Is social media becoming big media?

In July I wrote a post titled, "Are blogs relevant in today's social media world?" From that post, "while Facebook and Twitter offer a way to communicate to the customer, its questionable how they will be able to continue as competition and economics come into play. Your blog can be a 'home' that folks can come back to again, and again. You can 'own' your website and blog, you cannot 'own' your Facebook Page." It was a pleasant surprise to read author Warren Ellis and his post today, "The Social Web: End Of The First Cycle." In that post Warren say's, "This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media".

Warren say's, "Google+, of course, is not, strictly speaking, a social network. Most people can’t see what other people are doing there. Google, of course, sees it all. But everyone knows that going in" Perhaps that explains the new found interest in Google+? It's also why I started a new community there, "The Future of Horticulture".

Warren finishes his post asking, "I wonder if anyone’s been thinking twice about giving up their personal websites". For me the answer is no, my "blog can be a 'home' that folks can come back to again, and again."

Are those for real?

Yesterday The American Horticultural Society posted this picture of Clematis on their Facebook page. By the time I saw it many people had shared and linked to it. The problem? It’s a Photo-shopped picture, which a couple of people noticed and commented on at The Societies Facebook page. Then the post went missing. No explanation, just gone. I left a comment at the site asking what happened to it. The comment remains unanswered.

It’s very easy to be taken in by a photo like this since we are inclined by nature to “believe what we see”. When you remove a picture like this with no explanation one gets the impression that the folks at The Society are wishing it never happened. Why not just leave the photo up and fess up? I and many others had linked to the photo and now those links lead nowhere.

On The Internet what you do never really goes away. When you make a mistakle it’s best to just admit it and move on. Answer curious questions like mine. The pain of getting fooled will soon go away, and everyone can have a good laugh.

We can grow that!

Back on September 4th I wrote a post titled, “You Can’t Grow That”. It concerned Scotts/Miracle Gro, and its trade marking the phrase, “You can gro that!” The problem was it was a phrase thought up by CL Fornari, nursery women and author. I wrote, “According to her website, garden writer CL Fornari decided last October to start a campaign titled, ‘You Can Grow That’. Once a week any garden writer who wished to participate would write an article under that heading… Long story short, Scotts/Miracle Gro applied for a trademark on “You Can Gro That!”, after she had broached the idea on The Internet.” Actually, the idea was first broached by C.L. in a "closed" garden center/nursery trade group on Facebook, and not just put out for anyone to see on The Internet.

The good news today is Scotts/Miracle Gro has backed off from the trade marking, leaving CL with her phrase to do as she pleases. Here is the story. It’s quite a turn around and something I wouldn’t have expected from the company. Something tells me it was social media and the avalanche of bad PR Scotts has received over the last year. Whatever the reason it’s nice to see Scotts/Miracle Gro do the right thing. It’s also fun to be a part of something that is changing for the better how we do business in the world of horticulture.

Organizing by not organizing

I read in the latest edition of “Today’s Garden Center” magazine an article titled “Slow Down”. Written by Sid Raisch of The Garden Center Group, it’s an interesting read concerning the changing garden retail landscape. What caught my eye was this. “Slow Retail Is Not Organized. There is no single controlling organization to the Slow movement. Its momentum is created worldwide by individuals who endorse and spread their passion that the Slow way is the better way.” This is the way it’s going to be going forward. Groups of like minded people connecting via The Internet and creating the change necessary to achieve their goals. Often the groups form without any real motivation or goals, but rather a shared interest. Soon themes may emerge that strike the groups fancy, and the group takes on a more proactive role. I see this in our trade group, Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries. Started as a place to just “talk shop”, it has morphed into a dynamic, action oriented group that is literally changing how business is being done in the horticultural world.

So rather than try and come up with a “plan of action”, such as the trade’s current fixation on creating "campaigns", use the “slow down” idea. Using “slow movement” thinking themes and ideas emerge through collaboration that can help the individual nurseries and garden centers who take part. Help the individual nursery do a better job, the customers will follow, and the “trade” will benefit. Actionable ideas that have a direct impact on the business, rather than a campaign which will have little or no effect on individual business. Guess I am just getting a bit tired of campaigns. So often it’s a forced movement that has no real underlying passion.

“Slow Gardening”, that’s something I can relate to. Our customers might ask, “I am already hungry for change in my life; show me how the garden can help. Help me slow down, and reconnect with the natural world. “ We ought to show the customers the benefit of doing business with us. That will really do something for our businesses.

If you’re an owner or employee of a independent garden center or nursery and want to join us go here.

To join our other trade group for nurseries, vendors, and garden media. Go here.

You cannot control the message

My last post concerning Scotts/Miracle-Gro's trademarking a phrase thought up by someone else brought us this comment from Robert Woodman, of The British Gardener. "I was in ‘shock and ore’ to read what Scotts has done with trade-marking ‘you can grow that’. I guess this is ‘the taste of a new generation’, but its not ‘M’m M’m good’. As a writer I like to ‘get ready to rumble’ but I want to ‘be all that you can be’ and choose my words carefully. Still this kind of stuff can ‘put a tiger in your tank’. Scotts ‘just do it’ attitude for their marketing doesn’t leave me with a ‘we love to see you smile’ feeling, but ‘it’s so easy, even a caveman can do it’. Sure it’s ‘taking care of business’ to come up with these slogans, but to rip it off from a blogger and prevent others from using it leaves me to think that Scotts is ‘Home of the Whopper’. ‘Have it your way’, we can show disapproval by buying from the competition, words that ‘melts in your mouth, not in your hands’. What ever happened to freedom of speech, doesn’t it extend to the written word as well as the spoken word? As always Trey, your blog is ‘good to the last drop’ when exposing ‘pork, the other white meat’."

It's as if by trademarking someone else's phrase you bring some of the enthusiasm and "mojo" that created the original idea to your business. It just doesn't work that way anymore. These days the customers are often the ones creating the content, via social media. That's the big news. You cannot control the message. People will talk about you, with or without your input.

Thanks to Robert for the entertaining comment.

Keep your e-newsletter short and sweet

During our “social media success panel” at the IGC Show an audience member asked how often to send out e-news letters to their fans (customers). They also wonder what was considered too often to send out. They looked at me with doubtful eyes when I said “as often as your fans will let you”. If you can send out an e-news letter everyday that would be great. The lady who asked the question said it took her days to come up with enough information to send out a “proper newsletter”. How could anyone, especially in small business find the time to do that daily?

I receive e-newsletters from a couple of businesses on a daily basis. One of my favorite e-newsletters is Hugh MacLeod of “Gapingvoid”. Hugh has made a living putting his art on business cards. No one else I know of does that. His e-news is usually an uplifting message included with some of his artwork. If the newsletter is the beginning of a longer post it will link to his web page where you can read more. The e-news itself is short and sweet. Here is a link to his daily cartoon e-news. 

I think many of us use “old media” thinking when we use The Internet. The lady at the seminar told us she was putting together a regular newsletter that you might receive through the mail. When we use to send newsletters we wanted to make sure they we’re filled with useful information since postage was expensive, and you might only be able to send out one a month. With e-news you can send out newsletters much more frequently, and therefore make them shorter. Don’t spend so much time trying to stuff “old media” into “new media” technology. Why not send out a quick, easy to read, e-news that can be digested in a couple of minutes? You stay “top of mind” with the audience, since your saying “hello” everyday. You’re also are not asking the reader to spend their morning peering at all the information you put inside of it. Best of all your not killing yourself trying to come up with enough information to fill a "snail mail" newsletter.

Like Hugh say's about his e-news, you'll get "a new cartoon sent out every weekday morning to your inbox. A wee chuckle to start your day off right etc."  Short, and sweet.

Make it easy to connect

Met a marketing consultant/nurserywoman at The IGC Show today. I thought her business cards we're cool. The front is a typical biz card, but it's the other side I liked most. It has all the different way's you can reach her, with the easy to recognize social media logos. It makes it very easy to connect using your favorite platform.  The next time I need more cards, this might be the way to go.

Groupon sinking

The daily deal site Groupon, was all the rage in the retail world just a year ago. It seemed that retailers had found the secret to success. Just  give your product or service away, and watch the customers flow through the doors. Once they have seen your amazing offerings they will return again and again to buy stuff you CAN make money on. Why does small business, or any business fall for stuff like this? We talked about Groupon a few times here at this blog, and warned against getting involved with them. Seems these days Groupon is losing staff and money at a fairly good clip. Their stock is down 75% from it's November 2011 IPO and they are losing staff.  I don't have a lot of sympathy for Groupon, since they seem to be built on the backs of small businesses who for one reason or another fell under their spell. Usually it's smaller retailers desperate for traffic flow that jump on board with Groupon in the hope that volume somehow trumps profit, or the quality of their offerings. It also assumes that people  care only about "cheap'. I think the customers we are looking for don't necessarily feel that way, and don't respond to "price only".

Bridging the generation gap

Watching a customer yesterday struggle to get out of their car reminded me of how precious our time here is.  In our rush to embrace new technology and the youth market I hope we don’t forget our older customers. It reminded me that the simplest things for you and me to do might very well be a struggle for others.  Our society can be measured by how we treat our elders. Do we look to them for wisdom, or shunt them off to the “old folk’s home”? We know the answer, and it's not good. So much is changing and for older folks it can be quite frightening. While you or I may say we want to “embrace change” often it’s our way of being “brave”. Author Bruce Sterling put it best in his closing remarks at Reboot 11, “Dark Euphoria is what the twenty-teens feels like. Things are just falling apart, you can’t believe the possibilities, it’s like anything is possible, but you never realized you’re going to have to dread it so much. It’s like a leap into the unknown. You’re falling toward earth at nine hundred kilometres an hour and then you realize there’s no earth there.”

As the societal ground shifts beneath our feet keep in mind the older folks who may be looking for something to hang their hopes on. The garden provides continuity and hope for us all, and is a place where young and old can come together. With the decline in garden clubs it’s an opportunity to create new clubs filled with hope and fun. This is where the local garden center can become involved. Create your own garden club and invite old and young alike to join. While garden clubs have always been places to learn from one another, they are also community building.

It’s difficult these days to get everyone in one room, at one time anymore. That’s where social media can be a benefit. It can provide a way for people to “meet” virtually. If you’re older, less tech savvy membership is confused by social media; maybe you could hold classes on how to use it. Teach people how to use these new tools. Show them how it can foster community even while sitting at home looking at a screen. Once you have built your “club” his way, it will be easier to gather people up physically for meetings and events.

This post was inspired by this drawing. It’s by author and illustrator, Maira Kalman and reminded me of a customer we had the other day. Every time someone of a certain age walks through your door keep this picture in mind. It helps keep things in perspective.

Are blogs relevant in today's social media world?

I was asked the other day what non-horticulture attributes, or classes have helped me in my blogging. Really, there are few classes that helped with my writing. Looking back, perhaps a journalism class or English class where I paid attention might have been helpful. I find English a more enjoyable subject now, as I am interested in cleaning up my writing a bit. The most important attribute however is passion. You have to want to communicate with others, which was the impetus for this blog. Really, that’s where we stand with all of social media today. To be effective you have to reach your intended audience. At first my blog was geared towards my customers, but it has since shifted to a trade blog. This is important as it has put me in contact with others in our trade that care, and can make a difference.

We are entering uncharted territory. The future is wrought with potential pitfalls, as well as tremendous upsides. The trade is changing before our eyes as unsustainable practices are dropped, and new methods are employed.  The public will be continuing its interest in becoming self-sufficient as the economic conditions continue to deteriorate. We are winding down from 30 years of unsustainable growth in this country, and the winding down is/will be challenging.  That’s where a blog can come in useful for a garden center. People will need information, humor, and a feeling of connection as they traverse this new world. While Facebook and Twitter offer a way to communicate to the customer, its questionable how they will be able to continue as competition and economics come into play. Your blog can be a “home” that folks can come back to again, and again. You can “own” your website and blog, you cannot "own" your Facebook Page.

You don't need government funding to sell plants and flowers.

According to Garden Center Magazine, "Nursery, greenhouse and garden center operators in New York are joining together to promote and market their nearly $400 million industry in the state." According to the article, "Sunnyside owner Ned Chapman is president of the New York State Independent Flower Growers Marketing Council." He say's "We need to market the industry to government officials. We have to convince them that we are a worthwhile industry. Hopefully, this will lead to state funding for marketing that’s our goal.” This is what we have become? Promoting our trade to "government officials" so we can get state funding for an ad campaign, like one that have been used to promote other products like, “Apple a Day,” “Got Milk?” and “Pork: The Other White Meat.” You remember those? They came from a distant time when mass media ruled, and you just might be able to pull off promotions like that. Never mind that those kind of promotions likely wouldn't work these days. Never mind "The Internet" that changed everything and made those types of promotions "old school".

My advice to a garden center would be, ignore the cries for more government funding! Promote yourself to your customers using your own media. It's cheaper, more effective, and puts the message where those who need to hear it, can. Tell you state association about it today. It's called social media, and requires no government funding.

The decline of the county fair

The El Dorado County Fair has come, and gone. It's turning into the amazing shrinking county fair, and if the trend continues it may just disappear. Why do we have the fair in June? School is out, and they need kids spending money on the rides to make it work. If they wait till late summer, when fairs would normally be held, the kids have already headed back to school.

According the the fairs website, "The purpose of today’s fairs is to promote agricultural and animal husbandry, local resource and industrial promotion, education, entertainment, competition, youth development, and community outreach. Several trends over the years have allowed the fairgrounds to become revenue generating entertainment and exhibition venue that operates on a year round basis." How can you have a "biggest tomato" or " best tasting apple pie" or "plumpest chicken" contest, when the first tomato hasn't even ripened on the vine?

I wish the fair would go back to being what county fairs once where. A place to show off local agricultural wonders, and have some fun.  The fair has turned into a carnival, with a smattering of agricultural displays. Let's hold the fair in the late summer, and emphasize the agricultural side of the show. Since the fair is already struggling, let's have a make over where the interest in growing your own, and competing with others is the main focus. Sure, the kids will have gone back to school. So what? Hold the fair on the weekend. Give us a place to share and compete with others with real agricultural products. The time is "ripe" to re-emphasize the importance of fresh food, agriculture, and seasonality in our lives by bringing back the county fairs of the past.

Will you be at The IGC Show in August?

In August the largest trade show for Independent Garden Centers takes place in Chicago. The Independent Garden Center Show website say's,  "...210,000 square feet of vendor exhibits stretch far out toward the stunning blue waters of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier, where more than 1,000 exhibitors meet face-to-face with thousands of IGC buyers – just like you – from all over the country and around the world. The flower-filled streets framing downtown Chicago’s stores, restaurants, attractions and sights, plus spectacular Navy Pier, lakeside Chicago’s No. 1 destination (and proud home to the IGC Show, its largest annual event), add to the excitement." Until last year I had not been to Chicago since the late 70's, passing through on the "old grey dog" (Greyhound). That was a epic trip! Last year I was quite taken with the beautiful shoreline, as well as downtown Chicago. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much fun walking around downtown Chicago can be. I look forward to returning in August. Our Facebook group, Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries receives special pricing for the workshops, as well as a discounted rate for attending the garden center tour. When your a member of our group you also get to hang with us in "the VIP balcony lounge" upstairs – along with a open free beer & wine bar. We'll enjoy the performance of Dennis DeYoung of STYX.


If your a owner, or employee of a independent garden center or nursery go here to join our group.

Disclosure: I am a guest of the IGC show, and and as such receive compensation for my attendance.

Saying one thing, doing another.

An interesting moment on Twitter today when a garden media personality got excited about seeing a certain plant brand in their local Lowe's, and decided to Tweet their excitement. A couple of independent garden centers decided to Tweet their displeasure to the personality. You see, they also carry that particular brand of plants, and are not too happy about being left out of the marketing.

You will see more of this as smaller, locally owned garden centers realize that they have the ability to answer back. It's also going to get a whole lot harder for "media" people and branding companies to claim they want to support independent, locally owned business all the while promoting the box stores instead.

The new IGC Marketplace

Want to join others who are changing the way business is done in horticulture? The new IGC Marketplace on Facebook is a closed group for vendors to share what they have, and IGC owners & staffers to ask for what they need. It's not mean to take away from the various trade shows available, but rather to enhance the possibilities for members. The rules are simple at The IGC Marketplace.

1. Products posted must be garden related (no iPods, shoes, etc.)

2. Don't post pricing. We don't want issues with price fixing. Haggle that part out via private message.

Well, that seems simple. It's a place to meet, see whats available, and make contacts. If your a vendor be sure to get on the vendor list so potential customers can learn more about you.

Since it's a closed group everyone taking part is identified, which makes it a brighter, friendlier place to do business. No spam, no anonymous posts, no pressure, and no travel.

To change the world, go here.