Marketing Dog Club Events with Facebook Advertising

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Social Media Training

In the spring of 2018, I attended a social media marketing workshop sponsored by Facebook at Ann Arbor SPARK. The course, which covered Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram promotions was underwritten by Facebook. The course covered the material and work necessary to receive a social media micro-credential. In Michigan,  sessions have been held in the greater Detroit/Ann Arbor area as well as in Grand Rapids. Each student needed to represent a local organization or business and we had quite a variety represented in our group, mostly non-profits, but also a few small businesses and a marketing consultant.  I represented The Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit, an AKC breed club that operates primarily in southeastern Michigan.  We also collaborate with the Midwest Miniature Bull Terrier Fanciers and the Miniature Bull Terrier Club of America during our fall specialty weekend.

Setting Up Facebook Pages and Instagram Accounts

The class was open to all, whether their organization had a Facebook or Instagram account or not.  Everyone in my class already had a Facebook page, but a number of us did not have an Instagram account. Our instructor, Lindsay Thomas walked everyone through setting up Facebook pages and organization Instagram accounts. She explained the difference between Facebook Pages and Groups and why Pages are better for promoting organizations.

Basics of Social Media Marketing

We learned how to create different types of posts and got tips for making them engaging.  Lindsay emphasized the importance of content that asks visitors to DO something, such as sharing pictures or commenting on a topic. Photos, videos, and links to your website are valuable to show people what your group does and can serve as an invitation to page fans to engage with your site.

Creating Facebook Ads

Every organization in the class received a Facebook advertising credit to help them get started.  We learned you can promote an existing post or event without creating anything new, or you can create an ad using Facebook ad center tools.     Once we decided which post we were going to boost, we had to select a target audience.   For my promotions which were for a local Bull Terrier specialty club, I decided to target men and women over 18 years of age, who were located in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, or Southwest Ontario (defined around cities in that region.)  I was able to browse to see what interests Facebook had identified that might be relevant.  I found I could target people interested in Bull Terriers, Bull Terrier rescue, and Miniature Bull Terriers, which was absolutely perfect for my club. Then you set duration and a budget (which you can pay through PayPal) and you are ready to go.

Instagram Advertising

We covered using Instagram advertising in the class, but to be honest I have not dedicated too much time to use it for our club.  The greatest hurdle to my adoption of Instagram for the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit is that as an active exhibitor and club secretary, it’s difficult for me to both take a stream of photos documenting an event as well as participate in the event.  I can usually take some photos during setup and maybe awards, but the rest of the day I’m too busy to keep it up.

Does Facebook Marketing Work?

I do feel that Facebook marketing worked for our club.  I boosted our first post on May 2, 2018.  At that time we had 511 likes, up 110 from 401 likes the previous May.  As I am writing this in late February 2019, we have 653 likes, up 142 in just 10 months.  People who Like your Facebook page will be notified anytime you post an activity or create an event on your page, keeping your club top of mind. Boosting or advertising our page and events expanded our reach from the few hundreds that like our page to thousands of local people with an interest in Bull Terriers.  Facebook has an Insights section where you can view statistics about your page.    I can clearly see increases in both organic and paid traffic to our Facebook page around the time of each of our promoted events, our summer Bullyolympics, fall Specialty, and Winter Bull Terrier Fest.   I made a point of asking new people at our fun events how they had heard about the event, and each time I had at least one couple that said they or a friend had seen it promoted on Facebook.  We have had at least two couples join the club who found out about an event on Facebook, and overall our membership is up by 6 households (20%) compared to last year.

Is Facebook Advertising Cost Effective?

For our club, I think Facebook advertising is well worth the cost.  We are spending on average $25-$30 to promote each event for the month leading up to it, in a 4-state geographic area to people with a defined interest in breeds that rank 60th and 115th in popularity.  Other clubs with larger targets may spend more, but you also have a larger potential for return on your investment.

My Advice to Dog Clubs – Go For It!

I would highly encourage dog clubs to follow our example and try Facebook marketing.  Just starting with a page where you can show photos of your activities, answer questions, and promote your events will expand your reach to the dog-curious public.  Boosting posts is very easy, creating ads is not much harder.   For less than you’d spend on one dog show entry, you can reach a lot of people who may not even know there is such a thing as a dog club.  You can introduce the joy of doing things with your dogs to a lot of new people, gain members, and sow the seeds that will lead to more dog show engagement in the future.   Facebook-funded workshops are being held in many locations, search for the term “Facebook Microcredentials” with your location to see when there will be one near you.  Facebook also offers  free online marketing courses.  Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like help getting started. If your club has a Facebook or Instagram presence, I’d love to see it, please share a link in the comments section.

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

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The #1 Dog Club Website in Michigan

Grand Rapids Kennel Club website header

Reviewing Michigan All Breed Dog Club Websites

I looked at all the websites I could find for Michigan all breed dog clubs while reviewing the AKC Webinar on website best practices.  These dog cub websites vary widely in quality and some clubs have opted to have a Facebook page in lieu of a website.   In my opinion, the Grand Rapids Kennel Club is the best club website, so I reached out to the club to get some insight on why.

Grand Rapids Kennel Club’s Site is Engaging and Responsive

The site homepage features a carousel of three beautiful photos of purebred dogs, and at the time I first visited, a promotional button for a special event.  Membership, event, and breeder referral links are all “above the fold” and visible on the screen when viewed on a PC.  The club’s community service activities, mission, and upcoming events are featured farther down the page along with more photos of purebred dogs in action. The site is optimized for mobile devices so that the experience is similar on all device types.

Developing the Site

I reached out to the club via their “contact us” link and quickly heard back from Carol Lynn Johnson, the club AKC delegate and driving force behind the current website, which launched in October 2018, replacing a site with a dated look.   Carol and fellow club member Pat Cromeyer designed the website with inspiration from the Labrador Retriever Club’s site. The current site was created in WordPress by Woodchuck Arts, a digital marketing firm with a variety of clients.  This did indeed cost money, but they believed the return on investment to present the club as a modern organization which cared about both dogs and community, was worth it.

How It’s Working

The club’s goal was to create a website that would attract millennials and younger people to the club, and so far it seems to be working.  Carol cited that they recently welcomed a young member who said the website was a major factor attracting her to this club.  The club showcases not only its shows but also the multiple ways it gives back to the local community through donations, including donations to benefit working dogs in their county sheriff’s department.

Administrative Details

Carol said they have just recently implemented Google Analytics on the site, and are waiting to collect a full month of data, but are planning to examine sources of traffic and see which sections of the site are most popular.  There are three administrators, they update the content as appropriate, roughly once a month.  Woodchuck Arts also scans the site monthly to make sure links and code are up to date and that the site is optimized to reflect any changes in search algorithms. The Grand Rapids Kennel Club also maintains Facebook and Instagram accounts, which are managed by a separate team.

This site has a private login area for members.  The members-only area houses copies of club newsletters, updated members and breeders list, and a section where members can share brags about their dogs’ accomplishments.

What About My Dog Club Website?

There are a number of other Michigan dog club websites that are attractive and responsive, i.e. created so they are easy to read on not only a desktop but also on mobile devices.  If your club’s site is not one of them consider an upgrade.  Hiring a professional web design firm will cost money, but the return on investment can be huge. A modern website engages people and can bring in new, younger members, drive public attendance to your events, and position club members as experts on dog issues.

What I Recommend

I personally recommend WordPress, but there are other options as well. If you have no website or web address at all, there are WordPress.com options that are available for no cost. For as little as $48 a year you can upgrade to a version that lets you use your existing web address and eliminate advertising. One of the advantages of Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress is that that they can be updated by someone without web coding skills. Multiple people can be assigned roles to maintain the site without having the power to seriously muck it up.

 

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Growing a Family Dog Event With Effective Publicity

Expanding on my theme of promoting AKC all breed clubs through websites,  I found a 2015 post in the Canine Chronicle written by then AKC Public Relations Director, Stephanie Smith.  In it, she talks to Dr. Alan Dorfman, a show chair associated with one of the Michigan dog show cluster websites I mentioned in my review of the AKC club website webinarThe Michigan Winter Dog Classic includes the Oakland County and  Livonia kennel clubs which hold four of the largest all-breed conformation shows in the state. Their January show weekend includes rally, agility and obedience trials and they share space with a changing cast of other dog events, including the AKC’s My Dog Can Do That program open to the general public, which the public loves, but which can be controversial among competitors.   Dr. Dorfman went into more detail about how they changed the positioning of the event from dog shows to a family event when they added the My Dog Can Do That activity in another Canine Chronicle article.

The cluster’s secrets to success include being open to new ideas and balancing the needs of both exhibitors and spectators to make it an enjoyable and memorable event for all. The event also has procured sponsorships with local media and a dog food manufacturer and engages in multiple advertising and public relations tactics to focus attention on the event in the month leading up to the shows.  Click here to download the AKC’s guide for promoting dog clubs, which provides public relations fundamentals and templates.  NOTE: The link to this document is broken in the Canine Chronicle article.

It is clear from my perspective as a potential exhibitor that the cluster website is targeted at the general public rather than the exhibitors or the event-giving clubs. There are at least 9 different clubs involved in the cluster, and none of them are mentioned by name on the cluster website, only links to outside sites that host information about entering.  The only service providers of interest to exhibitors that are mentioned by name are the veterinarians and clinics involved in the health clinics.  This is consistent with the cluster’s focus on presenting as a family event rather than a series of dog shows and trials, and looking at the gate vs entries figures presented in the Canine Chronicle articles, this strategy is paying off, as total attendance is more than a 3X multiple of  total entries quoted in the article.

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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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