Oh h*ck; maintaining a wonderful tone of voice with Matt Nelson from We Rate Dogs

We Rate Dogs is, without doubt, the best h*cking thing on the whole Internet. As such, we’re thrilled to be joined by its founder Matt Nelson for this episode of our podcast.

Matt’s venture started in 2015 as a Twitter account that shares pictures of dogs with an accompanying caption and rating. He now has more than 5.5 million followers and an empire of other excited AF things related to it.

Matt joined us for a fascinating AF conversation about the growth of his accounts and you’re going to love listening to it. We talk about how We Rate Dogs became what it is today, how Matt has built such a strong tone of voice and we revisit why President Trump tweeting covfefe saw We Rate Dogs hit the headlines. Oh, and I also get Matt to rate my dog Floyd.

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Show notes

You can follow We Rate Dogs and Thoughts of Dog on Twitter. You’ll also find Matt there too.

Matt is the person shifting the Internet from cats to dogs. He’s gained more than 5.5 million followers on We Rate Dogs, he’s got a book, an app and merchandise – all in a couple of years.

Matt initially used Twitter as a creative outlet, trying to make people laugh. Matt joined in 2014 and launched WRD about a year later.

The few jokes I made that incorporated a dog character seemed to do better than they should!

The account was launched out of a bored moment for Matt. At the time, Matt had around 10,000 followers on his personal account – WRD had 100,000 within a month! Everything else – the march, the other channels etc – just fell into Matt’s lap.

The initial style of the account was definitely different to how it is now – Matt used a lot more absurdist humour in his captions, but as the audience has grown, Matt has had to adjust the accounts for mass consumption.

I created the Dog Feelings account because I’ve kind of been put in hole with Dog Rates – I’m not pigeon-holed creatively with the new account

There are three types of posts on Dog Rates, the most common being the name of the dog, a few words about them, the rating and a final ‘would…’. The others are posting photos of animals that aren’t dogs, but rating them as a dog, as well as photos that are dogs, but saying they aren’t.

The use of h*ck is a key part of Dog Rates – it had been part of dog memes for a while, but Matt took it a step further by censoring it.

People immediately loved the idea of censoring something that was already censored – our best-selling hat just says ‘Oh h*ck’ – it was a wild day when I first censored that word!

The Dog Rates account is intrinsically linked to its community, as its followers provide all of the images that are rated. Matt sees this as hugely important and really powerful.

One of Dog Rates’ most famous moments was the line ‘they’re good dogs Brent’ – see below for it panned out and a great example of shutting someone down online without being nasty.

Screenshot of the moment We Rate Dogs created their catchprase 'they're good dogs Brent'

I had no idea this was going to take off, I made no effort to make it bigger than it was. Six months later I had an hour-long Skype call with the Washington Post and Brant to talk about it!

That leads us to covfefe and the night the fog rolled in. President Trump tweeted his infamous covfefe typo and the Internet exploded with joy. Dog Rates jumped on the bandwagon by rating a dog – ‘this is Chuck, pronounced covfefe’ – and also made a hat with ‘covfefe AF’ on it, which people loved.

Matt then decided that he wanted to donate money raised from the hat to a charity – not a dog rescue, the obvious choice – but instead he chose Planned Parenthood as a deliberate stance against President Trump’s ideas.

Within the first 12 hours, the response was overwhelming, with lots of negative backlash. So, Matt decided to write an apology, but it broke the Dog Rates character, and that caused even more problems.

I came to the conclusion on my own that the apology was the wrong thing to do, within 10 minutes of posting it. I not only pissed off the right when I made the announcement, but then I pissed off the left by backing down.

To separate an account I run from myself is impossible – especially when the captions come right out of my head.

Matt jokes that his crisis team failed him – the joke being that Matt didn’t have a team, it was just him. Thankfully, he was able to get back on track the next day, as Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

It hasn’t stopped Matt tackling political issues though – he recently took on the Net Neutrality battle and was much more confident in doing so in character.

To do it in character felt like the most powerful way of approaching it.

Matt’s initial attraction to Twitter was the challenge of making someone laugh in 140 characters. The change in character limit has had an effect on each account – Dog Rates doesn’t really use it, whereas Dog Feelings does. Matt doesn’t need the extra characters for Dog Rates, but Dog Feelings truly benefits from the boosted limit.

Dog Rates isn’t just on Twitter, it’s on Instagram and Snapchat. Matt quickly realised that Snapchat was for live content and focused on that – mainly shooting photos of his own dog.

Snapchat is a terrible platform for analytics, as you don’t have any – it’s just views and screenshots. But, in many ways I have to think more about the Snapchat content as people make more of a deliberate choice to watch that content. I want to have a specific purpose for each platform.

Matt also really appreciates the value of retweeting or liking posts from the Dog Rates account and what effect in can have – for example, he gave my own doggie-Instagram account a boost last year by liking a tweet I sent him and Twitter’s algorithm showing that activity to people. What has become more powerful though is sharing links to GoFundMe campaigns where people are trying to raise money to treat their sick/injured dogs.

I’m always surprised by my influence. I don’t think it’s me, I think it’s just dogs!

Matt now posts GoFundMe stories on a regular basis, as he recognises it as a way to give back. Out of more than 40 GoFundMes posted in 2017, only two failed to reach their goal.

To get an idea of how Matt rates a dog, I asked him to rate my own pup, Floyd! In advance of our interview, I sent him over a load of photos. Matt chose the one below – hear him craft a caption in real time during the interview!

It’s impossible to send too many pictures! People should send a variety. And, actually, the highest quality photos don’t work so well – ones that show more of the background work better.

To rate Floyd, Matt says he would actually pull from a Dog Feelings tweet about a leaf falling on a dog’s noggin and thereby making him emperor of the yard. With this photo, he’d introduce Floyd, reference the leaf, his snoot and his new-found status as emperor of the leaves, give him a rating and then sign off.

A chocolate brown cockapoo puppy with a leaf on its nose
Floyd – officially a 13/10 pupper!

Matt’s top three tips for creating and maintaining a really strong tone of voice for a social media account

  1. Consistency

2. Have something unique – like the use of periods on Dog Feelings. Find your version of that and embrace it.

3. Consistently engage with your audience and learn from them


5 apps on your phone you use the most

Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, Netflix, Mail

4 people you’d like to invite to dinner

Bo Burnham, John Mulaney, David Fincher and Logic

3 words to describe what it’s like running We Rate Dogs

Thrilling, hectic and anxiety-inducing!

2 places/events you’ve never been to but would love to

The Tihar festival in Nepal where everyone worships their dogs, and a Bo Burnham stand-up show

1 social media platform you love more than the rest

It’s got to be Twitter!

Find out more

You can follow We Rate Dogs and Thoughts of Dog on Twitter. You’ll also find Matt there too. You can also pick up you We Rate Dogs merchandise and more on their official website.

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The Native Podcast is hosted and produced by Dave Musson, our editor-in-chief.

Our music is by Broke For Free and is used under Creative Commons.

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