Zoos and Social Media

By Taylor Andelin

Fiona, the Social Media Star

Fiona the hippo is one of the most famous animals in the world. Her remarkable story of struggle, recovery, and triumph captured the hearts of millions worldwide. In January 2017, Fiona was born six weeks early at the Cincinnati Zoo. As a premature hippo calf, she was unable to nurse from her mother. Zoo staff stepped in and hand-raised Fiona until she was healthy enough to be reunited with her family.[1]

If Fiona were born in the wild, it is likely she would not have survived. However, with the help of veterinary care at the zoo, Fiona defied all odds and lived. The Cincinnati Zoo shared her story on social media as it was unfolding. Fans across the world assembled online to cheer Fiona on in her recovery.

The Cincinnati Zoo posted photo and video updates of Fiona on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. To this date, videos of Fiona posted by the Cincinnati Zoo on YouTube have over 130 million views.[2]

Cincinnati Zoo’s coverage of Fiona is the gold star example of how zoos can use social media platforms to promote animal education, increase public awareness, and even generate revenue.

Facebook has over 2.7 billion users, and 74% of them use the site daily. Thus, social media for all types of businesses is essential in our digital world. The Dun & Bradstreet industry report of Museums, Zoos & Parks states that social media campaigns are important aspects of marketing efforts and successful outreach for zoos.[4]

If social media is a vital part of business, then it is necessary to know how to use it to its fullest potential. Consistency, creativity, and a personal appeal make social media more effective for zoos.


The first step to improving a business’s social media following is to provide consistent content. Zoos should commit to post every day. People follow pages because they expect to see their content, so posting every day is for the best. Social media managers can analyze page insights to know the best time of day to post.[5]

Perhaps some people are worried their followers will get annoyed with constant updates. However, Facebook’s algorithm does not show every post to each follower every time. Even on social media sites other than Facebook, it is perfectly acceptable to post every day. Zoos have positive news that people want to see. Let them see it!

Michelle Curley, the social media manager for the Cincinnati Zoo said in July 2017, “We became consumed with all things Fiona. We’ve done an update on Facebook every day since she was born.”[6] Notice: every day.

Consistency is key to success. More posts mean more engagement which equates to more revenue. The formula is simple: post every day of the week.

The Minnesota Zoo “updates its social media feed with daily photos of tigers cuddling up to one another, penguins posing for the camera, or behind-the-scenes images of zookeepers at work.” This gives their followers a break from the “bleak news filling up their timeline(s).”[7]

“But posting every day of the week is difficult,” some social media managers may counter. Agreed. It is not easy to post every day. In fact, 75% of content marketers express similar concerns that it is a struggle to produce quality content for audience engagement.[8]

Not even famous YouTubers can create original content every day. Everyone needs a break eventually. However, companies can save time by using curated content from other people to fill the gaps in social media schedules.[9]

For zoos, this means relying on guests for content to share. Social media managers can share fan photos of the zoo (don’t forget to credit the photographer), hold a photo contest to receive more submissions, and share others’ Instagram stories to the zoos’ accounts.

Beyond the benefits of increased public engagement, social media provides a way for zoos to reach beyond the limits of their physical locations.[10] Everyone wishes they could go to the zoo every day, but that’s not realistic. However, through consistent social media use, zoos can establish connection with their fans and followers each day of the year. Having consistent posts enables followers to feel like they are visiting the zoo during the days they cannot. Additionally, social media helps people that are unable to visit the zoo because of location or other limiting factors feel included.

Consistent posting on social media also provides unique opportunities for zoos to educate the public about the animals. At the park, guests can read about the animal species from informative signs. But on social media, fans can learn about animals from easy-to-read posts. Zoo social media managers can post animal facts to promote education and to raise awareness about animals.


Zoos can excel in creativity on social media. (A photo of a baby animal posted by the local zoo is more interesting than a photo of a chicken sandwich posted by a local restaurant!) People follow zoos to stay current with their content. Creative posts are more unique, and therefore generate more engagement with followers.

Here are a few simple ways creators can generate more engagement:

  • Include at least one image
  • Keep it short
  • Focus on baby animals
  • Vary the type of posts
  • Ask questions
  • Add calls to action

Include at least one image. Posts with photos are more creative and engaging. Images get more shares, which allow the post to spread.

Keep it short.[11] People feel overwhelmed by long blocks of text. If the post is too long, viewers will swipe right past it.

Focus on baby animals. No other animal at the zoo gets as much attention as the newborns.[12] People love animals, but people especially love baby animals.

Vary the type of posts. Be creative. Don’t post the same type of status over and over:  change it up. Hold a caption contest on a photo. Host a naming poll. Post a throwback photo of the zoo. Educate followers about an animal species. Give an update to a mom and baby animal. Go behind the scenes on construction at a new exhibit. Post about an animal’s birthday. The opportunities are limitless.

Ask questions.[13] This is one of the easiest ways to get more engagement. For more comments, ask a question in the post, and the followers will feel more inclined to respond.

Add calls to action.[14] These direct the readers to a desired action. Include a link to the zoo’s website to read more or add a button to donate or to purchase tickets.

More creative posts generate more engagement. According to Gallup polls, businesses that prioritize engagement have 63% less customer turnover.[15]

For the zoos that posts videos on YouTube, remember to add your logo in the video to brand it. Also, put the best footage in the first three seconds of the video to catch the viewer’s attention as they scroll in their news feeds.

Personal Appeal

Any business’s social media presence should be warm and inviting. The profile picture, bio, and cover photo should reflect a welcoming mood.[16] A successful business makes its account feel like an online friend to its followers.

To be personal online, zoos should like and comment on the photos, posts, or reviews people share on their accounts. Engage with followers in the comments and talk with them on a first name basis. Answer direct messages as quickly as possible to maintain a good reputation.

Josh Le, the Minnesota Zoo’s communication manager, said, “We always try on all of our social media channels to be pretty responsive.”[17]

Zoos should strive to make connections with their followers to make them feel valued.[18] People feel seen when a business likes their comment or engages in a conversation with them.

Commit Now

Social media is not leaving anytime soon; it is here to stay. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter are powerful, free tools for businesses to generate revenue and promote their brands.

If any zoo needs any more encouragement to increase their social media presence, just remember Fiona the Hippo. Born in January 2017, her popularity on social media caused the Cincinnati Zoo’s attendance to grow by 20% in 2017 compared to the previous year.[19] Furthermore, the Cincinnati Zoo “garnered $480,000 from merchandising agreements with local business selling Fiona-themed items.”[20]

This “Fiona craze” started with a simple post on social media, and it grew and grew and has not stopped spreading yet. Through consistent, creative, and personal efforts, all zoos can enhance their social media channels to promote animal education and generate revenue.


[1] “Hippo Baby Fiona Updates.” Cincinnati Zoo. Cincinnati Zoo, January 25, 2017. http://cincinnatizoo.org/news-releases/premature-hippo-baby-updates/.

[2] “The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.” YouTube. YouTube. Accessed October 28, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/user/CincinnatiZooTube.

[3] “Proforma Graphic Services: How to Rock Facebook for Businesses in 2020 – Three Girls Media.” News Bites – Private Companies, Feb 04, 2020.

[4] “Museums, Zoos & Parks” – Quarterly Update 2/18/2019. Fort Mill, South Carolina: Mergent, 2019.

[5] Freedman, Max. “8 Tips for Generating More Engagement on Facebook.” business.com, October 20, 2020. https://www.business.com/articles/boost-facebook-engagement-social-media-marketing/.

[6] Tidmarsh, Kevin. “While Fighting The Odds, Fiona The Hippo Became A Social Media Star.” NPR. NPR, July 24, 2017. https://www.npr.org/2017/07/24/538874374/while-fighting-the-odds-fiona-the-hippo-became-a-social-media-star.

[7] Dupuy, Beatrice. “Minnesota Zoo’s Animals are the Stars on Social Media.” TCA Regional News, Jan 29, 2016.

[8] “Proforma Graphic Services: Content Curation Guide: How to Boost Social Media Marketing – Social Champ.” News Bites – Private Companies, Apr 02, 2020.

[9] Proforma Graphic Services, “Content Curation Guide”

[10] “Museums, Zoos & Parks”

[11] Freedman, “8 Tips”

[12] Dupuy, “Minnesota Zoo’s Animals”

[13] Freedman, “8 Tips”

[14] Freedman, “8 Tips”

[15] “Proforma Graphic Services: How to make a Personal Connection with Your Customers | AZ Big Media.” News Bites – Private Companies, Feb 20, 2020.

[16] Proforma Graphic Services, “How to make a Personal Connection”

[17] Dupuy, “Minnesota Zoo’s Animals”

[18] Hawe, Jeff. “6 Tips for Effective Social Media Marketing.” Hawaii Business 65, no. 9 (03, 2020): 14-15.

[19] Meet the Cincinnati Zoo’s Viral Social Media Star Fiona the Hippo. YouTube. ABC News, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKGd5vItcBs.

[20] Akhtar, Allana. “Fiona the Hippo Has Sold Nearly $500,000 in Merchandise for the Cincinnati Zoo.” Money.Com, January 9, 2018, 1.

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