A CONFERENCE for pet bloggers? It may sound like a bizarre concept, but it’s a success story in the USA.
BlogPaws 2013, the fourth event run by the BlogPaws organisation, attracted over 500 delegates to Washington DC for a four-day schedule of lectures, commercial exhibits and socialising. The conference was oversubscribed and next year’s event, which will take place in Las Vegas, is already scheduled to be bigger and better.
Like many trends, this is a phenomenon which may have started in the USA but it’s a reflection of a global cultural shift. Pet owners and other animal enthusiasts are increasingly active online, and BlogPaws is addressing their needs.
Google, Facebook and Twitter are examples of how the USA has led the development of the worldwide online community. BlogPaws may only appeal to a specific sector of the population, but it’s a growing network that deserves the attention of the global veterinary community.
The obvious question for most readers is likely to be very basic: what is a “pet blogger”? At its narrowest, a pet blogger is someone who writes an online blog about pets. Miranda from Minnesota might write a daily account of what her pet cat gets up to.
Or a little wackier, Jennifer from New York might keep a daily blog “written by Casper the Cute Cat”, using written English phrased in “cat speak” (with the spelling and grammar that a cat might use if it was able to comprehend language and use a computer keyboard).
This narrow definition of pet bloggers probably applies to something like 30% of BlogPaws attendees, and if the community was limited to this group it might be of only minor interest. It’s the broader definition which is more significant: “pet blogger” encompasses anybody at all who writes about animals online.
Delegates at BlogPaws included a wide range of individuals and companies who participate in active websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or blogs that focus on animals.
There were veterinary surgeons, animal industry representatives, animal welfare groups, rescue centres, dog breed organisations and many others. If you have an online presence that occupies your time and energy, then you are a “pet blogger”.
If the BSAVA conference had a stream dedicated to “working with social media”, and if all animal enthusiasts were welcome as well as just the veterinary community, the result would be similar to the BlogPaws conference.
The event was based in a conference centre in a large hotel in Washington DC, just 10 miles from a major hub airport. Delegates paid a one-off fee that included lectures, social events and breakfast/lunch/dinner for the three days; they could choose to stay at the hotel for a special conference rate or they could find cheaper local accommodation.
There were four simultaneous streams of lectures and a commercial exhibition where coffee was served during the breaks.
The lectures’ titles were self-explanatory: “Facebook: building fans 0-200,000 at the speed of a click”, “Search engine optimisation: getting ahead in the search”, “The key to marketing with social media”, “WordPress for beginners” and “The future of blogging”.
Speakers were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including many leaders of online developments outside the animal community. The mission of BlogPaws could be summed up: “We will help you to improve your online presence, achieve more influence and monetize your work.”
There is also a strong altruistic strand to BlogPaws: since its inception, it has focused on helping its community members to “be the change for pets”. An awards ceremony on the final night of the conference recognised the best designed websites, the best blog writing and the best blog photos, but it also gave an award to the best “Cause Blog”.
Many of the delegates are passionate about improving animal welfare in their community, from feral cat rescue to animal adoption centres to disease awareness forums.
BlogPaws is the brainchild of three bloggers: Yvonne Di Vita (scratchingsandsniffings. com), her husband Tom Collins, and Caroline Golon (“Romeo the Cat”).
Yvonne had originally worked as a veterinary lay assistant, but she had gone on to develop a career in copywriting for the web. She had engaged Nestlé Purina to sponsor her own blog back in 2006, and she realised that there was commercial potential for animal blog writers.
Tom was a lawyer with 25 years’ experience who had started a second career as a technology and social media consultant to the legal profession and was, by 2009, a fulltime pet blogger and blog developer, working with Yvonne on their blog, Scratchings and Sniffings. Caroline was a hobbyist pet blogger and PR professional, well-known in the large online community of people blogging as animals.
The three founders met up at a BlogHer conference in 2009: this was an event dedicated to women writing online. They sat around a table at lunch with other pet bloggers who happened to be there, and someone said “Why isn’t anyone doing this for us?”
This was the germ of the idea: the founders went on to investigate whether the concept made sense as a business plan. Their conclusion was “yes” and they worked hard to develop the BlogPaws online community with the BlogPaws conference as its flagship event.
The success of the business plan became evident last October when the founders sold BlogPaws to Pet360, a profit-making company that ties together a wide range of online veterinary work in the USA.
Yvonne and Tom, along with Yvonne’s daughter Chloe, are still actively involved with promoting and developing BlogPaws: they are appreciating the increased financial and organisational resources that have accompanied the buy-out.
The BlogPaws online community has 2,300 registered members: most are based in the USA, but there are around 60 UK-based members, and this number is growing.
It’s only a matter of time till BlogPaws reaches European shores: when it gets here, will you be there?