What my dog taught me about social media

Julie Zhuo
The Year of the Looking Glass


A year ago, my husband Mike and I became first-time dog owners. Puppy-owners, to be precise. And like many others in our predicament, we went a little overboard snapping photos and recording the antics of our new ball-o-fluff. (Note to the uninitiated: Kupo is very cute. I say this with complete and solemn objectivity.)

Working at Facebook, one of the perks is a monthly ads credit. (A way to dog-food Facebook’s pages and ads, if you will.) I think you can see where this is going.

One new puppy + two camera-excited owners + $8 a day of ads = social media experiment

Could we get Kupo into the ranks of Boo and Beast, the big dogs of social media? At the very least, could he find a way to connect with other people who would appreciate a daily dose of his doggish delight?

We decided to make a Facebook Page. I took the photos, and Mike wrote the captions and scheduled the posts (which, by the way, is an incredibly useful feature if you don’t want to carve out time each and every day to deal with posting). We crafted a personality for Kupo in which he referenced himself in the third person, was cheerfully earnest, and fancied himself more intelligent than he actually was. To keep things simple, we decided on one photo post a day.

One year later, here’s what I learned

Look at my home on the Interwebs!

First, some stats. Kupo today has 440,000 likes on Facebook. His fan base is 67 percent women. Brazil leads in number of fans (25 percent), with Phillippines in second place and the U.S. in third. On average for his recent posts, each is seen by 50,000 people. He gets about 4,000 likes and 300 shares per post.

Ads are the primary driver of Kupo’s Likes

Organic Likes don’t even come close. Granted, Kupo isn’t really a cause, nor is he extreme or unique enough to be viral, so there isn’t a natural value proposition for people to go out of their way to share the Kupo page with their friends. This is where ads come in. When you see one with an easy “Like Page” button… well, then, the call to action is easy and clear enough that you don’t have to go searching for it.

The ad creative matters. A lot

We tested numerous photos of Kupo and a number of different ad captions. There were puppy Kupos and grown-up Kupos, copy that explained his background and copy that described his personality. The biggest lever, by far, was describing why one should like the page and what they’d get out of it. Our winning ad copy, which did about four times better than our next-best version, is the following:

Using the full power of my puppy-dog eyes

Kupo on Twitter or Pinterest never got much traction

This is probably somewhat biased since we didn’t run ads on either platform, but even organically, Twitter didn’t perform. Not surprising, since it’s all about text, and cute animals tend to fare better when you can see them. Pinterest I predicted would do better (and in fact, the layout seemed pretty ideal for a daily picture-plus-caption), but there just wasn’t a great discovery mechanism for us to bootstrap followers (besides our personal accounts, which wasn’t a lot to build from). I would have been curious to see how a comparable ads product would do on Pinterest (sponsored boards, anyone?). We never tried Instagram since were were taking photos of Kupo with a DSLR and didn’t want to introduce a separate stream of mobile photos, but I suspect the bootstrapping problem would have been similar.

A flashback to my puppy days, when every day was a new adventure. Here I’m pretending to be a sea-captain plotting a course to the Isle of Dogs.

Puppies are simply more popular than adult dogs

Once a week on Flashback Fridays, we post baby Kupo pictures. They generally do about 50 percent better than adult Kupo pics. (Note to self: Take waaayy more puppy photos in the future. Puppyhood is fleeting.)

The caption matters much less than the image

Even though Mike puts a non-trivial amount of thought and effort into writing something befitting of the image, most of his cleverness goes unrewarded. Probably because more than half of Kupo fans don’t speak English. But we personally get enough of a kick out of it to keep the creative-caption thing going.

A full-bodied, expressive Kupo pic is the best performing

Which goes to show, the most popular dog pics are not necessarily the most popular dating service profile pics. People seem to prefer it when you can see his face and most of his body. And he’s smiling all happy-dog like. It’s less good when his fluffiness makes up only a small fraction of the shot, or when the shot is super close up but his face is turned away.

Effective add-ons: other dogs, cats, bandanas, toys, new settings

A little variety does a lot of good. Photos that include the above tend to be more popular than photos that don’t. But not humans. Definitely no humans. Their presence in Kupo photos is a sure-fire way to halve the engagement. Humans are not what the fans signed up for. Nobody needs to be reminded that such things exist in the fantasy world of cute animals. (Conversely, it’s wildly popular for cute animals to take on human attributes like Kupo standing or donning clothes.)

It’s Caturday, woo hoo! High five, Chup! Wait, are those claws?

People think Kupo is a girl

Which Kupo does not appreciate. Just because a dog is white and fluffy does not mean he is any less alpha-male than a greyhound or pitbull. Kupo is the son of wolves!

Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, you’re probably thinking to yourself: How does one get more of this dog? Have no fear. The options are bountiful:

Like Kupo on FacebookFollow Kupo on TwitterPin Kupo on Pinterest



Julie Zhuo
The Year of the Looking Glass

Building Sundial ( Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager. Find me @joulee. I love people, nuance, and systems.