Sarah Montague, Senior Producer
Sarah Montague is in her seventeenth year as producer of the fiction series Selected Shorts for WNYC, and also produces features, dramas, and documentaries.
It is a truism that, if you are successful, people like you and want to be your friend. But this is the era of Facebook, so now, if you are successful, people “like” you, and “friend” you in a shared public arena.
Social media has become a dominant mode of interaction for many people, from entertainers to your cousin Bob. But now, it’s going to the dogs.
And we’re not talking merely cute family pet pages. A number of the country’s leading show dogs have their own Facebook pages, and boast an impressive amount of traffic.
GCH CH Jaset's Satisfaction has 3,629 fans on Facebook (and 646 followers on Twitter).
His fans call him London (his informal “call” name) and have been following him on Facebook since 2009. On London’s site, you can read about his wins (including the Poodle Club of America National Specialty and the 2011 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship), post enthusiastic comments (“BEAUTIFUL! and awesome handling!”) and look at a charming array of photos.
Sarah Dulski, who designed and maintains London’s Facebook page, says the site is presented as if from this elegant poodle’s point of view, “At all times he remains a gentleman, congratulating his competition, encouraging good sportsmanship within the community that follows him.”
She also says she’s often moved by the stories people post: “Our fan community is highly engaged and are huge advocates of Team London…it seems we have really touched people’s hearts.”
Part of “Team London” is co-breeder Chris Bailey, who says she finds it “a little weird sometimes” that her boy has celebrity status and a following.
“It amazes me no end — we think we’re this little community, but there’s all these people writing to us, some of them have nothing to do with dog shows!” she said.
And for those who do, she thinks the Facebook page makes a huge, legendary show like Westminster, coming up next week, “a little more attainable for real people.”
Torie Steele, owner of wire-haired fox terrier Eira (or Eira GCH-Steele-Your-Heart) echoes Bailey’s amazement. Miguel Bettancourt, who manages Eira’s media campaign, had been urging her to start a Facebook page for her personable bitch, and she finally relented after Eira won the National Dog Show in Philadelphia over the Thanksgiving weekend.
“So many people were coming to my site, from all over the world, wanting to know about Eira, that we did it,” she said. The following day, Eira had 350,000 hits. “I was shocked.”
Steele, who bred Eira, has known she was special since she was a puppy, but was pleasantly surprised to see unsolicited endorsements posted: “In our world you always have your skeptics, but I was getting messages from even those people saying, ‘Ah she really is a good one,’” Steele said.
Eira has close to 2,000 fans and friends (she has two Facebook pages), and Betancourt says, “We do multiple styles within the pages, share content as Eira, post photos with captions that display her record, and recently we created a contest for fans to post Valentine and Eira-related messages.” (For example: “Chloe hopes you win everyone's heart on Valentine's Day.”)
Like Dulski, he believes the page is shaped by Eira’s unique character: “Eira is a versatile dog, she is fun and beautiful, she also has great show conformation. Her pages are a reflection her life.”
Eira’s page also promotes good works: She is currently appearing in an American Kennel Club calendar that supports canine health research, and that is touted on the site.
London and Eira are among the top 20 dogs in the country, but even dogs with more modest careers are using Facebook to get the word (or bark) out. Loren Marino created a page this past December for her Cesky Terrier Katrina (CGH CH DevineHeart’s Babicka at Altrincham CM). Ceskys joined the 2011 AKC registry in 2011, so this is the breed’s first full year of national competition, and Katrina was the first American Cesky champion.
Marino says she was urged to create her Facebook account by Cesky breeders around the world who are eager to promote the breed: “They see her as a mascot; she’s outgoing and has been an ambassador for the breed … They want people to follow her and see how sweet the dogs are.”
Katrina has only a small following at the moment, but it’s an ardent one. Marino says that when she doesn’t post for a few days (she creates the page as if from Katrina and her, as a team) people write to ask if everything is all right.
She describes Katrina, whose nickname is “Hollywood,” as “a bit of a diva,” and has created a whimsical page. In addition to the usual show photos, there are pictures of Katrina getting primped for her CBS Morning Show appearance, and other spoiled glamour girl moments.
In addition to gratifying fans, Facebook pages serve a tactical purpose. Dulski says that London’s page was instrumental in getting the word out about this dog, whose original team of owners did not have the vast budgets that some others in the field could command: “He was a dream dog for us, but didn’t have the resources to compete using traditional campaign techniques like advertising every week in the major magazines. So with our shoestring budget we did what we could … I thought there was a place for social media to be part of the campaign. It was through his Facebook page that his newest owners (Michele Molnar and Jamie Danburg) found us and decided to back him.”
Miguel Betancourt, who manages media campaigns for a number of dogs, also sees Facebook as a key branding tool, and Dulski believes this is a growing trend for the industry in general: “It seemed inevitable … While I think there will also be a place for traditional advertising within the community, you can see that all the major dog magazines are investing in the digital space and new digital start-ups like “Best in Show Daily” are pushing the fancy more and more online. When we started London’s page, there were only a handful of other dogs being campaigned on Facebook and none on Twitter. It has been astounding to see how many competitors have now gravitated to including them as part of their campaign strategy. ‘Go where the people are and engage them with content they care about’ has been my motto.'”
Sue Jeffries, who has been reporting on dog shows for many years, is a little skeptical: “All the advertising in the world really doesn't affect the judges' decisions,” she writes in reply to my inquiry. “So, while Facebook and Twitter help with name recognition, the judges rarely if ever would look at Internet goings-on.”
On the other hand, Facebook is “an opportunity to connect dog enthusiasts all over the world,” noted Betancourt.
So perhaps, even in the driven world of show dogs, it will be more about “liking” and “loving” than winning.