“How I Used My Dog To Raise Money For Young Immigrant Families”

After reading about the young families seeking asylum to the United States, I had to do something. I decided it was time to step up.

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After reading about the  young families seeking asylum to the United States, I had to do something. I decided it was time to step up and make a donation to the ACLU. With Kuiper’s 27K followers on Instagram (most of whom are in the US), I figured there might be an opportunity to double the impact by offering to match others’ donations. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Gordon, the author of Kuiper J. Doggo’s Instagram @spacewhippet. Kuiper is one of the fastest dogs in the United States, literally leading the pack in the 100-yard sprint. When he is not running full-tilt or asleep on the couch, he enjoys obedience, agility and posing for pictures in return for cheese. Recently, a suspiciously similar-looking superhero named Captain Dogmerica has started taking a stand for democracy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Thank you! I created an Instagram account for my whippet puppy Kuiper a little over a year ago. I originally simply wanted to learn about social media marketing and have a dedicated place to spam puppy pictures. While researching places to take my dog for photographs, I kept stumbling across fascinating slices of history, e.g. the Apollo 14 moon trees. These stories were just too cool not to share. After taking a cross-country roadtrip with Kuiper last summer and visiting places like the International Women’s Air and Space Museum and the International Forest of Friendship, I was hooked.

Most of what I share is fairly non-controversial, e.g. “look, a steam locomotive!” but occasionally I will post about a heavier topic (like the WWII Japanese-American internment camps) because I believe it is too important not to share. There’s a lot of research that goes into every post; I dig until I find primary sources whenever possible.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?

Since Kuiper is not a service dog, I never assume that I can bring him anywhere without permission. On the day my partner and I visited the International Women’s Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, it was cool enough to leave Kuiper in the car and go in together. We started chatting with the woman who was working in the gift shop, and mentioned that our dog has a space-themed Instagram. She turned out to be the director; she got really excited and told us to bring him inside for pictures. With her help, we captured one of my favorite photos of Kuiper of all time. This is him “learning to fly” in a 1940s flight trainer: 

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

After reading about the trauma being inflicted upon young families seeking asylum to the United States, particularly the removal of children from their parents with the excuse that they are being taken “for a bath,” I had to do something. I decided it was time to step up and make a donation to the ACLU. With Kuiper’s 27K followers on Instagram (most of whom are in the US), I figured there might be an opportunity to double the impact by offering to match others’ donations. The experiment was a success. “Captain Dogmerica” and readers raised a total of $1650 over the course of one week, well over the amount I had offered to match. I made Kuiper an apple pie “shield” to celebrate: 

If someone would want to emulate your career, what would you suggest are the most important things to do?

I’m not sure this qualifies as a career yet so much as an “all-consuming hobby.” 🙂 Very, very few people are able to make a career out of being an influencer. While it’s not impossible, I think it’s important to be realistic about the amount of time and effort required. I suggest focusing on creating the kind of content that you would truly enjoy creating even if only your closest friends ever saw it. Focus on what your passions are and find ways to stand out within your niche, e.g. there are thousands and thousands of dog accounts on Instagram but very few are laser focused on historical storytelling.

My second suggestion is to look at the process of becoming an influencer as a marketing project first and foremost. You can create the best content in the whole world, but if people don’t know it exists they can’t decide whether they’re interested in it or not. My mentor @maggielovesorbit taught me that “marketing is a contact sport.” Engaging with others (positively) is key.

Lastly, try not to worry too much. Rumors about the Instagram algorithm are just rumors; the only people who know exactly how it works at any given time are Facebook employees. In reality, the algorithm is constantly being adjusted 24/7 with machine learning. Track what seems to be working for you; I use a combination of Instagram business account insights and Iconosquare.

Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful?

My partner Brian has been incredibly good-natured and supportive of this endeavor. He also does a lot of “behind the scenes” work taking care of our older, special needs dog and our geriatric cat. He is the absolute best.

Can you share a story?

Most of the stories I share on Kuiper’s Instagram are historical, but on occasion I will share a special personal story. When Dr. Stephen Hawking passed away, I shared this story of how I once interrupted his lunch, and how it changed my life. The accompanying (autographed!) picture can be found here:

“On July 29th, 2002, I was in Cambridge, England on a miniature study-abroad program for American high schoolers. Rachel and Michael (new & equally enterprising friends) and I snuck away to see if we could meet Dr. Hawking. We successfully located and reconnoitered his office️‍, but he wasn’t in. One of his grad students gave us a tour. We tried to play it cool and failed miserably. My paper journal says, “We looked around his office and Michael said stuff like ‘THIS is Stephen Hawking’s SINK!’”

We came back on the 30th, but he still wasn’t there.

Fortunately, we were poorly supervised. On the 31st, we struck gold. According to my journal, “Michael knocked on the door. A really nice Canadian opened it…A few minutes later she came out and said, “He will see you.” We went into his office and he said, “Hello. How are you?” We said, “Good. How are you?” We introduced ourselves and Michael asked a long, complicated physics question and Stephen explained what was wrong with his idea. After a few exchanges between Michael and Stephen (it takes him awhile to respond) we, as politely as we could, nervously asked him if it would be ok to get our pictures taken with him. He said yes. When we left his office, we high-fived and whooped. The Hawking Hunting Expedition was a success.”

What has stuck with me about this encounter was how incredibly gracious and open Dr. Hawking was to three nerdy high school students interrupting his lunch. It has made me smile every time I think of it for the past 15 years. The fact that he took 20 minutes out of his day meant SO much to us and continues to be an huge inspiration to me.”

So what are the most exciting projects you are working on now?

I recently quit my job after nearly a decade in corporate tech, and I am in the process of deciding what’s next. I’m also planning my next long road trip with Kuiper (this time we’re exploring Route 66!) In the meantime, I want to continue to use Instagram to educate and inspire, as well as encourage my audience to actively participate in that.

What are your “Top Five Ideas About How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand” . 

  1. One option is to create your own line of merchandise. My favorite example of this on Instagram is @nationalparkpaws. They not only sell items made in the USA, but they also donate 10% of their profits to the National Park Foundation. In addition, their dog bandanas are quite reasonably priced ($8.)
  2. You may be able to leverage success in marketing a personal brand to pivot your “day job” in a new and more lucrative direction. @tmistick is a good example of this; she started a social media consulting business after her dog blog took off a couple of years ago.
  3. Sign up for influencer marketing platforms to check out what campaigns they have available. These platforms are essentially matchmaking services between brands and influencers. They shouldn’t cost you anything; the brand typically pays for the use of the service. Two of my favorites to browse are Revfluence and Popular Pays.
  4. You can also politely pitch individual brands and ask if they would be open to trading product (or product + money, depending on your following) for advertising. Often this is in the form of a product review, but brands may also choose to purchase rights to use your images on their own channels. Here’s a review I posted recently for Litter Robot: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjTPwxugCet/
  5. Keep in mind that monetization does not have to be for personal gain! You can also use your platform to galvanize people to help others, e.g. by offering to match follower donations to a non-profit. Some organizations, like the ACLU, allow anyone to set up a custom campaign on their website. That makes running a fundraiser like this really easy. People can donate directly and anonymously, and it is easy to keep track of the total. When I tried this, my readers ended up donating well in excess of what I had offered to match. It meant a lot to me that we could come together for a good cause.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

I would absolutely love to meet Jennifer Hale, as a big fan of both her voice work and her as a human being. I would also like Lisa Joy to know that Kuiper is available for sighthound roles on Westworld. He is extremely well-trained, does all his own stunts and will pawprint the NDA in triplicate. 🙂

Originally published at medium.com

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