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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

I Started the WeRateDogs Twitter Account and Here's My Career Story

“Hi Abby. Thanks for your patience. I do have a dog. Her name is Zoey—she’s a four-year-old golden retriever. As for the follow pup questions, I can’t see them in the doc.”

I snorted with laughter when Matt Nelson, the creator of the WeRateDogs Twitter account, emailed this to me. “Follow pup” (instead of follow up) was 100% intentional. You see, Nelson’s an expert at using dog puns. In fact, he makes a living composing witty tweets about our favorite canines:

(Get it? Harry Pawter instead of Harry Potter?)

Nelson’s career in social media started by accident. When he joined Twitter in 2014, he used it as a creative outlet where he turned his thoughts into jokes and shared them with the world.

“I did this to varying levels of success,” he says, “but eventually I amassed nearly 10,000 followers. Along the way, I realized dogs were slowly taking over the internet, and I knew that was the medium I’d have to leverage if I wanted my writing to reach the most people.” When he asked his audience if they thought focusing his account on dogs was a good plan, they reacted enthusiastically.

WeRateDogs now has over four million followers, and when it really took off, Nelson launched an online store selling apparel—shirts, hats, mugs—that says things such as, “I miss my dog,” “They’re good dogs, Brent,” and “No shame in doin’ a snooze.” (Can we get five of each, please?)

Making people laugh and selling fun merchandise isn’t all Nelson does (though it’d be totally fine it if was). He also uses his platform to help dogs in need.

“WeRateDogs has evolved into a powerful online community based on a genuine love of dogs,” says Nelson. “We’ve tapped into that by sharing individual GoFundMe stories to help those pups get the medical help they need.” Currently, this charity work occurs solely via Twitter. In the future, he’ll house it on the WeRateDogs website.

(And don’t worry—he takes several steps to ensure all fundraising requests he supports are legitimate.)

Read on to learn more about Nelson’s unconventional career path—and some of the challenges that came with it.

Why Do You Think Your Account Has Been So Successful?

There’s definitely a chance that I just got lucky and ran with it. But I think it’s also because nobody took advantage of the 140 characters in this niche before. There were many cute animal accounts, but none combined both humor and a quantifiable aspect (for example, the ratings we give to each submission).

I enjoy analyzing what people find funny and why. When you work in comedy, a lot tethers on the success or failure of a joke. That fear of failure drives me to improve what I release into the world.

And, while my account is intended to be humorous, I’ve built a community that responds well to a wide spectrum of posts. I can post about a dog passing away and my audience will respond in a supportive, heart-rending way. That dynamic’s much more powerful than if my followers only appreciated the comical aspect.

How Do You Deal With Negative Tweets? Any Tips for Others on How to Deal With This Kind of Feedback?

To be honest, I’m still figuring out how to navigate this. I know the best solution is to ignore them, but I’m not sure how to do that effectively yet. A lot of the hate circles around the fact that I’ve turned a Twitter account into a full-time job.

But, there’s a difference between unfavorable criticism and blind hate. It’s very important to separate the two. If it has no real weight to it, forget about it and focus on making your content the best it can be. This is obviously easier said than done, but every once in a while, take a step back and recognize the volume of positive feedback you’re receiving.

Matt and Zoey

Do You Have Any Advice for Others Who May Want to Turn Their Passions Into a Side Gig?

Throw everything you have into it. If it’s truly your passion, find a way to do it and do it without turning back. Creating things and delivering them to an audience is my passion. Monetizing my accounts has allowed me to continue following it. Once you’ve pinpointed what it is you love, make that your priority.

(Oh, and find out here how you can get your pup featured on @dog_rates.)