CCI group membership.

CCI on the Web (Home Base)

The main social media platform for CCI is the Web site at It’s not fancy, but it is well organized and does a good job of explaining what the organization does and how someone could get involved. Under the now familiar blue and yellow logo, CCI offers engaging pictures and stories from people who have raised a puppy or received a trained assistance dog. However, the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links are not easy to spot; visitors have to click the CONNECT tab to discover these links. Also tucked in a bottom-of-the-page navigation menu is a link to the gift shop.

Stuck in Traditional Marketing Mode

Overall, I think CCI’s social media footprint is light. While it maintains multiple platforms, it is not using them effectively. The nonprofit seems to be stuck in a traditional one-way marketing strategy, unwilling or unable to establish a more effective dialogue with stakeholders. A few quick fixes might include:

  • using real names for every post, update and tweet, in place of a faceless corporate persona;
  • stepping up the content and frequency of Facebook and Twitter updates;
  • cross-marketing platforms so visitors know all the available ways to engage;
  • aggregating the many blogs written by CCI volunteers and puppies; and
  • linking blogs and videos to the Web page.

I know, I know... it's not as easy as it sounds. If it were, every organization would be a social media star!


  1. Montyne, you are on the money with your assessment of this organization's social media impact. The two main components of their "brand," 1)helping people with disabilities and 2)dogs, ought to be leaping off the web pages and instilling in every viewer the altruistic desire to help any way they can.

    They do need to personalize their approach, and they definitely need to look at the frequency at which they post. And there needs to be a call to action. Otherwise, viewers such as myself will say to themselves "that is a good program" as they click onto something else.

  2. Hi Montyne,

    As a social media consultant, I have so many suggestions for these guys. First, profile individual puppy raisers and recipients, and share their stories. Preferably in video form! (Their current YouTube offerings are a bunch of top-down commercials. Okay, wait, I found a couple, but they were not featured AT ALL. I would have Elsey and Virginia on my homepage. That sweet video would make anybody cry and donate money.)

    Second, for pete's sake, like you said, Tweet as a puppy. People love that stuff but I've never see anyone use that tactic to raise awareness or funds. Look at @sockington on Twitter. That cat is amazingly popular and for no cause whatsoever.

    Third, again like you said, make the links to social media easier to spot. And their email marketing? forget about it. Nobody's going to notice that little link at the bottom of the page, and email marketing is one of the best ways to bring people back to your site.

    Fourth, where's the blog? To keep their SEO up, they need to be updating constantly. Post calls for volunteers, news, info about assistance dogs, etc. on a blog and their SEO will reign. While they have a paid Google ad, they do not show up in the first page of organic (i.e. nonpaid) searches on Google. Instead of paying for that advertising, they could be building their organic (and more trusted) rankings and engaging with constituents through a blog.

    Fifth, iPhone apps. Apps like Be Extraordinary! ( allow people to participate in good deeds from their iPhones. CCI could definitely find a way to partner with that app or one like it.

    This was a great assessment. I hope CCI has a Google Alert set up and reads some of our advice!

    Jennifer Escalona
    Social Media Consultant

  3. Montyne,

    I think this is a clear analysis of their marketing position and you've got some great suggestions that could help move them forward.

    Programs like CCI are exceptional and their social media should share that. My mother has diabetes and several other health complications. She's relying on trained canines for the last few years to alert her to insulin reactions because she can no longer recognize the symptoms on her own. If the dog can't wake her up during a reaction at night, she runs upstairs and wakes up my Grandmother. The perception and diligence of caring canines is astounding.

    I took a look at CCI's youtube video and I wanted to mention one that really stood out to me: Assistance Dog Elsey Helps Virginia.

    This is a great video. It's clean and well-edited, but it's also in the individual's home and it clearly shows a genuine relationship between them. More emphasis on these sort of stories and interactions can show the value of the CCI program.