The love we feel for our pets, whether dogs, cats, hamsters, pigs or reptiles, is quite pure. Humans also enjoy just looking at animals, and this accounts for the different sites and networks dedicated to them. Yet, what is behind the sudden surge of interest in specific animals and their social media profiles…dogs in particular? As someone obsessed with all things dogs, I really wanted to know. What I learned is really interesting and so I thought I’d share it with you.
Photographer Elias Weiss Friedman, who created the photographic site The Dogist, along with an Instagram channel with 3.3 million followers, says that the seeming takeover of the internet by animal photos is “an emotional thing, at the end of the day. It’s the same reason why people like babies. [Dogs and other animals] are very expressive and innocent and they don’t hold back anything. You can tell how they’re feeling just be looking at them. We trust that. They never try to represent themselves as anything else.”
I totally agree with that, and with National Dog Day just finished, you probably found yourself (like I did) looking at a flood of all new images of dogs of all kinds on sites or apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
There were the famous faces (we’re looking at you Doug the Pug) and the not so famous, and most were probably adorable, funny or simply appealing for their pup perfection.It was this that got me wondering about the whole animals-taking-over-the-internet question, as well as the specific emphasis on dogs.
Yet,I also wondered if many dog owners see these images and think: “Could my dog be famous and popular on social media?”
Dogs and Social Media Fame
After all, the aforementioned Doug has more than three million followers on Instagram and a whopping six million “thumbs ups” from Facebook fans. This means a great deal more than a big fan base – it means actual income from a variety of sources.
As a recent article pointed out, “Since the days of Lassie and Spuds MacKenzie, there have been famous non-human actors and models. But just as reality TV ushered in a generation of people famous for being famous, social media has spawned their animal equivalents, household pets elevated to household names.”
It isn’t dogs alone, after all, there’s Grumpy Cat! Yet, most of us dog lovers think of the major canine faces seen online. Doug the Pug’s success, for instance, translates to a full-time job for Doug’s owner Leslier Mosier, and it is a lifestyle that most modern pet owners covet.
I mean, really, I spend a lot of time writing about dogs because it gives me an excuse to spread out on the sofa with my laptop;Janice and Leroy tucked up on either side. Of course, I also get a reason to mention them hundreds (okay, probably thousands) of times online as I blog.
Yet, it’s not the words that make the celebrity, though, it’s the images, and the heart of online images and social media celebrity for most dogs is Instagram. And many dog owners wonder how that actually “works”. As one expert so aptly explained, “social media stardom tends to follow an established trajectory. Owners create an Instagram account to show off photos of a beloved pet. The account draws fans slowly, until a big-break moment—a media feature, a re-gram by a celebrity—catapults the animal into the big time. Endorsements, events, and advertisements follow…”
So, is it all up to chance, that one time you capture your dog doing something that millions of people appreciate, share and celebrate online?
It could be, but if you look at the biggest breeds in dog social media, you might notice something significant. According to the AKC, the most popular breeds in recent years include the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Beagle and Bulldog, i.e. mostly the sporting and/or working breeds. The kinds of dogs you can count on to be obedient, lovable family dogs.
Yet, take a look at the breeds that are the most popular on social media sites like Instagram and you see something different: Huskies, Shiba Inus, Chihuahuas, Pugs, Bulldogs and a variety of Terriers.
As a journalist in the New York Times pointed out, there are a few conclusions to draw from such comparisons. One being that social media places a premium on cuteness over obedience or intelligence. Yet, closer observers note that the biggest canine celebrities on social media seem to achieve their status by looking like people more than pups.
Publisher Cameron Woo (who prints The Bark, a dog focused magazine) agrees, saying, “The brachycephalic breeds, with their shortened heads, flat faces and barely there noses, are very photogenic with their large, forward-looking eyes…They appear to be grinning or smiling.”
And if the genetics are not there to create buzz or interest, many owners use grooming or props to dial up the interest. This is also why so many social media stars are often depicted in clothing or costumes, wigs or accessories. This is also why so many dogs have now supplanted human models in terms of merchandising.As an example, take the success of the Bob Ross-looking pup known as Agador, with his combed-out curls and tradition of sporting sunglasses and other human looks.
Adding It Up and Putting it to Work
So, what can you learn from this? Generally, there are several ways a dog might attain social media celebrity.
- It could be via a video or image taken purely by chance that you share to the dog’s dedicated Instagram page and which is then discovered and repeatedly shared by others.
- On the other hand, it could be a focused effort on your part to bring attention to their cuteness by taking loads of images that emphasize some facet of their personal appeal and charm.
- It is likely to occur if your dog is among the most “grammed” breeds, or if they have human-like traits in many photos or videos.
And yet, you still might not know how to determine if your dog is a candidate for social media fame and adoration based on those factors alone.
In the past, I’ve shared some Pointers for Taking Instagram Worthy Dog Photos and explained how dog photography is an entire enterprise all its own. From making your dog(s) comfortable with the camera and learning how to make Insta-worthy images, I’ve really dug into the topic.
Yet, I never really considered how to go about determining if a dog is an Insta-ready star.Groups like the AKC have thought about it, though, and many other dog owners with social media celebrities in their care have shared their insight.
From that information, I’ve pulled together a list for those with potential stars in their midst to use as a guide. So, without further ado, here are 3 ways you can start to build your dog’s social media celebrity:
1. Is your dog a rescue?
I love that this is a “thing”, but it is! As one journalist wrote, “One of the most direct beneficiaries of the cult of celebrity pet worship are rescue advocates. Famous pets who started life in shelters are great fundraisers for animal causes.”
Another noted, “pet influencers have been a significant force in encouraging prospective pet parents to adopt rather than shop, and their influence can certainly be wielded for charitable, good causes.”
So, if your beautiful or handsome dog happens to also originate from a shelter or rescue situation, think of that as a positive that can be used in your quest to cultivate canine celebrity online.
How? That really depends on the other factors. For example, your pup might be remarkably good looking, or the opposite and a real odd ball in their appearance. Combined with the fact that they are a rescue can enhance the prestige or interest in their images.
Just keep in mind that there is a lot to be said for the social media stars that come from less than ideal beginnings.
Survivors are also of interest to the millions of canine social media enthusiasts. The dog that beat cancer or a severe injury, who can still sprint in spite of losing a limb…such backgrounds really allow human viewers to bond with and appreciate the dog in the images…and about those images…
2. Perfect the photographic content
It goes without saying that good photography is the same as premium written content and is the most important factor. A great story, a cool dog, and a lot of interesting posts are good, but without the quality photos, you won’t grab much attention. With the advent of premium camera phones and affordable video gear, it is not that difficult to up your photography game. You can use the tips I provided in that earlier article, and also look to social media for inspiration.
How are others lighting, posing, and dressing their dogs? What are the images that seem to attract the most attention? Assess what it is about them that makes them work. Often, it is more about the dog’s personality than anything else, but it can improve your camera work to start assessing other, quality shots.
3. Figure out just what is unique about your dog(s)?
Honestly, that’s a tough one. I think every dog is unique, but for the sake of social media fame, you need to take a few steps back and assess your dog’s personality, quirky behaviors, unusual likes or dislikes, and so on.
Janice, for example, is enamored with the spotlight and actually nudges Leroy out of lots of photos. Leroy has an affinity, nay an authority, where it relates to finding the smelliest flip flops. Not sneakers or slippers, not boots or high heels…it is flip flops or it is nothing. Is that something that could be used for online celebrity? I’m not sure, but it is something super quirky about him.
What is it about your dog’s looks, behaviors, attitude, style, voice or all the rest? Once you can figure that out, it could be a solid step towards Instagram success. Maybe your dog has that fantastic hair, a la Bob Ross, or really likes to wear specific types of gear? Maybe your dog knows how to skateboard or sits up on its bottom in a remarkable pose for long stretches of time. Every dog does something unique or has a unique characteristic. If it can be caught on camera, it can become their key to success.
Setting Up Shop
With just those three factors – identifying your dog’s particular shine, emphasizing their status as a rescue or survivor, and taking premium shots gets you off to a good start. However, you also have to think about branding.
Branding is the one thing that many owners find difficult. While you might have hundreds or even thousands of photos and videos of your dog(s) and you just want everyone to enjoy them, if the dog becomes a celebrity, he or she also becomes a “brand”.
As one expert in dogs on social media explained, “Just like for a brand for a product you want to buy, you want to make sure that you know what it is. Same goes for your pet. You want to know what you’re getting when you go to that page…That means you’re constantly in ‘content creation’ mode, too, and what was once a carefree session of fetch at the park can suddenly start to feel like work.”
If the idea of turning time spent together with your doginto a business enterprise gets you down, you may not achieve your goals. Yet, you can flip that around and just look at the “content” as a way of letting people get to know your pet.
As an example, I have a video of Leroy demonstrating his “technique” for assessing, selecting and demolishing the most appealing flip flops. I keep thinking about turning it into a funny video with a DIY twist, narrating Leroy’s inner monologue as he goes through his bizarre activity. If I were trying to make him famous, it would be a perfect bit of content and I would happily continue “the series” by taking images of him making seasonal selections, creating a “top ten” list, and so on.
In other words, your dog is going to be a brand, but that doesn’t mean YOU have to look at him or her that way. You can simply get creative and look at ways of sharing your love of their unique spirit with your dog’s adoring fan base. And that takes us back to the psychology behind the surge of interest in dogs on social media. It is a way for all of us to bond with as many dogs as possible.
Whether or not I agree with earning lots of income from pets and turning them into social media stars, I can get in line with spreading the love and all kinds of support for the animals of the world. You can do your part by following lots of dogs, cats and other pets and even figuring out if your pups can be an inspiration or daily joy for others all around the world.