In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
Matt Nelson has your dream job. No, seriously. He sifts through dozens of pictures of dogs all day, picks his favorites, and stretches his creative muscles by writing cute, funny, and heartfelt captions. The 22-year-old dog aficionado has spent just over three years engaging and maintaining an audience on social media by rating dogs, and if you follow @weratedogs' Matt Nelson on Instagram and @dog_rates on Twitter, you've definitely seen the fruits of his labor.
As idyllic as Nelson's job of running social media accounts dedicated to adorable doggos sounds, there's serious work involved. Nelson and his team of four receive 800 to 1,000 submissions daily and work to narrow them down to about one high-quality piece of dog content per day. Picking the best dog photo from hundreds of submissions and crafting the perfect caption isn't an easy task, but Nelson's creative process helps keep content fresh across all his accounts.
"Sometimes, I'll see a picture and the caption comes to my head immediately. Other times, it sits in my draft for days [as I wonder] what the best way is to present it to my audience, because, for some reason, I’m convinced there is a perfect way ... [it's] not the most efficient process, but it’s worked so far — and it gives the account a very natural feel to it," Nelson explains.
If you've seen WeRateDogs on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you'll notice that each account uses the same daily post, so no matter which social media platform you prefer, you won't miss out. One of the secrets to Nelson's success is in the submissions themselves. According to him, the Instagram account receives "literally the best photos you can imagine" which makes his job "a lot easier."
People really love dogs and I really love dogs, so if I was going to take advantage of a subject or a theme for a new account, dogs were the answer.
Nelson, who recently moved from Charleston, West Virginia to North Hollywood, California, never intended to have such a big online platform. After being an active part of a Twitter subculture called "Weird Twitter" for about a year, Nelson found time to start another Twitter account in November 2015. When brainstorming themes, he decided he would combine the absurdist humor he knew and loved from Weird Twitter with something everyone else knows and loves. He says, "People really love dogs and I really love dogs, so if I was going to take advantage of a subject or a theme for a new account, dogs were the answer."
In the months that followed, the @dog_rates Twitter account blew up. It climbed up to 100,000 followers within weeks. By 2017, Nelson withdrew from college in North Carolina to manage the account full-time. He attributes the success of @dog_rates to a gap in the market. "No one had really tried to put effort above cute animal pictures," he said. "Coming from a Weird Twitter background where my goal was humor, more specifically absurdist-style humor, I wanted to take that and bring it to this dog-picture format. It seemed to work really well."
Gaps in the market, Nelson says, are key when designing a successful online empire. "There are still, to this day, after 10 years of social media being around, original topics out there that you can capitalize on in terms of content. So, if you have one of those, that's great. Run with it."
And run with it he did. As of March 2019, over 9 million people follow the account across Twitter at @dog_rates, Instagram at @weratedogs, and Facebook at @weratedogs. Expanding beyond one captioned pup post a day, Nelson opened an e-commerce store in August 2016, featuring merchandise with iconic quotes from the account like "They're good dogs, Brent" and "Gooob morning."
Following my account [gives] you two little blurbs of positivity or just emotion.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of @dog_rates and @weratedogs, and I swear I'm not being hyperbolic here, is its revolutionary rating system. Followers of the account have surely noticed that all dogs are rated higher than 10/10. Though this wasn't the initial plan for the account, Nelson says the inflated ratings make sense. "The first time I rated a dog 11/10, people just went crazy. I knew immediately this is what I had to do from now on," Nelson shares.
"So now, in the last two and a half years, there’s been nothing but 12/10 and above ... It fits the theme of the account because it's like, 'OK, all dogs are perfect, but actually they’re better than perfect.' Like if 10/10 is your perfect, they’re all better." Playing on the success of the ratings, We Rate Dogs! The Gard Game — where your dog will never be judged lower than 10/10 during a fictional dog show — is set to be released on May 14, 2019.
Because Nelson writes all the captions himself and looks through large amounts of audience submissions each day, it's reasonable to assume he spends a lot of time on his phone. When the topic of his personal relationship with social media comes up, Nelson shares that his iPhone Screen Time shows an average of 12 hours a day, which he acknowledges is "too much for anyone to handle." But despite the judgement that falls on young people for being stuck to their phones, Nelson says he views social media as a "net good in the world," which is not a surprise considering the good his accounts have managed to do, especially during a time of political turmoil. "So many journalists follow me because they’re just like, 'I need something that isn’t our current news cycle,'" he says. "Following my account [gives] you two little blurbs of positivity or just emotion."
Dogs are a part of your family, and in some ways, people are inviting me into their family by simply sharing pictures with me.
The good extends beyond blips of positivity. Each Friday, the accounts share a GoFundMe for dogs who needs surgery or something their humans don't have funds for. Nelson says each Friday, his entire audience turns into an incredible community that offers both financial and emotional support to people in need. To Nelson, this has been an extraordinarily rewarding aspect of his job. "I get to see ... [a] level of empathy on a platform that is not known for empathy," he shares. "We've raised, in some circumstances, five figures in a matter of minutes."
At the end of the day, Nelson believes that getting a small glimpse into people's lives and families is one of the most meaningful parts of his work. "People send me pictures of their dog along with [descriptions as long as] novels ... they probably don’t realize it, but they’re opening up on a scale that isn’t really normal. So, for people to feel comfortable enough to share some of these things with me is crazy," he says. "Dogs are a part of your family, and in some ways people are inviting me into their family by simply sharing pictures with me."