Jun 21, 2012

5 Social Media Lessons I Learned in the Garden

This lovely daylily was one of the lucky ones that escaped the ravages of a rampaging lawnmower.

Last weekend I spent seven back-breaking hours in the garden, repairing damage cause by some careless over-enthusiastic mowing on the part of my husband.  Some of the plantings in the side yard were sporting buzz-cuts.  All of their budding flowers – and most of their leaves – were gone.

As I weeded, dug out new edges (with a trench shovel, mind you, if he tries to mow my garden again he’ll break an axle) and worked compost into the soil, I mused about my garden, and realized that as angry as I was with my husband, a good portion of the blame was mine.  I had let some weeds get out of control, obscuring the edges of the beds.   He could have been more careful, but I could have been more vigilant.   Ultimately, this problem was my own fault.

And at some point in the ordeal, I actually started to think about the similarities between garden upkeep and social media.   Fact is, a lot of the tenets of good gardening also apply to cultivating (and maintaining, and growing) a solid social presence for your brand.

  1. Don’t use a lawnmower when a hand trimmer would do.  Different problems require different tools.   I get better results pulling out weeds and trimming plants by hand.  Sure, it takes more time, but I get a better ROI (as measured by total flower output) when I use the right tools for the job.   The social media corollary relates to targeting.  Taking the time to pluck the right influencers out of the vast social meadow can make your campaigns and messages really take off.  Look for socially-connected bloggers and network denizens who really care about the topic.
  2. Root out unwelcome invasives.  Poison ivy, buckthorn and garlic mustard are the bane of my gardening existence.  I learned early to keep an eye out for these insidious species, and to literally nip them in the bud.   Left unattended, their spread will be rampant.  Bad reviews, snarky blog comments and Facebook wall trolls are the social media equivalents.  Keep an eye out for the negativity, and respond appropriately.   Often the best offense is simply paying attention.
  3. Cultivate the good stuff.  Strong, healthy desirable plants can effectively choke out weeds.  Treat the fans and followers who engage with the brand just as I treat my rosebushes – give them some special attention, and pay attention to their care and feeding.  With the right attention, they’ll bloom.  Without it, they can wither and die.
  4. Know the difference between crabgrass and daylilies.  In other words, understand your audience.  From a social media perspective, this means picking the right network for your audience and the business objectives for the social program.  From a gardening perspective, this means don’t spray Round-Up on a plant unless you are 100% certain of its identity.
  5. Ongoing maintenance is ultimately easier than fixing big problems.   If I had paid more attention to the yard encroaching on my garden boarders and the weeds invading my beds, yesterday’s Herculean efforts would not have been necessary.  Vigilance and regular maintenance are good for gardens, and also for your brand’s social presence.

At this juncture I could suggest one more tip: if all else fails, rip open a few bags of composted manure, spread it about and hope for the best.   In reality, though, that wouldn’t do much except encourage the weeds.   We’ve all seen social campaigns that seem to be built along similar lines.  However, those seemingly quick and easy solutions rarely deliver the goods.   A beautiful garden requires careful tending, as does a productive social media presence.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

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