WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — If you met Navy on the street, you might just think she's an objectively adorable corgi pup.
But if you searched her name on Instagram, you'd see she's something special.
Navy is what many refer to on Instagram as a "pup-fluencer," aka the dog version of a beauty or fashion influencer who has thousands of followers and posts sponsored product photos.
Of course, unlike human influencers, Navy doesn't run her own account. Her owners, Alex Hibbs and Zach Hopf, are the ones behind the scenes.
Hibbs and Hopf adopted Navy last summer as a puppy, and started her account as a place to post pictures of their dog without overwhelming their personal followers with her photos.
"Really just for fun," Hibbs said.
Within a few weeks, her account had taken off. Hibbs and Hopf say that tagging other corgi accounts on Instagram helped them grow their following rapidly.
Today, Navy is a full-fledged brand with her own blog, where her parents post dog lifestyle tips and sell merchandise. They also share products that Navy likes in sponsored posts, which is how their brand became a business.
Now, they get contacted daily by brands that want to work with Navy. Their business model isn't unique; there are countless dog accounts on Instagram with dog parents pulling in cash behind the scenes from sponsored product campaigns.
"There are people who do this as their full-time jobs," Hibbs said. She and Hopf both have other jobs besides running their dog's account.
So, dog parents start the accounts to share photos and earn some money, but why do products love using pup-fluencers so much? Meg Meyer, the cofounder of The Bear and The Rat, a frozen yogurt brand for dogs, explained.
"Getting the exposure is the biggest benefit," she said.
Meyer doesn't measure monetary return per post. She uses pup-fluencers as a way to reach dog owners she otherwise might not. She also sees her trusted team of more than 100 pup-fluencers, including Navy, as a focus group.
"They're a nice extension of our marketing vehicle, but we have real relationships with them," Meyer said. "They're a good sounding board and people we trust, for sure."
Hibbs and Hopf say they prefer to work with brands like Meyer's that want to build those long-term connections. They say the most fun part about running a pup-fluencer account is having that community of brands and other influencers — not making money.
"It's not just Navy making dog friends," Hibbs said. "We're the humans behind the accounts; it's us making friends and making connections. I just think that's really awesome."
And, of course, the main reason: connecting with their dog, Navy.
“This is all just for fun," Hibbs said. "She is our pet and a member of our family, and we want to keep that as our No. 1. I don’t ever want to jeopardize that.”