Social networking has become an important tool for many charities over the past 18 months, and the Dogs Trust has been at the cutting edge of the trend.
Alex Goldstein, web editor at the charity, is responsible for juggling its various online presences: its own social networking site, www.doggysnaps.com, with 45,000 members; its Facebook page, with 31,500 members; and its presence on MySpace, Bebo and Twitter. She also writes a daily blog for the charity.
The high number of charity supporters engaged in social networking makes it an attractive area for businesses. The Dogs Trust is beginning to explore how relationships with companies can enhance content and produce more interest for members.
It is testing the waters with a partnership with Ebury Publishing to create an online book club for dog lovers. The publisher has agreed to give away 15 copies of a new dog book every six weeks - the first is bestseller A Dog Year by Jon Katz - and to lead and moderate ensuing discussions on a specially created section of www.doggysnaps.com.
"We noticed a trend that we were publishing quite a lot of books about dogs and dog owners, so we thought it was a great area for social networking," says Katie Johnson, digital marketing executive at Ebury. "People who have or like dogs are really communicative about it."
Goldstein says the idea of an online book club was attractive to both parties. "Ebury is looking for ways to improve its marketing, and it's great because people who wouldn't perhaps have got involved so much in the social networking community aspect are now taking part because of it."
The partnership was simple and quick to arrange because it required no legal agreements or financial transactions. "For something as simple as this, with no complicated financial arrangements, we are able to go ahead and just see how it goes," says Goldstein.
The partnership with Ebury also has an awareness-raising function. "Ebury publishes a lot of books about training animals, so there are interesting discussions to be had about responsible dog ownership," says Goldstein. "It is a good branch of conversation for us because it ties into our campaigns and education work."
Ebury has enough canine-themed titles to keep the book club going for at least a year and, if it proves popular, will seek to continue the partnership further. Johnson says there is potential for other social networking partnerships between charities and publishers. "It's a great way for publishers to get their books out there and it's fantastic for charities because it gives them lots of added content," she says.