Time, focus and quality are key to social media success

Anna Mathias has created a budding social media star with her Instagram account for Lionel, her pet hedgehog. Experts say success like Mathias' takes hard work.

By Holly Fisher

Creating a social media account for your pet might start out as a fun little side project, but as Anna Mathias knows, it can explode into a full-blown social media phenomenon. Her hedgehog Lionel’s Instagram account had more than 27,800 followers as of late-September, and she just started it this spring.

“The reason why Lionel the Hedgehog is so successful is no doubt because he’s interesting, relevant and marketable,” said Ashley T. Caldwell, founder and CEO of Charleston social media firm The Modern Connection. “The owner has taken great effort to be 100 percent on brand and has invested in sharing high-quality, desirable images. Anyone looking to create something similar should understand the amount of time and energy it takes to accomplish this successfully.”

Not every account will grow as fast as Lionel’s, Caldwell said. Others might take two years to reach that level of success, which largely depends on the quality of the account.

Instagram, Caldwell noted, is completely image-based, so the photos have be top notch.

“You really have to dedicate the time and resources to make sure it’s on point.” she said. “Quality is not an option on Instagram.”

To build an initial following, seek out an existing community. Mathias started with other hedgehog enthusiasts before branching out into fashion.

Don’t forget the hashtags as a way to attract new followers. Popular ones are #dogsofinstagram, #catsofinstagram, #instacat, #instadog, #petsofinstagram, plus pet-specific tags like #hedgehogs, #Labradors or #blackcats.

If you’re unsure about how to get started, pick a social media network you understand and can use easily. Mathias already had an active personal Instagram account so it made sense for her to use Instagram to share Lionel’s photos. If you’re more comfortable on Facebook or Twitter, start there. You can always expand into another medium later.

Once you’ve built a relatively large and, most importantly, engaged and loyal group of followers, you just might be able to make some bucks from your pet’s popularity. Caldwell suggests these services to help get you started:

• Snapfluence, which can connect influencers with big brands.

• Popular Pays, an iOS app that connects brands and influencers who get paid in products or cash.

• Affiliate marketing allows you to share trackable links to recommended products. When one of your followers makes a purchase, you get some of the profit.

According to marketing firm Mobile Media Lab, Instagram users with 100,000 followers or more can make $700 to $900 per photo. For users with 500,000 or more followers, the payment can reach $3,000 per photo.