Growing Your Social Media Garden

August 15, 2011

This photo isn’t my garden. In fact, I hate gardening. I just didn’t get the “love of the land” yardwork gene, which is surprising as both of my parents have it. As farm kids in the city, they were eager to return to their rural roots and move back out to the country as adults. Once there they tilled up nearly an acre as a giant garden to rule all gardens. Having this much planted took a ton of time to maintain. Needless to say this was scaled back over time.

As I’ve noted before, managing your brand’s presence on social networks is like taking care of a garden. When outlining social media plans that include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr, SlideShare, Scribd, and more you can see little clocks turning over in peoples’ eyes as they mentally add up the time all of is will inevitably take.

My answer? You’re right. It does take time. But like the garden, we don’t need to plant everything. We only need to plant what we can take the time to nurture. That’s why having a social media plan is so critical. Social media isn’t some new foreign language with its own set of rules. It’s a marketing channel and needs to be planned accordingly by considering questions such as:

  • What are you trying to do? What’s your objective?
  • Who’s your audience? What’s the best social channel to find them on?
  • What’s your message? What are you going to say? How are you going to say it? (This is often overlooked in social; so many jump in without a strong brand or well-crafted messaging)
  • How do you know when you’ve accomplished your objective? Are there outcomes you can measure?

If you have this groundwork laid out — what, who, message, measurement — but are new to social media and don’t know which channels to find your customers on you can get started by taking a Tom Peters’ Ready-Fire-Aim approach. By standing up some presences on all major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ when the time is right) you’re essentially putting a lot of lines in the water to see where your fish bite. Then, like my parents scaling back the super garden, you can tighten your net and fish where the fish are — or where your customers are.

Perhaps the biggest tragedies in both gardening and social media marketing occur when things are planted and left to die. In social media, you have a delicate exchange that needs to be nurtured like the young plant. If you start something and the little seed of community starts to grow and you can’t maintain it, your plant will die as a victim of neglect. And like the dead plant, it’s pretty hard to get an abandoned community back to life. Especially if it’s been made clear that no one is listening.

So the next time you’re out with your watering can caring for your actual garden, remember that the same general skills you’re utilizing to nurture your plants apply to your social media garden as well:

  • Plant with a plan — What are you planting where? What’s on Facebook and what’s on Twitter?
  • Plants need water & sunlight — Social gardens have basics that they need to thrive too such as sharing & human engagement.
  • It takes time — Don’t underestimate this! The truth is, like gardening, you or someone on your team will now have daily chores associated with caring for this community.
  • Extra care required — Sometimes you have to work a little harder staking things up to get certain plants growing right. With social, this translates into commenting a lot on slow networks and getting creative to drive engagement.
  • Fertilizer is your friend — Get major growth boosts with cross-promotional fertilizer from your other marketing channels such as TV, online ads, and email.
  • Watch out for weeds — Like the creeping weeds that threaten your garden, social media trolls (cranky commenters) and other potential threats need to be taken care of.
  • Learn from your mistakes — Just like knowing what grows where, we need to keep adapting our activities in our social gardens as well.

Just remember, social media merits the planning of any other marketing effort and also requires the time commitment and care of a garden. Most of all, for optimal results, we need to remember to plan and plant what we can maintain.

What have you planted in your social garden? What’s growing? What might not make it?

Photo via Flickr user VeggieGardeningTips
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.