Boo, “the world’s cutest dog,” has almost seven times as many Facebook fans as House of Cards star Kevin Spacey — 17 million of them.
The eight-year-old Pomeranian first appeared on Facebook in 2009. The following year, singer Ke$ha sent out a tweet announcing her “new boyfriend” with a link to Boo’s Facebook page, and the frenzy began. Soon, Khloé Kardashian was weighing in on the matter, declaring Boo the “cutest dog on the planet.”
What do you do when the world loves your adorable little fluffball? You cash in, of course.
Boo’s owner, Facebook executive Irene Ahn, went right to work, lining up gigs for Boo as a dog model, setting up a website and creating a whole line of stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, calendars, T-shirts and accessories featuring the famous canine. Boo even works for Virgin America as a spokesdog, acting as a “pet liaison” and offering tips on traveling with pets, and raises funds for Operation Smile.
Boo isn’t the only pup whose owner is cashing in on his fame. Meet the dogs who’ve earned thousands of dollars by becoming famous on social media.
Tuna Melts Everyone’s Heart
Tuna is a “Chiweenie,” a Chihuahua-dachshund mix, who was adopted by Courtney Dasher after being abandoned in California as a four-month-old pup. He has a distinctive (and adorable) overbite, a recessed jawline and wrinkly neck — and more than 1.1 million Instagram followers.
Dasher started the Instagram account a year after she brought Tuna home, hoping to make people smile. Tuna quickly became a sensation and now has his own website, Tuna Melts My Heart. In 2013, Buzzfeed even named Tuna “the most inspiring dog on the Internet.”
And yes, his charm brings in cash. Dasher sells Tuna-inspired items from mugs ($12) to T-shirts ($20+) and even cell-phone covers ($22). She’s also releasing Tuna’s story as a book, The Underdog with the Overbite ($12), on March 3.
Manny the French Bulldog Philanthropist
Manny is not only an adorable French bulldog, he is also a charitable one. Manny, whose Instagram profile (with 649,000 followers) describes him as a “4-year-old philanthropist Frenchie,” raises money for charities from the ASPCA to the Special Olympics to UNICEF, as well as a variety of animal rescue groups.
His owners, Jon Huang and Amber Chavez, bought this runt of the litter for half-price and posted occasional photos of him online being cute, doing things like sleeping in the sink. His popularity quickly grew, and soon he had 803,000 likes on his Facebook page.
In the past year, Manny (and his owners) have raised over $100,000 for charities
by selling clothing, pillows, mugs, accessories and other items on the website.
How Do You Make Your Pet a Star?
Occasionally, a pet star will rise to the top organically, but jumping into the marketing game will increase your pup’s chances of soaring to success. Here’s how to help your dog attain Boo’s, Tuna’s and Manny’s levels of fame on social media.
Pay Attention to Your Dog’s Needs
Never push your dog to do anything he or she doesn’t want to. If you find your favorite furry friend has a natural affinity to play soccer, by all means encourage it if your vet says it’s OK.
But never push an animal to do anything it doesn’t want to, whether that’s play a “human sport” or wear silly outfits. If your dog isn’t into it, it won’t be fun for anybody and could be potentially dangerous for him or her.
While all dogs are adorable, yours will have to be a special stand-out to achieve great success on social media. While not every dog has Tuna’s unique facial features or Boo’s amazing fluffball status, every dog can have its own unique way to stand out from the crowd.
Snag cute photos, consider teaching unique tricks or think about going the costume route. Is your dog an amazing surfer? Does she love to wear unique headbands? Think about what unique features you can use to stand out in a sea of wannabe stars.
Run a Marketing Campaign
A huge part of any successful marketing campaign — and if you’re going into this with the goal of making money, it is a marketing campaign — is putting in the hours and reaching out to the right people.
Regularly maintain your social media accounts, reach out to other social media users, share your photos and story, and don’t be afraid to market your products.
Once you’ve figured out your unique angle (rescue dogs really tug at the heartstrings), contact local news teams and see if they’ll run a story about your unique pet. Fido the happy neighborhood dog doesn’t necessarily draw in viewers, but Fido the surfing phenom will sure bring in the crowds (and ratings).
Connect With Influencers
While Ke$ha and Khloé Kardashian helped Boo’s meteoric rise to success, it doesn’t take A-list celebrities to make your favorite pooch an Instagram star. (But it sure helps.)
Look to your personal network and see who may be able to help you and your pup climb the ladder to Instagram success. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to share your dog’s story and see if they may be able to help.
Seek Out Spokesdog and Modeling Gigs
Every company needs an official spokesdog — most of them just don’t know it yet. This is where you and your marketing skills and efforts come in.
Dog modeling agencies can help you see if your dog has what it needs to succeed in the world of dog modeling. Your animal could even end up appearing on popular movies and TV shows.
One things these canine celebrities have in common is that they all have branded items to sell. Once your dog’s started collecting fans, consider whether this is a route you want to take.
First, think about what types of items your followers would enjoy. Does your dog have a compelling life story like Tuna? Is your pup perfect for a squeezable plush toy for kids?
While dogs are amazing, don’t forget about other species in the spotlight. Grumpy Cat’s owners reportedly made $100 million from their favorite adorable curmudgeon.
If you have any other type of cute critter, from a goat to a guinea pig, consider whether they might have what it takes for animal stardom. Of course, consider the animal’s needs first and if your pet doesn’t enjoy it, or your vet doesn’t think it’s in the animal’s best interests, reconsider. We have plenty of other ways you can make some extra cash.
Your Turn: Would you want your pet to become an Instagram star?
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true “penny hoarder” would be a fool not to take the company’s money.
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.