It's no secret that people love their pets. A recent survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that close to 47% of all US households have a dog, and around 37% have a cat. And these folks spend big on their fuzzy friends each year--$1,649 on their dogs and $1,271 on their cats to be precise.
Recognizing that the pet industry is big business, that the Internet loves pets (#Caturday, anyone?) and that two fellow Renegade's just added dogs to their families, we thought it would be interesting to see how six pet retailers have fared with their social media activities this year.
Using Quintly, a powerful social analytics tool, we compared the social footprint growth and the relative engagement rates of Petsmart, Petco, Wag.com, Pet360, 1800PetMeds and BarkBox in the first half of 2014. These brands were selected to provide a cross-section of brick-and-mortar superstores and a range of ecommerce players. All share similar approaches to social media content using lots of user generated material as well as captioned photos.
When you lay out the retailers' social footprint, you can clearly see where brands are investing most of their social resources. While Petsmart and Petco have strong followings on Facebook and Twitter, BarkBox has gained a disproportionately large following on Instagram. Meanwhile, 1800PetMeds has opted to focus its attention on Pinterest thus capitalizing on potential referral traffic.
Pet Retailer Social Footprint as of June 2014 (Source: Quintly.com)
Keep in mind, however, that having a strong presence on one platform doesn't necessarily equate to "doing well on social." Footprint numbers don't tell the whole story, and they can be misleading without the correct context. A sharp increase in followers typically implies that paid media was involved and/or that the social platform is part of a larger campaign that gained strong organic traction from its initiatives. Identifying these periods of rapid follower growth gives us an opportunity to further study what strategies these brands are using.
In the first half of 2014, the data suggests that BarkBox, Pet360 and Wag.com deployed paid media to gain Facebook fans. Barkbox added fans at the rapid rate of 49%, Wag.com at 36% and Pet360 at 26%. These rates far exceeded the average of the six companies, which was 19%.
1st Half 2014 Facebook Fan Growth (Source: Quintly)
Looking back a bit farther, the data also shows that Petco most likely employed a paid strategy in the 4th quarter of 2013 adding as many as 550,000 fans on Facebook. This fan growth dwarfed Petco's competitors.
Past year Facebook Fan Growth (Source: Quintly.com)
However, as we covered earlier, footprint growth is often a misleading metric in when it comes to evaluating a campaign's impact. Buying fans is relatively easy-you just need to spend money. Engaging these newly purchase fans is a much more difficult challenge particularly if the brand didn't take care to acquire the right fans. Recognizing this, we believe that engagement rate is a far more meaningful metric, especially if you use a formula like Quintly's:
Applying this formula to the six retailers, a clear winner emerges in the category and that's BarkBox. As you can see in the chart below, BarkBox's engagement rates shot up in March and stayed close to that level for the rest of the 1st half of 2014. Through the use of edgy memes and consistently cute content, BarkBox was able to outperform the other brands in this study.
First Half 2014 Facebook Interaction Rate (Source: Quintly)
While BarkBox acquired lots of new fans and continued to engage them via a superb content strategy, Pet360 and Wag.com were not as successful. Though they both enjoyed lifts in engagement rates due to Q1 promotions, those rates quickly fell back to their original levels after the promotions ended. Barkbox simply out-engaged its competition.
At the risk of being redundant, the point here is simple, just buying fans is a fool's errand. We have seen many cases where brands either acquire fans through advertising without careful targeting considerations or conduct sweepstakes in an attempt to boost fans, only to result in a notable drop in engagement rates after the promotion ends.
The real challenge in social media continues to be on-going engagement and that takes a commitment to developing sublimely sharable content - the kind that the folks at Barkbox produce with unerring regularity.
This article was researched and co-written by Chris Ee, Lead Analyst at Renegade, LLC.