Disclaimer: 13/10 must read the h*ck out of this interview.
Tell us a brief background about yourself.
My name is Matt Nelson. I’m 20 years old and I am currently in school at Campbell University in North Carolina. I actually grew up in D.C. until I was 8 and then I grew up in Charleston, North Virginia until I went to college.
What was your inspiration for starting We Rate Dogs?
I was on Twitter for two years before I started that account and I had found a different creator outside of Twitter that would make jokes under 140 characters. I kind of fell in love with that challenge in trying to get a desired response out of your audience and that’s why I made a Twitter and I followed all of these people that made these jokes. I pretty much built a small following making what now seems to be incredibly mediocre jokes. I got my following to around 10,000 and then I realized comedy is kind of my true fashion and any joke I did involving dogs would do much better than it should have and that dogs were the hot topic on the internet. As a bored college freshman, I started We Rate Dogs and now it’s pretty much my entire life.
Have you ever thought about pursuing comedy as a profession?
I would love to pursue comedy and in interviews, I am always asked how are you obsessed with dogs but it’s really not that. Dogs are the most popular media thing to communicate my writing even if it’s just 140 characters of silly tweets. But if this can translate into some sort of comedic career or some writing really, that would be great.
How would you describe your audience for your account?
They kind of turned into this mob-like mentality. They’re really tame as far as Twitter audiences go. They’re pretty much people who enjoy dogs. It’s a dog-loving audience, obviously and they’re pretty much great. Some things people send me remind me of “fandomish” audiences. I wouldn’t compare it to YouTube personalities but they’re a passionate audience regardless.
What has been your favorite moment while running the account?
Definitely when J.K. Rowling shouted me out to her 10 million followers; that was pretty ridiculous. When she followed me, which was 6 months ago, I was actually playing golf and I almost had an aneurysm on the course. So I was freaking out but she didn’t really send in pictures of her dogs and she had liked a few tweets but didn’t really retweet anything. But all of a sudden she shouts me out and then I DMed her and said, “That just made my year” and she responded and she was really cool. We talked for a bit and then she actually sent me some photos of her dog and I posted it. I think she shouted me out on a Friday and I rated her dog the next Monday and she quote-tweeted that saying how proud she was of her dog which was really cool. Just seeing that and being able to interact with her – and I would have no other way of interacting with these celebrities if it weren’t for this account. That is definitely a highlight.
Has running the account affected your personal life in any way?
Yeah, I don’t have a personal life anymore. I mean, I’ve always struggled with time management but running this account – I mean social media never stops. One of the reasons my account is successful or in which I devote some of the success is how I much I keep up with it or how I read every single mention. I look at how my audience is responding to everything I post so that leads to every other aspect of my life hurting in some way. Just the sheer time it takes if pretty ridiculous. It is definitely worth it but it is so much.
Do you get affected by the negative comments, if there’s any?
I think there’s a really good comic strip [that is similar to my situation], where this guy is on the computer and there’s a bunch of hearts and likes surrounding him but there’s this one negative comment on the screen. As the day goes on, the positive comments start to fade away and the negative comment becomes more apparent. In a way, I see that happening in my life. When I see a negative comment, it obviously hits me a little different than all the positive ones. It sticks out more and I actually use these negative comments/critiques as a creative outlet. So yeah, these negative comments affect me but I try to use them to almost be more creative. If I’m not bored, then I’ll just ignore it or block the account if they’re being extra annoying.
Did you foresee yourself amassing more than a million followers or even starting a merchandise shop?
No… I actually made this account in an Applebee’s. When I made it I was just bored. In the back of my head, I was like, “This could take off like it has all the right components to take off.” But no. I couldn’t have told you that in less than a year I would have 500,000 [followers] and then in less than a year and a half I would have 1.3 million [followers]. It’s just insane. It’s such a wild ride. And besides the fact that I think I’ve worked ridiculously hard on it I can’t; I have no idea how it happened. As far as the merchandise store and the app and the book, those opportunities came to me and they were too good to say no to so I mean that’s how those things kinda started.
How do you feel about your Twitter and subsequently your tweets being deemed liberal? For example, when you tweeted dogs at protests about the Muslim Ban or at the Women’s March.
Yeah, if you find my personal account you’ll see I’m very liberal. I don’t think people were very surprised I was [liberal]. I guess the first post that made it apparent was the dog holding a sign that said, “I march for my moms”. In the back of my mind, I thought, “This could be considered liberal and at the same time controversial or political.” Yeah, but I think people would be surprised if I leaned conservative. If I ignored what’s going on in the world around me; that would [have had] a much stronger effect on my audience. But the day I posted that picture was my most unfollowed day on that account. I lost around 800 followers but I gained 35,000 so it’s safe to say it didn’t hurt me at all. They were probably gonna unfollow eventually so why not take them out in one swoop?
Do you ever use your account for perks, like, “Do you know that one dog account? Yeah, I run it.”?
I haven’t done that but my friends do that for me. Yeah, I can’t go out with my friends and have them not, especially with girls. It’s like I’m talking to a girl and immediately they’re like, “Hey, do you know that this is the guy that rates dogs online?”. And it’s like okay if they don’t know what that is, it’s really creepy. But unless they are already familiar with the account it’s a very very creepy thing to be confronted with so. But yeah, I personally don’t use it unless it’s like an obvious connection. But other than that, people have to already know what’s going on for it to be a talking point.
How many people in your personal life know that you run this account?
Since I do a personal account, I consider it a behind the scenes of the dog account. Everyone that follows that – which includes a large part of my personal life – are aware of [the account]. In comparison, at my school, only a handful know about it. No one promotes it anyway and if you follow my personal account then you know more about WeRateDogs than you probably should.
Additionally, you also make sure to tweet out tweets for dogs with GoFundMe so they can get the necessary surgeries and or treatments they need. I believe this is an amazing and thoughtful way to utilize your account. How did you come up with this idea?
After my account kind of blew up, I realized there was this power and I somehow needed to utilize it for some sort of good. So people were suggesting all these things like rating dogs up for adoption but that’s not really why I started the account. My main argument for not doing those things was because it wasn’t the reason why I started the account. It was purely a comedic thing and I didn’t have any major goals for it. But I do recognize the power and influence I have. So the solution was posting one GoFundMe on Fridays. Most Fridays we try to post one because we get so many like that it’s hard to not put them out. But the first few times I did it, we hit the goal fairly early so it was evident I had the power they needed to get the surgeries they need. And yeah, people make fake GoFundMe’s but the ones I post are fairly real. I mean people still talk about how much I should be doing with my account but that’s not why I made it. I feel like it would lose its purpose if I posted only dogs up for adoption or dogs who need GoFundMe’s. It needs to be a nice dose of actual content creation where I do not try to grow my followings. Additionally, I can’t post a GoFundMe every day because people don’t have enough money for that so I need to space it out to make it worth it for every needful dog.
Have you ever thought about expanding your account to multiple people?
This might sound arrogant but as of right now I don’t really trust anyone else to run it. I have someone that helps me go through the DMs and he basically condenses thousands into 20-30 in a text message every day. I understand the criticism where it doesn’t seem like a lot of skill to write many of the tweets and it’s a hard point to argue because if you feel that way I won’t able to change your mind. But I spend however long it takes me to develop the perfect 140 character caption. Every word has thought into it. People could mimic it in a style where [my audience] may not notice it’s not me writing but it won’t be long-term successful. I think the reason I think that is because there are many We Rate accounts out there and if they’re not stealing my content they are not successful.
I heard you’re coming out with a book in 2017. Would you like to explain more about it and how it has made you feel?
Yeah sure! I actually got a publishing agent in the first month I had the account and I didn’t even know you could get a publishing agent off of a Twitter account; that was new to me. So to think that I’m going to be an author that’s based off this [account] is gonna be pretty ridiculous. The book will basically be a Twitter account. It’s gonna look a bit prettier than your Twitter timeline. Basic same format. I’m not limited to 140 characters, which is great even though people love the short, choppy sentence style. I can be a little bit more elaborate with the captions and it should be fantastic. Pictures that I’ve collected are right in line with the best ones I’ve made that I post on my account. It should be great and honestly, we could sell 10 copies or we could sell a million copies and I’m just going to be happy that my name is in a store somewhere.
Any final thoughts on the future of your account?
We have the book and we’re going to try to push the app. It’ll be hard to find a company that does actual dog apparel but hopefully, down the road we can put our design on dog products. We don’t necessarily have the finances for an office space but there are 3 of us right now with the app developer in London and if we were to centralize it would be pretty dangerous but no, it’s not in the plans as of now.