What’s It Take to Become A Pet Influencer?

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Meet Amelia and Pippi: The exceptionally photogenic pair of pups that are garnering a significant following as the stars of the pet-influencer Instagram account @lifewithcollies. Whether it’s romping through snow-blanketed fields, bounding along the beach, adventuring through rocky terrain, or hiking and hopping through wooded trails, together, Amelia (a Gold Border Collie) and Pippi (a retriever/collie mix) help deliver a daily dose of canine-cuteness that social media users look forward to while scrolling through their newsfeeds.

While the photos of these two adorable doggos exploring the great outdoors are as authentic and natural as it gets, growing and managing a social account, as well as continually creating the content, is a substantial undertaking. So who is the brains behind the paws? Meet Victoria “Tori” Steiner.

EntrePAWneurial Minded

Although Tori’s personal Instagram is brimming with incredible photos, it’s not where she decided to allocate the most of her time. To create an impactful account featuring her two fuzzy friends, she started @lifewithcollies.

The account’s following has grown remarkably fast. In just over a year and a half—with the first photo posted on Instagram on New Year’s Eve 2017—@lifewithcollies has expanded to over 37,000 followers. Perhaps it’s the witty captions, the smart hashtagging, the captivating images, the fact that people can’t get enough of cute animals, or a mix of it all.

“I didn’t know it would grow this fast,” said Tori. “The main purpose was always to share my dogs through photos. I also hoped to form some brand relationships, but never expected it to turn into what it is today.”

K is for… Canine?

In the realm of aspiring influencers, the “k” shown under “followers” that indicates an account has 10,000+ followers and has a kind of mythos around it. In particular, the “10k” mark is inextricably challenging to surpass. But when you do, the authority of your account starts to increase as well.

“You’re taken more seriously once you have the ‘10k,” affirms Tori. “Once you get to the ‘10 K,’ things pick up. It’s like people say, ‘Oh, a bunch of other people are following this account, there must be something good or interesting here, so I’m going to check it out, too.”

For the first ten months, her account grew by about 1,000 followers a month. For anyone who has tried to build a following on any social platform, you know that’s astounding. For those of you who haven’t, know that it’s profoundly challenging to grow an audience, especially one that’s avid and engaged.

But it wasn’t until after she topped 10,000 followers that her following skyrocketed. “It’s like an unofficial badge,” Tori notes. From October 2018 to June 2019, she grew from 10,000 to 37,000 followers; that’s an average increase of nearly 3,400 followers a month!

The constant pursuit of more followers is a white whale of many content creators, often leading individuals to consider buying likes and engaging other accounts with the help “bots” to expedite the process. But smart influencer networks and brands aren’t into those phony accounts; they want the real deal.

For authentic influencers who grow a following organically, brands are starting to come out of the proverbial woodwork to work with them. In fact, Tori says the requests to collaborate with brands and their products arrive in her inbox every day, sometimes twice a day.

Creating Content

If you’re curious about why brands and people are attracted to @lifewithcollies, it’s pretty simple: high-quality, authentic content. The pictures are stunning, the captions are captivating, there’s a consistent aesthetic, and Tori allows the personality of each of her pets to shine through.

“We’re weekend warriors,” Tori says. “And I always have my camera attached to me. It’s like a third limb.” According to Tori, she spends a couple of hours every weekend snapping pictures. However, the process doesn’t end with a couple of good images. She then has to sort, edit, and post them. “While each individual picture is important, the look of your feed is really important too. For that reason, I edit every picture in the same style.”

Adding this context and style to her content is a significant time investment. It’s a responsibility that many aspiring influencers (and brands for that matter) aren’t entirely aware of. But, while content is at the core of a premium influencer marketer, there is one more factor in the equation that sets a great influencer apart from just another account.

Influencer Marketing = Content + Communication

“I spend a lot of time engaging with my followers,” Tori notes. “It usually takes an hour or two every day.” Between snapping, editing, posting, and communicating with her following, growing her pet influencer account takes about 10 to 20 hours per week. “Every comment I get, I reply to. I usually go back to their page and leave a comment for them. They took time out of their days to comment on my picture, then I want to return the love and be supportive.”

But this active communication has done more for her than signify to brands that she and her dogs would be excellent brand ambassadors; it facilitates genuine friendships.

“I have good relationships with the people who follow me. It’s actually led to some really awesome friendships. These aren’t just my followers.”

In fact, Tori recently took a trip to Colorado to meet some of the account wonders with whom she frequently communicates. “I met about twenty accounts out there. They’re real people. I met them outside Instagram and social media, and we have real friendships that have formed from this app.”

But forming these friendships and garnering an audience as @lifewithcollies has also come with a responsibility. Because people trust the account, Tori has to ensure she maintains and fosters that trust by not only delivering stellar content but by only endorsing products she genuinely stands behind.

“It’s incredibly important to only work with a product that I would naturally buy myself,” asserts Tori. “If it’s not a product I would use or support with my own money, then it’s not a product I want to share with my followers.”

The Inside Scoop

Tori has a particularly unique insight into the world of influencer marketing — beyond the average influencer — as she also works for an influencer marketing network called ApexDrop. “When I started @lifewithcollies, I first joined ApexDrop. I’ve been with them for a while. They’re incredible.”

If you’re unfamiliar, many influencers work with influencer marketing companies to help them forge connections with brands. “I was actually an influencer first, and that’s how I met the CEO of ApexDrop, Zak Stahlsmith,” Tori recalls. “I started as an intern, and stuck with it because it’s just been so much fun.”

Seeing the business side of influencer marketing has only reaffirmed Tori’s conviction that influencers are potent assets for brands. “When it’s a good match between brand and influencer, it’s so powerful.” By keeping her pups’ account authentic, putting in the time to create incredible content, and communicating with her audience, @lifewithcollies has won the hearts of tens of thousands of Instagrammers and dozens of brands.