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Petworking: pet celebrity and social networks

#catsruletheinternet but dogs rule celebrity, or do they?
Meows, woofs and lols

Hutchinson (2014) proposes that cute is a powerful instrument and that cultural intermediaries use strategic efforts to connect communities in online spaces. The authenticity of an animal, even in a stylised fashion, is highly relatable as demonstrates by the pet celebrity phenomena. Petworking is social media networking for pets.

Giles (2013) defines four categories of famous pets:

  1. public figures
  2. meritocrally famous
  3. show business ‘star’
  4. accidentally famous

In this article I deal with pets as public figures, the commodification of cute.

Doug the Pug has over 4.3 million likes on Facebook. He is a public figure. He is a dog. His outfits are adorable, his quips hilarious. His cultural intermediary creates content that is simple and relatable. Doug the Pug’s Facebook page is regularly updated but not too often. As we learned in #meco6936, the timing and frequency of posting is as key to a campaign’s success as is quality content.

doug the pug.jpg
A typical post, as seen on Instagram or Facebook

Source:  Doug the Pug

Yesterday, Doug the Pug posted a short video to Facebook where he is calming cruising by in his pet-sized black Lamborghini. He is wearing a ripped denim vest; his tongue is hanging out. He looks relaxed; the video is amusing, somewhat ludicrous but all in good fun. It had 1.6 million views at the time of writing this article, with over 67,000 likes.

Doug the Pug has over 1.6 million Instagram followers. He was a one of six finalists in the animal category of the Webby Awards closing today, 22 April. By way of comparison, human celebrity social media pages up for contention in the 2016 Webbys included (rock and roll band) U2 and (Comedian) Ellen Degeneres. Doug the Pug is in esteemed company. Described as the internet’s highest honour, the Webbys is presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences— a 1,000+ member judging body (http://webbyawards.com/). Full disclosure, I voted for Doug the Pug – his campaign speaks to me as a consumer and dog lover.

Boo the Pomeranian rose to fame in 2009. Boo is described as the most famous pet online. Khloe Kardashian acted as a social influencer commenting in 2010 that she was in love with Boo and asked her followers to “go like his page because it’s beyond cute” (Hutchinson, 2013). Now Boo has overtaken Khloe, with 17,535,735 likes on Facebook compared to her 16,877,141 at time of posting. Both are categorised as “public figures” – celebrities.

boo bday hat.jpg
Source:  Boo

Kardashians are known for being famous for being famous – known for their knowingness. The Kardashian and Jenner family’s carefully manufactured celebrity images garner much attention across all media platforms from print, to broadcast to online. Stories of their lives, in often banal detail, feature almost daily in news or gossip. Boo’s celebrity image is simpler and arguably as successful. Boo is trading off the culture of cute rather than gossip, infamy or scandal.

Boo’s 10th birthday picture (above) received 177,000 likes. This reminded me of my #reve21 campaign for the 21st Birthday of the (fictional) radio station I created for my social media project. As with my campaign, celebrating birthdays is a shared experience; something that is easily celebrated online or offline. Humour and nostalgia was successful amongst followers of my campaign, as it is with pet celebrities, when linking to the birthday narrative.

@iamlilbub is a special needs cat – demonstrating that empathy is a commodity as is cute. Or indeed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – perhaps a combination of both. Collaborating with special needs dog @norbertthedog, they have written a children’s book bringing the online offline to raise money for special needs animals. Like many celebrity pets, the pair have a variety of consumers goods for sale for those who wish to take their fandom beyond the likes and the lols.

lilbub and book.jpg
#norbub collaboration – children’s book

Source: @iamlilbub

norbert and book.jpg
#norbub collaboration – children’s book

Source: @norbertthedog

Below @iamlilbub uses animal celebrity to pay homage to an enduring celebrity musician, David Bowie who passed away in January 2016. Here we see imitation as the sincerest form of flattery as well as a pet social influencer respecting and commemorating Bowie who was a significant artist and a social influencer well before social media was invented. This post is a cross over I enjoy for novelty as much as new world meets old.

lilbub Bowie.jpg
Tribute to David Bowie, RIP.

Source: @iamlilbub

As I write this post, new pet celebrities @kit_and_willow are emerging behind me, quite literally. Cultural intermediary Verity Sparrow posted a picture of the twin Burmilla kittens yesterday which she states has “gone viral” gaining 11,592 likes in 11 hours thanks to the assistance of #bestmeow. @bestmeow has a sister page, or should I say canine page, @bestwoof. Photographs submitted by produsers are selected by community moderators and shared with the Instagram community. Utilising this hashtag, amongst a variety of others, was a deliberate move on the part of Sparrow.

bestmeow kit and willow.jpg
@kit_and_willow’s Instagram picture shared by @bestmeow #bestmeow daily winner.

Source: @bestmeow

With over 332,000 followers @bestmeow offers ‘twice your daily dose of kitty cat cuteness’. Compared to @kit_and_willow who have 335 followers on their page of less than two weeks’ duration.

Posing in his owner’s home studio today, Kit patiently sits for his owner, who is an acclaimed baby photographer.

KB kit n willow.jpg
Kit posing for an Instagram picture on 22 April 2016

Photo credit: Karyn Bloxham

After eight days in the household, the 13 week old kitten siblings enjoy an intimate family environment, in a household of six humans. Through social media, specifically Instagram, the family’s affection will converge with @kit_and_willow’s online space – creating a networked public following where attention becomes a commodity (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). On behalf of her feline models, Sparrow said:

“….I don’t know it’s kind of obsessive isn’t it, getting likes on Instagram, it’s addictive and draws you in and it’s escapism”.
“I don’t really get why – I’m not deriving income out of it, it’s not helping me get my work done. I guess I find it interesting… that I can get this buzz out of something so silly”.
“There’s so much negative stuff on the news all the time… it’s just something harmless and fun”…
“Let’s be real, these cats are going to take over the world!!!” she concludes with a cheeky giggle.
kit n willow - kit in bowl.jpg
The finished product.

Photo Credit: @kit_and_willow

Attention commodity resonated with me and my campaign. Waking up to new likes, from ‘real strangers’, who have happened upon my campaign and interacted was a rush. Every time. I learned, like Sparrow, that leveraging a popular hashtag would increase the following of my post/page. The day I added #sydneyfoodie #sydneyeats #sydneyfoodies to my #reve21 post I received the most and the fasted likes of my campaign. These new likers, mostly foodies, became a valuable source of potential caterers and party planners for Reve FM’s birthday event should it have existed in real life. As with any networked community, there is an element of connection to the real world where social media creates events and communities outside of the Social Networking Site.

Social media is a rapidly changing medium so it is difficult to say with any certainty how it may change in the next six months, except to say that the only constant is change, as the saying goes.

References:

Fuchs, Christian (2014) Social media: a critical introduction, Los Angeles : SAGE, 2014, pp. 31-51

Giles, David (2013) Animal Celebrities, Celebrity Studies 4.2, pp 115-128

Hinton, Sam and Hjorth, Larisa (2013) Understanding Social Media, London: SAGE publications, Ch 1-4

Hutchinson, Jonathon (2014) I can Haz Likes: Cultural Intermediation to facilitate “Petworking” M/C Journal, Apr.2014 Vol 17 Issue 2, 8-8

Further reading:

McKee, Alan (2013) The power art, the power of entertainment media, culture and society, 35(6) pp.759-770

Ross, Phillippe (2010) Is there an expertise of productions? The case of new media producers new media & society 13(6) pp. 912-928

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One thought on “Petworking: pet celebrity and social networks

  1. As a cat lover I couldn’t resist reading eyeknOwright’s blog on Petworking. Scholar Jonathon Hutchinson (2014) is right on the mark with his proposition that “cute is powerful.” We watch cat videos at home and the staggering number of views they get always blows me away. Nora is my personal favourite. The dark grey feline has her own YouTube channel called ‘Nora The Piano Cat.’ She fits into the ‘anthropomorphic’ category outlined by scholar David Giles (2013) because she plays the piano like a human. Nora hits random keys but manages to compose simple melodies. Her videos have been a massive hit since her owner began positing in 2007. Nora has her own Facebook Page, Website, Instagram and Wikipedia entry. She is what the MECO6936 blogger refers to as a “public figure” online. I’ve even had conversations with people at work about Nora.

    As the blogger states, “Petworking is social media networking for pets.” When we got our cat Bella in 2015, the first thing I did was post photographs of her on Instagram. Friends replied with photos of their cats. If our felines met in real life they would probably scratch each other’s eyes out but I have personally found a networked community bonded by a love of cats. Since being introduced to the concept of Petworking in our MECO6936 lecture, I have been contemplating producing my own cat video because I’m intrigued to find out how many ‘likes’ Bella would get. Maybe I’m falling victim to what the blogger calls the “commodification of cute”?!

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