DogVacay: PR and Community Management


DogVacay is an exciting new startup that is the Airbnb for dogs–it is essentially a marketplace that matches dog owners looking for boarding (a need traditionally filled by kennels) with people and small businesses that can board their dogs (they call them hosts).

DogVacay has a very interesting approach to PR and community management. They have the traditional social media infrastructure (a successfully managed and followed Twitter, 92,556 Likes on Facebook with a positive and active conversation on their page), they appear to lean on their hosts for marketing. When searching for DogVacay in tweets and Facebook posts, a majority of the content are posts from hosts advertising the service, usually with a link to a special offer for first-time customers. This is a very clever way to supplement marketing–by using your contractors (the hosts are not, as far as I could find, employees of DogVacay) to advertise your service, you align incentives and create a new engaged group of stakeholders interested in marketing your brand.

The service itself is quite well reviewed, on Facebook and Twitter I saw many positive comments from dog owners who had used the service. I also found them on Yelp, where the first result on Google for “DogVacay Yelp” (DogVacay in Santa Monica) has glowing reviews–13 reviews with a 5.0 star rating, with the text of the reviews similarly positive.

While they have a seemingly happy community of customers, one area where they may want to improve community management is with their hosts (the people who take care of the dogs). While doing Google searches for DogVacay, I found their profile on an online reputation site, webutation.net. One commenter on the site says:
“[As] a host I experienced none to BAD support in that DogVacay has ‘secret’ policies which are unwritten and made up as they go along. Their way of communication is to remove you from the website, which means that they CLOSE your business while they figure out what to tell you…”

Another commenter (also a host) echoes many of the same points, it’s unclear however if they are the same person. Of course, online commenters are unreliable and the majority of Google results lead to very positive results, but nevertheless this is troubling as a potential customer and leads to worries that there may be unevenness or difficulties with some DogVacay hosts.

While I think DogVacay is a great service and obviously delivers a good experience for most customers, I do think these reviews bespeak a possible weakness. When your service is provided by independant contractors, there is always a risk that they will not deliver the quality you’ve promised to your customers. In the case of DogVacay, independant contractors not only provide the services of the company, they also provide much of their marketing (through tweeting and posting on Facebook, with coupon codes and other messages). This gives power to the independant contractors, and as we can see if the contractors are not treated well and communicated with, it can lead to negative effects on PR.

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