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How to increase your social media follower count: the story of We Rate Dogs and quality content that beats paid advertising

By Elina Bumbiere - Reading time: 7 minutes

We Rate Dogs is nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon. Today its backbone consists of three guys – Matt, Tyler, and John. Back in 2016 when then high-school-aged Matt Nelson (find him on Twitter @matt___nelson) got into a bit of a Twitter feud with a follower, he had no idea that his genuine and quite simplistic response would soon skyrocket and turn into an international bestseller.

Ever seen the “They’re good dogs, Brent” line? Maybe on a t-shirt or a cap? Or perhaps you’re one of the 35 million people who’ve seen the original tweet? Whichever it is, consider yourself lucky – you’ve boarded the internet trend wagon and it’s going to take you on a ride of a lifetime.

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It all started when wanting to be a part of the “weird Twitter”, Matt created his first Twitter account. Its sole purpose was and still is to create something original, to joke around, and to make others laugh using 140 characters or less. Not the easiest task.

Matt: All I wanted to do, from there on out, was give people the same feeling I had when I read a tweet from @jonnysun or @shutupmikeginn or @david8hughes or @iamspacegirl or so many other fantastic people I’ve interacted with over the years.

He first joined Twitter back in 2014, but with no intent of creating an ecommerce business. His personal account started gaining some popularity and the jokes he made were liked by many. Soon a not-so-secret-anymore formula was born – add a four-legged friend in your tweet and it’ll do well.

Matt:One day, at an Applebee’s in Fuquay-Varina, NC, I asked my friend Morgan how his quesadilla burger was. “10/10” was his response. “What if I made an account that rates dogs?” was mine.

That’s how the idea of We Rate Dogs was born and in true We Rate Dogs fashion, Matt took it to the followers to see what they think. He created a poll in his personal Twitter to find out if his followers thought this was as good of an idea as he hoped. It was. They went bananas.

So on November 15, 2015, the We Rate Dogs Twitter account was born. In five days this new account had surpassed Matt’s personal one that he had worked on for over 2 years.

Matt: So I made the account, announced it on my personal, and rated my first dog, here. I passed my personal account in followers in 5 days.

The first tweet did extremely well and the number of followers grew by minutes. He’d struck a gold mine with it.

Meeting the team – who’s who?

A few months after Matt started the We Rate Dogs idea, he was contacted by Tyler who was scrolling through his Twitter news feed when he noticed one of Matt’s posts.

Tyler:I thought it was the most amazing thing. I just messaged him and me being a bit more business oriented, thought we can do stuff out there.

And they did.

Tyler already had a sticker side business going on called Sticker Grub. Their first steps to an ecommerce store started with just that – stickers.

Tyler: “I had my own business called Sticker Grub. We ended up partnering up and selling stickers for We Rate Dogs”.

In true ecommerce fashion, Tyler and Matt have never met in real life. Talk about doing business online!

Matt: “We’re planning to meet up this summer, so hopefully we finally get to see each other.”

The only team member Matt has met so far is John. He’s the guy who goes through all the piles of dog submissions and picks his faves.

Matt: “John does the dog curating. As funny as that title is he does all of our submissions and he’s kind of like the first wall for making sure that good pictures get through. He texts me his 20 to 30 picks from a pile of thousand.”

tmjFrom left to right: Matt, Tyler, and John

From Twitter to Ecommerce

Quickly gaining popularity on Twitter and dedicating more and more of their time to creating quality posts, the pair decided to monetize their success. Wanting to stay clear of sponsored posts, paid advertising and promos, they decided to open their own online merch store.

Matt: “We had gotten to the point where I  was spending so much time on this that I felt the need to monetize it in some way. We were not looking to do it with ads because we wanted to do We Rate Dogs ad free [..] so we figured an ecommerce store was going to be the way to go. Once we got started, we felt like this was the right way to monetize it.”

Their success was instant just as it was with the first tweet they sent out. The first orders started rolling in within the first 30 seconds of having a store (We Rate Dogs use Shopify as their storefront). One day later they had made 8K in sales.

Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and other big holidays were right around the corner, helping We Rate Dogs to become a go-to gift for pretty much everyone.

Time management, great sales, no advertising

The idea behind We Rate Dogs has always been to entertain. Sure, they got lucky and will be the first to admit it, but quality content has been their cornerstone since the start.

Matt: It’s hard for me to say I didn’t just get lucky. But if you want a real true fan base, you need to have original content and you need to pump it out repeatedly.”

Matt believes that it is much easier to create a product for your fans than it is to create a product and then find your fans.

Gaining such wide recognition has allowed We Rate Dogs to remain ad free. They’ve never paid for advertising, promos or collaborations. All the traffic they’ve gotten has always been 100% organic.

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It’s not something that everyone can afford to do. And this is where quality content comes into play.

Know your fans and tailor your content to them.

We Rate Dogs Twitter demographics are mainly dominated by females, age 16-21. Their average customer though is a part of an older demographic, with a steady income. Possibly a pet owner.

These are key things to keep in mind when marketing your products and creating content. Your average social media follower might not be your average customer.

Tyler: “The demographic that is the largest for our audience is 16-21-year-old girls. But I can’t imagine that that’s the people we do the most sales with. Our main audience for shoppers is a little bit of an older person who has a little bit more money to spend than the college kids.”

They don’t schedule, plan ahead or map out every single thing they’re going to do. And it works.

Matt: “I think part of the reason our account is successful is because I don’t schedule any posts. [..] I start working on the post anywhere between 10 to 3 minutes before that happens. I do it very off the cuff. If I scheduled posts I would just go back and not like them. For my captures to be successful they need to be kind of quick and I can’t think about them too much. And so this unorganized sense has helped with the creative side of it and has kind of leaped into our e-commerce store as well.”

I’m just a big advocate of not having things scheduled because I see the value in creativity it creates.

Although the We Rate Dogs team enjoys the creativity that not too strict scheduling brings, they still see value in preparation and believe that good communication is key to success in a team. They map out their campaigns according to important dates – they’ve learned that most of their product purchases are intended as gifts.

Tyler: “Seems like every holiday that comes along we keep growing. We actually thought that November and December were good months – we did 35K each. Then we fell off in January and did 20K and thought ‘Okay, well, we need to plan for the holiday season next year’. So I just got a calendar and started looking at holidays and making sure they’re planned out with multiple new products. Then we launched the Valentine’s Day collection in February and did 50K, and we’ve stayed there every month. And when there wasn’t a holiday, I wanted to do a new product. So then we added hats and mugs and the combination of everything really helped us. ”

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We Rate Dogs’ 4th of July collection

A humble big shot

Once We Rate Dogs were on everyone’s radar, more journalists, event coordinators, and other content creators wanted to do interviews, guest appearances, and collaborations. They’re careful about that – not every invitation to attend is RSVP’d to. So far the highlight has been Matt’s Esquire interview earlier this year, a few MLB (Major League Baseball) games, and their Bark at the park events (essentially it’s a “bring your dog to the ballpark” day).

With all the media attention, they’ve stayed grounded. A couple of college kids and their friend. We Rate Dogs takes up most of their time, but Tyler is also a graphic designer, John manages a band, and Matt, well, he’s a golf management major.

So what is it that motivates these men? It hasn’t really changed from what it was when they started – it’s making people laugh and creating content. They are truly passionate and see value in reading every single comment or retweet. It’s a lot of work, but it puts a smile on their faces and gets them up the next morning.

Matt: “From the beginning my goal was to just make people laugh with my account, and it still remains the primary goal no matter how many other things are associated with it”.

Tyler: “I see a post and I just think it’s genius, it’s amazing, and I love it. So being able to combine my love for graphic design and being an entrepreneur and running a business with We Rate Dogs is like my dream so it’s been really, really cool to see all that come true.”

Matt:  “I think the whole point of social media is audience feedback. But when you have a big audience like we do it’s even more valuable. I literally scroll through every single mentioned comment. Engaging in that is so valuable. Responding to people so they know I’m not a robot, giving the account a true personality is what has helped.”

Sometimes you get lucky and land on a gold mine – that’s what happened with We Rate Dogs. But not resting on their laurels and staying true to the original drive is what earned their store international success.   

Has this inspired you to launch your own store? Download Printful’s free ebook for your crash course on getting started!

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  1. Arthur

    I remember seeing them on Twitter (:
    It’s a cool account- very lighthearted humor!

    Usually I’m more of a cat fan, except some months ago I got rid of all the ‘fluff’ (no pun intended) that distracted me on social media… the only follow I still kept is @shibbnbot on Twitter. Shiba Inus are just too adorable to resist, hehe.

    Thanks for the interview/article

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