Building Better Websites for AKC Dog Clubs

Pug dog with laptop

The American Kennel Club launched a series of educational webinars earlier this year aimed at dog fanciers and clubs and I have been watching them with great interest.  I understand much of this content has been shared with the AKC delegate body, but I can’t say I had heard about these educational programs through my AKC member club delegate.  The last webinar for 2018 covered best practices in club websites.   The webinar covered the fundamentals of good website design,  including

  • Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely, i.e. SMART goals
  • Identify the audiences that you are trying to reach
  • Identify actions you want people to take on your website
  • Design for mobile usage
  • Have a content strategy
  • Ask for visitor feedback via surveys, forms, or email
  • Use web analytics to track activity on your site, and also collect other relevant metrics, like event entries or membership applications to measure the site’s effectiveness
  • Integrate social media sharing tools so visitors can share your content

The presenter strongly recommended using a Content Management System (CMS) and mentioned WordPress by name, as one of the complaints that AKC hears from clubs is that their sites are difficult to update and CMS frameworks make this much easier.   He also recommended that as clubs analyze where they are vs where they want to be, that they focus on optimizing the impact of change vs the effort to implement it and focus on areas that should yield maximum impact for the least effort.

Two national breed club websites were held out as good examples, the Golden Retriever Club of America and the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.  Both are WordPress sites, the GRCA site has multiple call to action buttons on the home page to attract attention and provide measurable actions, and also has Google Analytics installed as well as social sharing on Instagram and Facebook.  I would have liked to see some good examples from all breed clubs and clusters as well as local specialty and training clubs, but this webinar was a good start with an emphasis on fundamentals.

Out of curiosity, I decided to take a tour of all-breed AKC dog club websites, and to keep the task manageable, focused on clubs based in Michigan.  The AKC lists 24 licensed all breed dog clubs in the state and of those, 7 have an active website and 9 are represented by a site covering a cluster (multiple show giving clubs holding events on the same weekend).  A couple of the clubs have both a club site and are included in a cluster site.  It looks like 6 Michigan AKC all-breed dog clubs have abandoned websites, and 5 have no dedicated club website, dead or alive, that I could find.  A number of clubs, including some with no other online presence, have a Facebook page.  I’ll go into more depth about the use of Facebook by dog clubs after the AKC webinar on that topic scheduled for March 13, 2019. I could find only one all breed club in Michigan that had no dedicated website presence at all, but it is listed as being part of a dog show weekend by the all breed club that shares its show weekend on that club’s website.

The websites vary greatly in quality and the technology used to create them.  There are several modern looking websites created in WordPress (both .com and .org), some created in low cost website building tools like yoursite.com and weebly.com and then a few created in vintage web building tools including FrontPage and Dreamweaver.  I found two sites created by companies that appear to specialize in the “dog club/dog breeder” space.

A difficult truth is that a significant proportion of active AKC dog club members and volunteers are Baby Boomers and dog clubs are struggling to staff and execute profitable events, which often means websites receive limited support and funding. The paradox is that younger generations, who love dogs and are interested in doing things with them, are looking for dogs, dog services, and dog activities online, but many clubs are not able to connect with this new audience through effective use of online tools.

To address this disconnect, the AKC will be offering webinars on social media strategy, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in 2019. I have had success using Instagram and Facebook to promote the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit, attracting new people to our events who then decided to join the club.   Several of these new members mentioned they had no idea there was such a thing as a local breed club and they were excited to find like minded dog owners; an online presence can be a valuable tool for clubs looking to expand their reach.

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Promoting Michigan Dog Events, Products, and Services

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide is a unique publication targeted to dog owners in Michigan.   Beth Mitchell launched this guide to dog-related events, products, and services in Michigan in 2015 and it has steadily grown as more organizations and advertisers contribute.

Beth was inspired by the Arizona Equine Resource Guide,  published by her sister who is active in equine events in that state.  Beth didn’t have a horse, but she does have a dog, and she had spent a lot of time and energy finding the best resources to train her dog and resolve some behavior issues.  She thought there had to be other people looking for a central repository of information on dog events and dog-related services, so the Michigan Canine Resource Guide was born.

Beth started gathering content for the publication in 2014, creating a dog-themed cover and using her sister’s equine guide as an example of the type of content (with horses) that would be featured.  She had booths at dog shows and dog expos around the state and asked people she met at those events how they publicized their events, then explained how the Guide could expand their audience.  She also asked for referrals to other types of events and host organizations she should include.  She solicited ads from other event vendors and asked for referrals to canine professionals, retailers, and manufacturers to find other potential advertisers.  Many lunch hours on her day job included ad sales calls!  Event-giving clubs and organizations are encouraged to contribute dog events for the calendar to help make the publication as complete as possible; there is no charge for the listing.  Advertisers not only appear in the publication, their events are promoted through weekly emails, they are listed in an online directory, and they contribute articles and blog posts that appear in the publication, on the website, or both. Beth retains a creative director who produces ads and other content as needed and has several part-time ad salespeople recruited from the dog community.

The publication is still promoted through booths at select dog events, and every year Beth attends new events to reach a wider audience.  The guides are distributed free at dog events, participating businesses, and pet specialty retailers.  The guide can be viewed interactively online or downloaded in pdf format from the Michigan Canine Resource Guide website.   In addition to the guide itself, the Michigan Canine Resource Guide has an online calendar of events on their website, a directory listing for all advertisers,  and blog posts on a variety of canine topics.  The Guide also has a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter (@MiDogGuide) accounts. It stays in contact with dog enthusiasts through an opt-in weekly newsletter and advertisers also have an option to send sponsored emails to subscribers.  As the publication has grown, Beth has upgraded her marketing tools and currently uses WordPress for the website and MailChimp to manage her email subscription list.

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide has grown steadily in event listings, advertisers, and circulation since its launch.  Beth’s goal is to provide all Michigan dog owners with the resource they need to find local businesses, services, and events that will enable them and their dogs to live a healthy, happy life together. The biggest challenge is getting ALL the dog clubs in the state to contribute information about their events in a timely manner, so the event calendar is as comprehensive as possible.  Beth hopes that as the Guide becomes more and more of a “must have” for Michigan dog lovers, every canine organization or business will feel it’s an important element in their promotional plan.

 

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Facebook Pages for Dogs

Dogs in Social Media Infographic

While strictly speaking this post is more about dogs in social media than marketing per se, I just couldn’t resist a post about an article on Mashable which reported on a Lab 42 study and infographic about the number of dogs on Facebook.  It seems that about 14% of the people in the Lab 42 study had created Facebook pages for their dogs,  consistent with a UK study also reported on Mashable, which found that 10% of all UK pets have some sort of social media profile, including not only Facebook, but also Twitter and YouTube.  No mention of dogs on Linkedin, I’ve seen a number of dog-business interest groups, but no canines yet.

When I first saw these articles, I wondered how this squared with Facebook’s Terms of Use, which I thought limited profiles to real people, who are also permitted create pages and groups for other entities.  When I read the fine print, it just prohibits people from creating profiles without permission from  the person being profiled; given the large number of dogs on Facebook, I assume they fall within the rules.

Checking a couple of the dogs I’m associated with on Facebook , Rufus has a personal profile, while Satchel has a page.  I’m also friends with a few profiles that represent Bull Terrier kennels, an entity that I think is more human than canine, but perhaps a gray area. The most popular Facebook dog with over 1 million fans for his page,  is  Boo the Pomeranian.

NOTE: I recently noticed a thread on the Facebook group “AKC Judges Report Card” discussing whether judges should friend dogs, specifically dogs that might be shown under them, on Facebook.  The thought that the dogs might want to be careful who their friends are never crossed my mind when I created this post!

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Halo sponsors iPhone app for Freekibble.com

Free Kibble Logo
Free Kibble Logo

Petfood Industry reported that Halo pets has signed on as a sponsor for Freekibble.com’s  iPhone app, Kibble Katch.  Freekibble donates 10 pieces of kibble for each click on a trivia game on their site.  The food is donated by corporate  sponsors which manufacture premium natural  petfoods, including Castor & Pollux and Canidae on the Freekibble website;  Halo donates food for games played on the iPhone app.  Freekibble is the brainchild of Mimi Ausland, a 12 year old girl from Bend, Oregon and offers sections that spawn both dog and cat food donations.  The synergy here combines many elements bubbling up in marketing and social movements today: youth involvement in social causes, casual gaming, mobile advertising applications, and the growing popularity of the natural petfood category.

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Purina Petcentric Portal

PetCentric Logo
PetCentric Logo

I recently got my first email from Petcentric with a link to their site, which launched in 2006.  In a 2008 article in Promo Magazine the site is described as a social network, however most of the content is provided by the site’s owner, Purina and select partners, such as Yahoo! Answers (pet section.) There is content galore, including news about pets, pet blogs, pet games,  reviews, a pet service locator and pet photos and videos, which include user-generated content.  The site also has its own Twitter account @petcentric There is very little overt promotion of Purina products, although Purina sponsored events are a rich source of content for the site.  Just further evidence of Purina’s commitment to digital media with this engaging site that supports pet owners interests and in turn the Purina corporate brand identity.

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Alpo Dog Food: Real Dogs Eat Meat Contest

Purina continues to leverage user generated content in its pet food marketing, this time for its venerable Alpo brand dog food.  MediaPost describes the contest where dog owners are encouraged to enter the contest with photos and stories of their dogs being Real Dogs.  I think they’re trying to promote  a bit of backlash to the pet humanization trend, as the microsite pokes fun at dogs who attend dog-spas and shows.   One thing I found interesting is that other than offering a coupon for entering the contest, there is really nothing about Alpo dog food on the microsite. As a matter of fact, there’s no information about what’s IN the food on the main Alpo site, other than the label names, which the savvy pet food label reader can see indicate that only 3% of the can’s ingredients are the named meat.  The Flash based Alpo site also features two additional promotions, an online match and save game and one featuring grill chef Kent Whitaker.

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Dogtime Media’s Save-a-Dog Facebook app

MediaPost reports that Dogtime Media has just launched the Save A Dog Facebook application with the support of Frontline as its exclusive advertiser through September. The application allows users to check out adoptable dogs by breed and location, and then virtually foster, walk, and send dogs to their friends. Points are earned for downloading the app and all virtual interactions with the rescue dogs.

For every 2500 points earned, DogTime will donate the equivalent of one cup of food to rescuegroups.org, a technology provider which creates online solutions for rescue groups and will use the funds to lower the costs of their services to those groups.  This is the first time I’ve seen an organization looking for volunteers to provide technical services rather than the traditional food, toys and pet supplies for rescue.

A comprehensive campaign is planned utilizing DogTime’s network of advertisers, bloggers, and newsletter subscribers as well as its Twitter stream. Partners Frontline and rescuegroups.org will also participate in campaign extensions.

A personal criticism of the application’s functionality: The breed selection tool could be better, as my search for Bull Terriers near my zip code yielded hundreds of pit bulls, but I saw no actual “English” type Bull Terriers such as I own. Which reflects the balance of those breeds in rescue, I’m sure, – I just wish the listing “Bull Terrier” was better targeted to match the dogs.  This problem may be limited to breeds with similar names, but it reduces the attractiveness of the app for people who can’t find dogs like the ones they own to send to people who also own those dogs (who happen to make up the majority of my Facebook friends.)

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MRM creates Unforgettable Tail for Chef Michael’s

MediaPost reports that Purina is launching an interactive screen saver application called the Unforgettable Tail to promote its Chef Michael’s brand of dog food. The food is described as both mass market and upscale, which I interpret as available in mass retailers at a high price point.  I did see Chef Michael’s in online and big box pet store e-store listings earlier this year when the agency selection was announced, prior to the brand showing up on Purina’s own site.   I also see it’s  now available at Wegmans grocery stores for $.79 for a 3 oz container.

The article says the application will be available by “month’s end” on the www.chef-michaels.com website; since it’s only the 24th of June as I write this entry, I could find no trace of it online other than a note on the Chef Michael’s site that something cool was coming “in May.”  Chef Michaels has purchased a sponsored link on Google for its name but I couldn’t get the link to work today (the site does exist.)   The application will evidently allow dog owners to link their online photos, such as anything uploaded via TwitPic, to  a personalized dynamic screen saver that, of course, promotes Chef Michael’s products. I’m very curious to see this when it’s up and running; I’ll check back on this story in July!

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Nanny 911 for Dogs

Jetta Rose and friend Mimi
Jetta Rose and friend Mimi

A friend of mine who pet sits forwarded a copy of a dog tips newsletter from Nanny 911 for dogs,  which is distributed to over 2800 subscribers weekly. The author is Victoria Rose, a positively oriented dog trainer who currently lives in the Portland, OR area with her Doberman Pinscher, Jetta.

The  Nanny 911 e-newsletter includes dog care and training tips drawn from Victoria’s vast experience, often using personal anecdotes to make her point.  As a former journalist, Victoria still has the writing urge despite her transition to a dog training career and and leverages this passion to educate dog owners far beyond her own circle of clients.  Her motivation is to help people and their dogs live more fulfilling lives.  Although she occasionally  mentions products by name in the newsletter the publication does not accept advertising.

Victoria finds that occasionally subscribers will reach out to become clients, either in-person or for telephone consultation if they live farther away, but the newsletter is not her primary marketing tool.   She finds that Craigslist is actually the most effective means of marketing her business.  In a bit of a twist,  she has been successful getting people who posted dogs for sale on Craigslist to change their mind by  training the person and the dog to better understand and fulfill each others’ needs.

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AOL PawNation

MediaPost reports that AOL has just launched a pet portal named PawNation.com.  This news comes just shortly after Yahoo! closed its Pets section, integrating that content into its Shine lifestyle section.  Purina, noted as the launch sponsor seems to be the only display advertiser at present, although text ads also appear in some sections. The photo gallery section offers pet owners opportunities to upload their photos for integration into the site.

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