Brookhaven event planner Denise Quashie often imagined what her dog Frankie Beans would say if he could talk.
So on a whim last fall, she created an alias for her Yorkie Shih Tzu mix on Twitter.com, the free social networking site where people post short messages about what they’re doing, share links and chat with like-minded people.
“Have u seen the new snuggies for us doggies?” Quashie-as-Frankie typed into cyberspace, as Christmas approached. “Not sure why she’s upset, it IS called a chew toy,” another post read, with a link to a photo of a foam hotdog with a large chunk bitten out.
Within a day, the dog’s Twitter account (@FrankieElPerro is his online name) had 60 followers – most of them other animals. And Quashie was thrown into the make-believe world of business owners, marketing consultants and other professionals by day who delight in taking on their pets’ personas in their spare time. It’s a world where animals signify their amusement with a “BOL” or “MOL” (short for Bark or Meow Out Loud, because pets don’t laugh), dogs and cats are friends, messages are sent by “pee-mail” and the traditional punctuation rules do not apply. The Twittering pets often refer to their owners as their “staff,” and even produce their own online newspaper, The Anipal Times (http://www.anipaltimes.com/).
Quashie wanted to give the people behind the animals a chance to meet each other in person, network and learn more about social media trends involving pets. So she is hosting a three-day conference called BarkWorld Expo from Aug. 20-22 at Atlantic Station.
“There’s no one avenue for pet lovers to come together – I’ve been using the term ‘come together under one woof’ – to network, share ideas and to be educated on services that are available to them via social media,” Quashie said.
Though their language might be silly and easy to ridicule, the online pet community is a serious marketing force. In less than two years, a series of virtual twitter events for pets called “PawPawties” started by United Kingdom dog owner Lynn Haigh and her Cairn Terrier Dougal (@FrugalDougal) have raised more than $37,000 for animal charities throughout the world, while Charlotte, N.C. cat owner Caroline Golon – via her pet and online persona, Romeo the Cat–has brought in $32,000 for rescue groups during a similar period of time. Romeo has his own blog (www.romeothecat.com) along with corporate sponsors.
Both Haigh and Golon are speaking at the conference. So are the social media directors of PETCO, the Humane Society of the United States and other marketing experts who take the trend seriously.
Morningside-area communications consultant Diane Silver will moderate a discussion called, “Yes, My Rabbit Tweets. No, I’m Not Crazy!” She has a blog with her Havanese Cosmo (http://todogwithlove.blogspot.com/) chronicling their travels, favorite pet products and animal charity efforts.
Speaking as her dog on Twitter started out as a fun way for Silver to learn about the social-media site without revealing personal information about herself. It became much more than that: a creative outlet, a means of sharing pet-related information, a fund-raising tool and a chance to influence the pet industry.
Silver said she regularly communicates with product manufacturers as her dog.
“They will engage the pet. They know it’s not the pet sitting there at the typewriter. But they take it seriously because … we enjoy our pets and we’re sharing a lot of information,” Silver said. “Whether you’re representing yourself as an animal or a human, you’re still a potential consumer of their product.”