AKC Helps Dog Clubs Find Their Social Media Voice

illustration using social media terminology

I recently viewed the AKC’s webinar on “Finding Your Social Media Voice” which featured Brandi Hunter, the AKC’s Vice President of Public Relations and Communications. Ms. Hunter is clearly fluent in and enthusiastic about social media and covered a large amount of information in the hour scheduled.  I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp of the topic, and still felt like I was drinking from a fire hose of information. I am going to provide a broad overview of the webinar in this post, and plan to come back to it to cover more of the tactical details. I hope AKC Education will bring Brandi back to share more of her knowledge of this topic in future webinars.

SOCIAL IS BIG

Brandi shared that over 3.3 billion people use social media and the average person has almost 6 social media accounts. More than 4 out of 5 of small to medium size businesses use social media. She feels all dog clubs can benefit from using social media to reach out to their members, potential members, exhibitors, and the dog-loving public.

SEVEN SOCIAL TIPS FOR DOG CLUBS

  1. Start with one social media platform that best fits your content and abilities, but please create a social presence!  Social media is an important outreach tool, especially for younger audiences.
  2. Assign no more than one or two people to be the primary voice of the club so you have a consistent voice and tone
  3. Always be on the outlook for things your club can share with other dog lovers
  4. Social media is all about engagement, more important than the number of people who see or like your pages are the number of people who post and share your content.  Give them a reason to comment on your posts and encourage their interaction by asking for shares, comments, pictures, and videos.
  5. Post consistently, this can be one of the most difficult things for dog clubs who have one big event a year.  Share what your club and members are involved with throughout the year, not just leading up to or on your event weekend.
  6. Share relevant content from other places, the AKC has multiple social media accounts and plenty of content worth sharing.
  7. Make sure multiple people have admin access to the club’s social media, using a club email address as one of the admin accounts, for example, “social@myAKCclub.org” is a good idea to make sure someone from the club can always get access to the account.

THE SOCIAL BIG THREE

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the three most popular social platforms.  Each can be used to promote clubs and their events, and each has strengths aligned better with some uses than others.

Facebook LogoFACEBOOK

Sixty-eight percent of all adults in the USA have Facebook accounts, and it is the second most popular place to watch videos (after YouTube). Half of all Americans who don’t have Facebook accounts live with someone who does.

Facebook is the most versatile of the three platforms. It allows the use of videos, images and longer content than either Twitter or Instagram. You can create event pages, public and private groups and can live stream events through Facebook. Each of these tools can serve clubs to help build community and share news about their club and its activities. Creating a page for a specific event makes it easy to promote and also share content unique to that event.    Facebook is second only to YouTube in video views.   Clubs are encouraged to live stream events on Facebook as long as they are not duplicating a live stream that AKC is already doing.

Some of AKC’s Facebook Pages:  American Kennel Club, AKC Gazette, Canine Good Citizen, Family Dog, AKC Reunite, AKC Club Development, AKC Scentwork, AKC Sports

instagram logoINSTAGRAM

There are roughly 1 Billion monthly users on Instagram. Instagram is very visual, it is a great medium for promoting events and sharing short videos, but not links or long text. Instagram is owned by Facebook and has the youngest audience of the three social platforms discussed in the webinar. Brandi emphasized that Instagram users LOVE dogs and dog-related content.

The heaviest Instagram users are susceptible to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO.) Sharing photos and videos of dogs and interesting events might trigger enough FOMO to get Instagrammers to check out your club and events. Brandi suggested that behind the scenes videos, for example, dogs being groomed, vendor spotlights, and juniors profiles were all great Instagram features.

Key to using Instagram is adding hashtags, which are keywords preceded by a # symbol.  Using 9-12 hashtags on your post is a good strategy, take some time to identify hashtags that are relevant to your club and events.  For starters, #dogsofinstagram, #dogs, and #puppies are relevant hashtags many people are following.

Some AKC Instagram accounts:  American Kennel Club, Museum of the DogAKC Sports, AKC.TV

twitter logoTWITTER

Twitter has 1.3 Billion accounts, but only 326 Million users, it has the lowest proportion of active users of all 3 platforms.  To use it effectively, you need to be one of those engaged accounts, a recommended posting frequency is 5 times a day; the volume of tweets moving through any given users feed is so high you need high frequency to get noticed.

This platform moves very fast and presents everything in chronological order, which can make it difficult to track and find tweets. It limits the length of messages to 280 characters and is not as easy to use for photos and video as Facebook and Instagram.   Twitter can be used effectively for customer service or event updates, where real-time information is important.

Some AKC Twitter accounts:  American Kennel Club, AKC Club Development, AKC Museum of the Dog, K9 Health Foundation

READY, SET, SHARE!

I’ve said this before, but I strongly encourage dog clubs to use social media to connect with their members, potential members, and the dog-loving public. The tools AKC mentioned in the webinar are all free to set up. Identify someone with the time and computer skills to set the accounts up, then work to find and collect content to share.  There is no doubt in my mind club members have lots of cute dog photos, pictures of club gatherings and other dog-related events stored on their phones and home computers, they just need to share the image files.

One way to make photo and video sharing easy would be to set up an account at an online photo sharing site like Google Photos. From there, members can share photos from their phones and computers so that your social media team can access and share them in club accounts.

I would love to see some club social links in the comments!

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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Marketing Dog Club Events with Facebook Advertising

Facebook Logo

Instagram Logo

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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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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DOGTV – The First Television Channel for dogs

Dog TV logoThis week the New York Times reported on a new cable channel, Dog TV; the story was also picked up by MediaPost.  The first thought that came to my mind, was how are they monetizing this? What advertiser in their right mind would buy space targeted to the canine demographic?  Turns out it’s a pay channel, now only available in San Diego, as an online stream, and an iPhone app.  A national launch is in the plans for late this year.

The premise is that Dog TV is something for your dog to watch while you’re not home, helping to relieve dog owner guilt at leaving the dog alone, further proof people want to offer services for their dogs as they would for human family members.  The channel also purports to help dogs acclimate to a variety of sounds and encourages the dog to relax at certain times and be alert at others.  I’ve spent enough days home with my dogs to know that adult dogs spend most of the day sleeping; I’m not sure they’d go out of their way to wake up for a favorite program.

Overall, the channel is doing a  great job with PR and social media getting the word out as they work toward a the national rollout.  I’m not sure I’ll be popping for an additional premium channel for my dogs, but I’ll check it out if appears in the local cable lineup.

 

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Bingo Pet Salon Offers Upscale Pet Services

Bingo Pet Salon StorefrontSoutheast Michigan’s local MetroMode media outlet reported on Bingo Pet Salon an upscale pet business opening in Royal Oak, one of the hippest inner ring Detroit suburbs. Bingo Pet Salon offers a contemporary look and feel and in addition to dog and cat grooming services, offers pet sitting and locally made specialty pet products, including personalized collars.  Located near the heart of the walkable downtown Royal Oak shopping district, the salon offers pet owners the opportunity to drop off their pets for grooming, take their time shopping and dining and then pick up their pet on the way home.  The business offers a free photo share for pet-sitting clients who become fans of the salon on Facebook.

This savvy business is taking advantage of a great location to position the typical time required to groom a pet as a benefit to their busy owners. Their pet sitting services include free email or text updates to out-of-town owners, with an upgrade available to include photo messaging about the pet.  The merchandise offered aligns with the trend to “buy local” and offers unique items which are in keeping with the boutique nature of human clothing and accessories sold in the Royal Oak shopping area.  The hours of operation are  targeted   to working pet owners, open every day except Monday until at least 6 PM and until 7PM on Friday and Saturday.

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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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Facebook for Dog Marketing

Facebook LogoLinkedin’s Pet Online Marketing Group started a discussion(join the group to see the full discussion) about members’ Facebook pages which as of December 31, 2010 had generated over 170 responses.   I spent some time reviewing the sites posted in the last couple months and wanted to post some general observations.

My impression was that the Page vs Group decision favored pages,  but there were a few businesses that had a group page and one that was using a personal page (named after the business). The best pages include customized FBML pages that hardly look like Facebook at all, frequent posts with relevant, engaging content that spawn discussions among their fans. The weakest pages  were those whose information tab consists of a single link to their business site, and who rarely post anything to the business wall and have several blank tabs.

The array of businesses represented by people commenting on that Linkedin discussion was quite wide including pet products,  pet services, books about animals, marketing services, retailers, media, artshelters, clothing (for pets and people), and of course the leading MLM pet product, Life’s Abundance pet  food.  I know that a number of national and franchised pet businesses have Facebook pages as well, so I think this mix reflects the membership of the Linkedin group, not all Facebook pet-related pages.

Facebook is becoming an ever more popular and effective marketing tool. In closing I’d urge all pet marketers to use it, but make an effort to fully populate your page, remove any tabs you don’t use, and commit to regularly updating the Wall content as a bare minimum.  The more web-savvy may want to explore customizing their page with FBML Another point to remember is that fan pages with 25 or more fans can create a custom URL in the form of www.facebook.com/fanpage which is easier for visitors to find than the default URL that includes this info plus a numeric string.

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Dogdration dog sports beverage

dogdration logoPetfood Industry reported on another entrant in the dog beverage category. Dogdration is the brainchild of  Colorado State University student Brian Fate who felt his dog needed to replace electrolytes after vigorous exercise.  The Rocky Mountain Collegian recently featured  a story on Brian and his company. The product is available online and in a limited number of retail locations. At nearly $4 for a 20 oz bottle and $36 for a case of 12 this is clearly a premium product (I’d bet my dogs would drink Gatorade for a lot less!) Marketing efforts are well steeped in social media; Dogdration has Facebook , YouTube and Twitter accounts and Brian Fate’s Linkedin and MySpace profiles mention he is founder of the company.  Dogdration has even hired professional blog writers to help with marketing efforts.

I’m not certain that dogs need beverages more complicated than water, but this product appears better researched than most. Brian’s passion for exercise and concern for his dog is reflected in Dogdration, while some of the other entrants seem purely opportunistic. I will continue to watch this emerging product category with interest.

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Walmart expands ASPCA partnership

Lend A Paw LogoWalmart is expanding its partnership with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA.) In addition to a line of ASPCA branded products featured in the Walmart pet department in 2008, the companies recently launched a co-branded Facebook page titled Lend A Paw and are sponsoring a Pet Fair in Miami on May 1, 2010.

MediaPost writes about the ASPCA’s promotional efforts including the Facebook page and partnerships with multiple pet product companies to promote April as National Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.  Walmart’s move to associate itself with this well-known animal charity shows that the company takes the pet market seriously and is trying hard to position itself as a caring, pet-friendly company.  This reminds me a bit of Warren G Harding’s promotion of his Airedale, Laddie Boy, as the First Dog, which helped deflect public attention from some of the more colorful aspects of his family life.

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