It began, as most good ideas do, with a lot of wine.
My best friend, Aubree, had just made an Instagram for her blind cocker spaniel, William, and he — the dog, I mean — began commenting on my Instagram pictures. William had nearly four hundred followers at this point, which is more than my personal account has to this day. It was impressive how many people commented on his pictures, saying how cute he was and wishing him goodnight and all of the weird things people on the internet might do for a small, curly-haired dog (pictured below, evidence obvious).
It gave me an idea. Well, it plus the wine gave me an idea.
My girlfriend, Maddie, and I had recently adopted the cutest cat in the entire world. My Instagram had basically become an homage to Cowboy, our tiny tortoiseshell lady, and I was beginning to worry that my friends were getting tired of seeing her cute, checkerboard face forty times a day on my social media. I’m a worrier. It’s is what I do best.
And so, between drinking nearly an entirely bottle of wine and texting Aubree (“Just add like a thousand people, like a literal thousand animal accounts” she advised) I started @cowboy_kitten. I filled out the bio and promptly closed the app, a little embarrassed.
The next morning, after confessing to Maddie that I had made Cowboy an Instagram account, which she thought was hilarious, I gave her the password and we agreed on the first picture of Cowboy. Cowboy’s face was completely in shadow, but she was lying in her favorite sunny spot, our kitchen window. We slapped a few hashtags on it and called it good.
That was last October. We’ve updated her instagram nearly every day since, and as of writing this post, she had nearly 400 photos and over 3000 followers. Are we basically obsessed with our cat? Hell yes. But what we found on Instagram has proven to be worth any embarrassment I feel admitting I run mildly successful Instagram account for my cat.
There’s a huge, supportive, inclusive community of pet owners on Instagram. We comment on each other’s posts as our pets, and it’s fucking cute. People take it so seriously that they worry when we don’t post for a day. When Marriage Equality passed, people I’ve never met in real life genuinely congratulated us. When Cowboy was sick and at the vet, people offered support and advice.
So, if you want to start one for your own cat, dog, bunny, bird or lizard (yes, there are lizards), you should. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Brand Your Pet
You think Grumpy Cat would be as successful as she is if she was just portrayed as cute? Now, I know that Grumpy Cat didn’t brand herself, but this shows that when people can associate a certain type of behavior or look with your cat, they like it.
For example, Cowboy’s brand centers around her very unique markings on her face, which looks like a checkerboard, and her personality as mischievous, young, playful and sometimes cuddly. You know your pet best: figure out what makes them special and make sure to show this side to the Insta world.
Learn InstaPet Vocabulary & Use Pet Puns Always
There are certain things that all Instagram pet accounts say. For example, the most important day of the week is Caturday. Or when your cat curls up on the floor with their feet tucked in, it’s called a loaf or loafing. Shrimping is when your cat curls its head in and sticks its feet out, like a little shrimp. There’s a lot of silly little things like this that you’ll find. Don’t worry, you’ll learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Everypawdy is so nice.
There’s also certain things for each day of the week, like Tongue Out Tuesday. @OliverTaco, a popular cat account, branded Taco Tongue Tuesday, so some accounts do both. There’s not really politics regarding which you should do, though, don’t worry.
Engage With Other Accounts
Aubree gave me great advice to add a ton of accounts in the beginning. The trick is to actually add accounts you like and want to engage with. Don’t just follow hundreds of accounts of pets you’ll never look at. Go to their page, like a few photos, and add them. Many will follow back any pet account. I’m a snob and I only follow back pet accounts that like some of my photos first instead of just randomly following me for the numbers. So, add a bunch of accounts, and you’ll see your numbers go up pretty quickly for awhile as people add you back and you get more known in the community.
Cowboy follows nearly a thousand accounts, and I wish I could keep up with them even more than I do now, but a thousand is a lot, you know?
Commenting and Liking on other accounts is basically the whole point of the game. Go wild with the emojis. Pets really like heart emojis, you’ll notice.
When you follow someone and never comment or like their pictures, it’s called ghosting, and some intense Instagrammers notice this.
You can even download apps to keep up with who likes the most posts and all of that if that’s your cup of tea. I can’t speak to these, but some people post on Cowboy’s pictures mentioning we haven’t liked their posts in awhile (which I find a little too intense), so I’m sure they’re pretty popular.
Engage with the Community At Large
The cat community is really, really intense. It’s wonderful.
A lot of cat activity centers around @Daily_CATegory. Daily CATegory began when four cat friends (early supporters of Cowboy and the best three cat moms!) wanted to throw a fun weekend party online. This was early on in Cowboy’s Insta career, and Maddie and I basically had no clue what we were doing, but we joined #PAWpalooza regardless.
A virtual party just means you hashtag your posts with that specific tag, and then you look at other posts and comment on them. Does this sound weird out of context? Yes. But it also resulted in jokes about tunatinis and nip cookies and a lot of inside jokes, randomly enough. A lot of parties celebrate a certain animal’s birthday, so everyone makes posts about being at the beach or whatever with that animal. Sometimes they photoshop stuff, like Cowboy with lions. Sometimes it involves posing Cowboy in tissue paper for a Valentine’s Day theme. There is no shame in having thousands of pictures of your cat.
@Daily_CATegory also runs daily category contests that center around a theme, like “”#Aint_It_Furry” or “#MeowBadFurDay.” So, depending on the theme, you’d post a funny picture of your cat laughing or looking a little rough after a bath or something that fits with the tag. These are super fun and it’s hilarious to see what people come up with. I’m sure there are dog-versions of @Daily_CATegory, too.
Quick side note: @Daily_CATegory is also releasing a CATlendar later this year featuring the cream of the crop of the cat crowd and Cowboy is going to be in it, just so you know. All proceeds are going towards Best Friends LA. You can check out more info on that on their Tumblr.
Entering contests is also a fun way to engage with the community. The Cats of Instagram community is full of talented and kind people who want to give you things. For example, our friends @OliveAndRye (pictured below, and all over in the most amazing Instagram portraits you can imagine) have an amazing artist Mom who offers customized cat portraits in giveaways, and she also runs a shop where you can buy portraits and other goodies!
Hashtags Are Important
This may seem really silly, but what you hashtag your photo with matters almost as much as how good the photo is. I tag Cowboy’s with descriptors of her (#Tortoiseshell, #YoungCat, etc), groups of friends she has (#PeanutButterFootSisterhood, no joke), some politics (#PawProject, #AdoptDontShop, all that good stuff), and feature accounts (#PetBox, #CatsRequest, #Instacat, and, of course, #CatsOfInstagram). Also, as a total joke, I use #CowboysOfInstagram just to mess with all of the ten gallon hats on the internet.
Aubree says that #ILoveMyDog and #DogsofInstagram are two of the most popular hashtags that she uses, as well as #ILMyCockerSpaniel, which brings me to my next point.
Hashtags are also great for you to find other animals that you like. If you have an affinity for Lop Eared Bunnies, there’s a tag for that. What about three legged dogs? There’s a tag for that.
To learn what hashtags work best, I periodically go through photos of popular animals that are similar to your pet, and check out what they have.
A good trick for hashtags is to keep them copied into a note on your phone for easy copying and pasting. Pro tip: if you paste them into your own comment on your photo, it hides the hashtags but they still work.
Keep Up With It
I will admit to you that I check up on Cowboy’s account more than once a day. Sometimes way more than that. Sometimes I forget about it for a day and I legitimately feel guilty. I recommend posting once or twice a day to maintain followers.
I like to go through Cowboy’s close friends and check up on them and make sure I like all of their photos to show my support. When I explain that Cowboy has friends and a tight crew she runs in, I mean that. Like seriously, she has a Valentine named Sweep (pictured above with his adorable sister Teeny–also they now have a brand new kitten named Lukey, just so you know) and best friends and a Tortie crew and all of that stuff, it’s so silly and great. Having kitties who comment regularly on Cowboy’s posts makes me feel so special and loved I can’t even.
It’s easy to get sucked into the Instagram pet community because the community is full of inspiring people who love their animals like you love your animals. What started out as something a little embarrassing turned into something that honestly brightens my day and has been a huge stress reliever from my real world.
Let’s be honest, even if you don’t want to be as intense as I am about your pet’s Instagram, you’ll still have a wonderful community waiting for you whenever you want. And that’s the best part.
Also, let’s be real, it’s funny to comment on your real life friend’s comments with things your cat would say. Heart Eyes Cat Face Emoji, indeed.
This has been the one-hundred-thirty-sixth installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to websites you have to bookmark to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.