There are a lot of cute cat pictures in social media, and a lot of cute cat videos. People, it would appear, like looking at cute cats in social media; and their owners like sharing these photos. So what happens when you get a group of cat owners together – you might expect cat overload as they compete to share the cutest photos of the cutest cats. And you do get this, but more importantly you learn something about how people meet and interact in social media and what the value of this can be.

We worked with the team at PetNet to develop and launch a space for cat owners (Scratching Post) to share more than just cute pictures. By looking at how they interact with each other about the highs and lows of pet ownership we can learn a few things about how consumers interact online:

  1. Photos and text make good stories – in a world of instagram and camera phones, it often seems that images are replacing text in many interactions online, and whilst cute cat photos are obviously popular we attract long stories just as often. People like sharing and writing stories either about the joys of cat ownership or sharing and asking for advice about more difficult situations.
  2. Cats can type – not really, and more an observation about how community members will develop their own behaviours. Perhaps the most surprising development was with these stories, after a few months we noticed that some started to be written ‘by the cat’ – first person narratives written from their point-of-view. And this wasn’t just an isolated example with lots of the content being penned from the cat’s point of view. What is going on is actually quite clever – members of the community (organically) started to write the stories of joy from the cat’s point of view and the more serious questions and enquiries (for example about health issues) from the owner’s point of view. An unplanned for development that has then been used to inform the UI and changes we’ve made to the community.
  3. Expert advice is critical – a real success of Scratching Post is that community members can balance questions and advice from fellow cat owners with an expert view. The weekly ‘surgeries’ (with vets, behviouralists and others) are the most popular times of week on the site with people coming together for a two hour period to ask questions of and interact with these experts.
  4. We can provide an outlet for people’s passions – one community member put this quite nicely saying that Scratching Post allowed her to “bring out the crazy cat woman inside”. And she’s right. We use the different communities and networks we are part of for different reasons – you might not flood your Facebook friends with your cat photos, questions and experiences so a safe environment with other cat owners is perfect for this side of your character.

Overall, the Scratching Post site is a microcosm of the kind of interactions that happen across the internet and more so in true and valuable communities. Perhaps most important is that it provides a space for people to come together and share a common passion. And it is helping to stem the cute cat pictures that might otherwise be flooding their friend’s Facebook news feeds.

I’ll be talking more about cute cats and social media (and how to balance the needs of a community with commercial needs) at Social Media Marketing London on 25th October.