Looking at cute animal photos on the Internet isn’t just fun, it’s good for your health and can boost your productivity, studies say. For Alejandro Russo, it’s also good business. In July 2011, he launched Klooff, the first user-generated online pet channel, where animal lovers can upload and share their favorite pictures.
“Consuming pet content online had exploded over last few years,” says Russo. “Pet owners take awesome photos, and we felt those photos needed a home. Posting on Facebook can feel like spamming your friends, so we created Klooff as a site for the passionate pet owner who wants to share five or ten pictures a day.”
The system is simple: Create a profile for your dog or cat, and upload as many photos as you like. Photos receive votes from the community; the more votes a photo receives, the higher it appears in the ranking. Each day, a top-ten list is posted.
Like many businesses, Klooff built a Facebook page to help direct traffic to its site. Starting with 104 fans – as many friends and family as Russo could get – the company eventually hired a community manager who filled with page with stock photos of pets in an attempt to get followers. The fan base grew to 1,500 and started to plateau.
“Then we realized that we had better photos on our site – why weren’t we using those photos on our Facebook page?” says Russo. After getting permission from the site’s users – who told Russo having their photos featured on Klooff’s Facebook page would be a huge honor – traffic exploded.
“There’s a misconception that any pet photo can become a viral hit, but that’s not true,” Russo says. “We were posting photos that had already received a lot of votes on our site. It was quality content, and we knew it would be a big hit. Each time we shared the photos on Facebook, each one would receive thousands of likes and shares. It quickly became our magic recipe and secret sauce.”
Once Russo nailed the content, he bought Facebook ads that grew his fans by about 80,000 a day. When he reached a million, he stopped using Facebook ads and let the page grow naturally to its current 1.2 million.
Russo says pet photos are so popular because they have a sense of being personal without the privacy concerns you might have over sharing pictures of your children. On the consumption side, viewing a picture of an animal can trigger a sense of happiness and joy, without political or moral judgments.
While your business might not have cute cat and dog “click magnets,” Russo says any company can learn from his success. He shares these five key lessons:
1. Share quality content.
Russo realized that using stock versus user photos, which offered higher engagement, made a difference. Users want genuine content. Also, he believes businesses should steer away from promoting your product or brand directly, using the page to share good information instead.
“Facebook pages are all about content, so take advantage of the variety of rich media formats available, such as large images, full web links and videos,” he says. “Ask yourself if the post sparks an emotion that would make you want to share it. Let your gut reaction be the judge.”
2. Be professional.
Users can tell whether or not a business cares about its Facebook fans by how often it updates its page. The most important part of being professional is being consistent. Russo suggests starting with one post a day, which will help you gradually increase your user base. Klooff’s cofounder manages its Facebook page and spends at least two hours a day.
“It’s not just quick updates,” says Russo. “It’s curating and publishing images that look good. It’s thinking of captions that fit with your brand personality. It’s replying to comments and deleting spam. It takes time to have a successful Facebook page.”
Russo also recommends using hashtags with flair: “Don’t worry about SEO or making the post relevant by over-tagging with boring words,” he says. “Use hilarious tags that make people want to comment or share.”
Frequency matters when it comes to building a following. Russo suggests checking Facebook’s analytics manager that will let you see when your followers are online.
“In our case, it peaked around 9 a.m. and then again in the afternoon,” he says. “We try to post right before then.”
Facebook also allows you to schedule posts that are uploaded automatically. And the Facebook mobile manager allows you to monitor and comment whenever you need to be away from the computer.
4. Engage with fans.
Once you’ve started building your following, maintain it by communicating with your audience.
“Reward engaged fans by commenting back or ‘liking’ fans’ comments,” says Russo. “People appreciate being acknowledged. Tagging their names when you respond to comments is also an extra boost.”
Also monitor and answer your private messages. Russo says sometimes you’ll get a tip for future content.
5. Test and test again.
Finally, social media is always changing and what you do today might not work tomorrow. Russo says he learned the most important tactics by experimenting with things like caption length, links (full or shortened), video vs. photos, and hashtags.
“Your Facebook page is a perfect environment to try new ways to engage your community,” he says. “Tracking the results is essential. Facebook offers a great Insights dashboard where you can analyze the most important metrics, like post effectiveness and demographic information. Get creative. Don’t be afraid to try new things.”