Matt Nelson is a 22-year-old sophomore majoring in golf management at North Carolina’s Campbell University. (Yes, golf management is something you can major in at Campbell University.) He’s also the person behind WeRateDogs, a Twitter account that has more than 2 million followers, got him a book deal, is selling thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, spawned a branded mobile game, and is one of the primary drivers of a dog-centeric lexicographic movement. Esquire recently published a great profile of Nelson by Megan Greenwell, telling the story of how this lover of absurdist “Weird Twitter” humor established a social media phenomenon, all through the power of pupper pictures.
When you break down what WeRateDogs does—post a picture of a cute dog with a wacky, catchprase-filled caption—its success isn’t exactly shocking. Nelson pretty much knew it would take off from the start and admits there’s no interesting “eureka moment” origin story for the account. He had racked up thousands of Twitter followers prior to launching WeRateDogs with his personal account, and, seeing the potential popularity of such an endeavor, one day put up a poll asking if he should create a feed dedicated to “rating” dogs. Nelson developed the feed’s peculiar voice and jokes, feuded with a guy named Brant, and gave people a beautiful dog-filled oasis amid the nightmarish wasteland that is Twitter. The rest is meme-filled history.
The most interesting part of Greenwell’s story is the account’s evolution from an absurdist outgrowth of Weird Twitter to a bland mainstream success and business endeavor. Nelson isn’t exactly happy with how the change has limited his creativity. “WeRateDogs is a little bit less fun now because I feel restricted as to what I can say,” Nelson said. “For me it’s not like, ‘Wow, I just made a fantastic caption for this picture,’ It’s just a post that’s going to do okay. Obviously I wouldn’t want to stop doing this, so once it seems like all the captions are repeating themselves, then I’ll just focus that creative energy in other places.”
But what if WeRateDogs’ popularity fades just as quickly as any other social media fad? Nelson reckons that won’t happen. “I think I have the edge in that no one’s going to stop liking dogs anytime soon,” he said. “Twitter could die, but the people that love the writing, the people that follow me, are going to find me in other places if Twitter dies.” And if not, there’s always golf management.