By: Zulie Rane
My name is Zulie and my cats are more famous than I am.
I use the word “famous” a little leniently here. They have 12.5K followers on Instagram, but they’re not being recognized on the street or anything. Aside from the people in apartment 7c, who always point at the weird lady walking her cats. Thanks for that.
Nevertheless, it’s led to some little lucrative side deals. We received some free toys and treats, fans send us artwork, and for some reason, tons of CBD companies are gagging for us to use and review their products. It’s not paying their food bills yet, but there’s a chance it might, someday soon. Other, larger accounts have made their pet Instagram their full-time business, so the possibilities are greater than you might think.
If you want to launch your pet into Instagram stardom, settle in for the long haul. Be ready to dip your toes into the wild, wild world of pet Insta-fame. And don’t forget to thank your pet. Here’s how you begin.
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1. So you want to be a petfluencer
The very first step is simply to have a pet. Most pet owners take tons of pictures of their pets anyway, so you’ll find you already have a lot of material for this first step. Some people like to create the account before they bring the pets home, to build up a bit of anticipation and hype. Others prefer to start their journey as they have their pets at home for the first time.
Personally, I visited my kittens twice before bringing them home and took tons of pictures, so I created mine a few weeks before their come-home day. I certainly had enough material.
2. Set up your Instagram account
This is a very simple step. Open Instagram, if you already have an account, tap on your profile name at the top of the page, and click “+ Add Account.”
This will take you through the steps of creating an account for your pet.
I was worried that my existing friends on Instagram and Facebook would receive a notification, or see the account under their suggested follows, but in fact, the two are totally separate. They did not get any notice about my second account.
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Give your account a good handle which is easy to recognize and doesn’t have too many numbers or extraneous letters.
Note: it does not have to have your pet’s name in it. You may choose a handle which is descriptive, e.g. Mainecoonqueens, which tells the potential followers more about your brand than just the pet names might.
Choose an account name. Remember, these are searchable, so I do notrecommend putting your pet’s names here. Instead, go descriptive. For mine, my account name is “Two Maine Coon Cats.”
When people search Maine coon or cats, my account will be listed under those keywords.
Your bio can include your pet or pet’s names. Instagram is pretty precious with their word count, so make use of emojis to replace words where you can.
Instagram only allows one link per account — in the bio. The link will be crucial for when you want to monetize this, but for now, you can leave it blank, or include your email, or any other link you want to start driving some traffic to.
3. Convert to a business account
Instagram offers business accounts tons of analytics, and it’s completely free. All you have to do is create and link up a Facebook account to it. Simply create a Facebook account for your pet, leave it as totally private if you don’t want to share it just yet, and connect your Instagram account to it.
You’ll be granted all kinds of fascinating insights which you’ll be able to use further on to find what your followers are responding to and grow your account.
It’s 100% free, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of these insights.
4. Pick your strategy
This is your posting strategy, or how you decide what order you want to post pictures in, to display a comprehensive, themed feed.
I’ll warn you — this may change as you gain experience of what your followers are interested in, or respond best to. I started out one way, switched to another, and then switched to my current strategy. I might yet change again.
What I mean by a strategy is the kind of layout you want to plan on going forward. While your pet’s individual headshots will be the focus every day, your more holistic view needs to include what you want your whole feed to look like over time.
There are several potential strategies you can choose, each with pros and cons.
Checkerboard: My strategy is checkerboard. The benefit of choosing this strategy over others is that I’ve carefully analyzed what types of pictures my followers respond well to, and it happens to be my cats sitting up, looking right into the camera. It’s predictable, but it’s functional. I can guarantee that I’ll get at least 2000–3000 likes per image, based on past experience.
Every day, I know already what kind of image I’m going to post. My followers know exactly the kind of content they’re going to get. All in all, it’s a very simple, straightforward strategy
The downsides? It’s hard to monetize this. The only potential brands interested in me will be cat ones because that’s all I ever post about.
So the overall potential market is smaller for brand liaisons. But I have a strong, intimate connection with my followers, as my content is predictable, and it’s what they’ve proven they like.
Hodgepodge: This strategy doesn’t follow a set schedule, color scheme or even content type. This gives @maxiecoon a lot more flexibility when it comes to choosing the type of content she wants to put up that day. Plus, there’s more space to create partnerships with brands for non-cat products, as her followers have shown that they are interested in a wide variety of image types.
The downside is that her photos aren’t getting as many likes — and consequently the same reach — that mine are.
When Instagram detects that a large proportion of the people it’s showing your post to respond well to it — liking it, commenting it, saving it — it expands the reach and shows it to others based on the hashtags you’ve chosen for it.
Because mine consistently performs well with my audience, they’re boosted beyond just my followers to reach other people interested in the hashtag.
This means more exposure, more followers, and potentially a wider reach that this account may be missing out on. So in summary, it’s got more variety and freedom in posting, but there’s a risk of less reach.
5. Establish your pet’s voice
This is a fun one.
When you create your account, you have two options. You can post as a human, about your pet. Or, you can post as your pet.
Personally, I alternate between posting as Chumbo, my blue boy cat, and Astrid, my ginger girl cat. Most pet accounts I see post as the animals themselves, but some post as the human, narrating their pet’s life. Either option works.
Human voice: As the human, you want to use really evocative, exciting language in your captions. Beyond the pictures, you need to give your potential followers a reason to keep coming back to your content, checking your profile if they missed a post. Some authors I’ve seen create a story, where their pet is the protagonist. Others rely on video format posts and use the caption to explain what’s going on in the video.
Either way, try to stick to a consistent tone or theme. People use Instagram as a way to get to know the accounts they follow up close and personal. If your pet has to go to the vet? Let us know. If they had an accident in the house? tell us about it. Let us into your world as a pet owner.
Pet voice: In creating an Instagram account for your pet, you are essentially acting as his, her, or their speaker to the world. You are translating their meows or barks into human talk, interpreting the world as you think they see it.
The results can be really funny.
This gives you, the pet owner, a chance to use what you think is funny or charming or just plain extraordinary about your pet and let us see their personality.
For example, my blue boy is the most laid-back, relaxed, lazy cat.
He’s never stressed out, he’s always grooming himself, and you can catch him on our human bed 99% of the time.
So my voice for his posts are filled with….ponderous ellipses…..lots of long words….but inpurrectly spelled… some,, misplaced commas….and plenty of self-admiration.
Meanwhile???? My red girl Astrid?? She’s super hyper! She’s always running around, catching flies and bits of fluff! Her voice is much more active, with more exclamation points, adventures, and all CAPS!!
6. Selecting the appropriate hashtags
As I alluded to earlier, hashtags are your ticket to reaching new followers.
On every picture you post, you have the opportunity to include thirty hashtags in your caption. Use all of them. Each one represents a chance to show your content to people who don’t know you or your account but who might like your picture.
For pets, a niche is better than broad. For smaller accounts, I recommend using hashtags that have between 10,000–100,000 posts. Once you start gaining more traction and more followers, you can aim at hashtags with more posts, as you have a better chance of standing out among them. But for now, smaller hashtags give your picture a better chance of standing out.
If you have a breed, I recommend researching and using those hashtags. If you have a rescue, there are plenty of rescue hashtags available.
Instagram actually helps you out when it comes to tag research — when you search a hashtag, it will offer a few related tags right under it:
You can also research hashtags that are affiliated which accounts who feature pictures they like. For example, #balousfriends is a hashtag that is searched by the account @balous_friends on Instagram. Lots of people use that hashtag when they post pictures, so @balous_friends just has to search that hashtag to find content to repost. They post pictures of cats they like who use that hashtag, linking back to the account and resulting in huge exposure.
I recommend 20 hashtags which are theme-related, and 10 which are feature related, both in a mix of niche and broad to maximize your chances.
7. Liking pictures and following accounts
All of the steps so far have been about getting your content in front of potential followers. However, there are another couple of methods you can use to bring your account to other people’s attention.
Liking pictures: This is the one I favor.
What I do is search for some of the hashtags I use most frequently. For example, #mainecoon. Then I look for the pictures which have been posted recently on it, and I like the past 30 minutes’ worth of photos.
The idea is that by liking the photo, someone will get a notification that your account liked their post. They might be tempted to go check you out. If they like what they see, they may follow you.
I only do thirty minutes as it increases the odds that the poster is still online and will receive my notification in real time. Longer than that and I’m wasting my energy. Once I’ve reached pictures that were posted longer than thirty minutes ago, I switch to a new hashtag.
You can do this for 10–15 minutes per day, when you go to the bathroom, when you’re waiting in line, while you’re watching TV — it’s a nice and easy way to show your account around and bring it to people’s attention.
Following accounts: Don’t get me wrong — when you get started on Instagram, you should definitely follow 500–800 of other similar accounts. Follow people you’ll enjoy seeing the content of, or who might give you ideas, or who will show you success on the platform. Use it to do competitor research.
What I do not recommend is follow-unfollow.
The idea is the same as liking. When you follow someone, they get a notification and they’re likely to follow back. You can then unfollow them to keep you following count low, which lends you legitimacy.
Will it get you followers? Yes.
Does it make you feel dishonest and a bit like you’re cheating? For me, yes. I wanted to get people to follow me and engage with my content because they liked what I posted, not because they owed me a follow.
That’s my personal opinion — plenty of other influencers out there, pet and otherwise, will tell you differently.
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8. How to monetize your account
Lots of people think you need to hit the magic 10,000 number to start earning money on Instagram. The truth is you can do it with 100 followers. It might not be a livable income, but you can start earning money immediately.
How do you do this?
Affiliate links: First of all, you can work with affiliate links. Videos, especially long-form IGTV videos, are gaining in popularity. Create a video of your pet enjoying a treat or a water fountain you got from Amazon, and every time you post about a product, put the affiliate link in your bio. This requires a bit of shuffling and updating, but if a few people click and buy, that’s some money for you.
Brands might reach out to you (or you to them!) to offer free products in exchange for promoting their content, and could give you an affiliate link to their website directly, too.
Your own content: You can create custom merchandise for your pet — toys, -t-shirts, mugs, coasters — and include that all-important link in your bio. If you’ve successfully created a vivid personality for your pet, people will buy your stuff.
You’ll have to invest money in creating an e-store front and having the merchandise, but you also have a chance to earn money without relying on others (partnerships) and in bigger chunks than affiliate links.
Reaching out directly: My biggest mistake? I waited for people to come to me. Instead, reach out proactively to brands you like and use every day.
One handy tip is reaching out to the brands who advertise to you on Instagram — if you’re their target audience, your followers probably are too, and they’ll be interested in a partnership.
You can use marketplaces, like influencerbay.com or influence.co, or you can simply reach out to the brand’s marketing department. In your outreach, include:
- Why you want to work with them
- An idea of collaboration
- Your rate (This is roughly ten dollars per thousand followers.)
Close by saying you’d love to hear any thoughts or feedback. You may be surprised by the results you get.
9. Pick your pictures
Finally, on Instagram, you need to know how to pick your pictures.
I’ve left this part till last deliberately. Why? Because the photos don’t matter that much.
What, on Instagram, the photo platform?? I can hear you cry. Hear me out — on Instagram, everyone with a decent-quality phone can post gorgeous, high-quality images. So as long as you’re hitting that base, you don’t have to really go any higher. You don’t need to spend money on a fancy camera or equipment. You’ll be taking mostly close-ups of your pet anyway so your phone camera will be more than good enough.
What you do need to focus on is the theme.
This plays into the part earlier about knowing your strategy. You may want to choose a color scheme or a characteristic pose your pet loves. You don’t have to, but it will make your feed look cohesive and professional. Look at what the successful pet accounts in your niche do, and emulate that strategy.
Your Instagram analytics will come into play here. Once you’ve posted your first 10–20 images, you can analyze the posts to see which ones garnered the most engagement. You can experiment with video, carousel, and photo content, and build on what proves to be popular.
How often should you post pictures?: I post once a day, every day at 6 pm because IG analytics tells me that’s when most of my followers are active. The fact is, the more often you post, the more chance your content will have to get in front of new viewers. However, the crucial thing is being consistent.
And my pets are not always in the mood to sit for pictures!
Tip: if you have cats, consider training them to sit or stay still as it will make photo capture a lot easier.
What I do is take 10–15 very similar images in a session, and use them sporadically for the next few weeks, intermingled with images from other photo-sessions. That way I can post consistently, but only need to dedicate five to ten minutes every few days to get the content I need.
Bonus: tools to use
If you’ve read this far, you know everything you need to make your pet Insta-famous! Those steps are the most crucial to building your pet’s personality on Instagram and getting as many followers as you can.
However, for those who like a little extra credit, there are tools you can use to make your job a little easier. These aren’t affiliate links, just the (free) tools I use and enjoy.
Later allows you to upload lots of pictures ahead of time and schedule when you want them in, complete with caption and hashtags. It even has a way to store several sets of hashtags so you can press a button to insert whichever set you want to use that day.
This also allows you to see what your feed will look like in advance, which is very helpful when it comes to planning a themed feed.
Snapseed is my photo-editing tool of choice. Though my camera takes good pictures, I find them sometimes to be too dark or not colorful enough. Snapseed lets me swipe a bit here and there until the picture looks exactly as I want.
This also helps when making sure my pictures all fit in the same theme.
Now you know everything: setting up your pet’s profile for success, taking advantage of the native analytics tools, deciding on tone and content, and working on a strategy to garner as many new followers on a regular basis as possible.
The initial set-up may take a few hours, as you decide on hashtags, theme, voice, and more, but once you’re going, the upkeep should be no more than ten minutes a day.
For ten minutes a day, you can get sustainable growth that will grant you additional revenue opportunities — which you can use to buy your pet treats in gratitude!
By: Zulie Rane