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Irrigation Association of New York

Time to Take a Serious Look at Social Media Marketing?

Everyone seems to be talking about social media. Is it the right fit for green-industry companies? Will it help you solve your social media marketing challenges? What are the right ways and the wrong ways to become involved?

There are a lot of misperceptions, misunderstandings and misguided efforts. In working with industry firms, I’ve seen a few successes and a lot of failures. I want to share some thoughts about why social media are rapidly moving from a “thinking about it” task to a “must do” for many of my landscape industry clients. And I’m including some tips and ideas for launching a successful effort.

  • Social Media are Becoming Too Big to Ignore The “buzz” around social media is real and shows no sign of waning. Rapid adoption of social media by members of Generation X (born after 1964) and the Millennial Generation (born after 1984) have propelled the growth of major consumer brands like Apple and Facebook. According to Nielsen Research, nearly a quarter of the time spent online is with social networks. The rapid adoption of mobile devices is accelerating participation and interaction. Research reveals an interesting fact: as Americans over the age of 45 adopt upgraded mobile devices, they also begin to adopt social media.
  • Web Pages are Static, Social is Interactive Reading blogs and checking in on Facebook or LinkedIn is a normal part of daily life for many. Smart marketers are engaging their clients in conversations that extend and enhance face-to-face interactions. Combining the good will of existing relationships with meaningful content (articles, tips, ideas, polls, deals) promotes interaction and encourages others to join the conversation. It’s fun to watch customers post comments, share ideas, “like” posts, vote in polls and take advantage of special privileges like one-day sales, trial offers and more.
  • Engage the Next Generation of Buyers Individuals over the age 50 dominate the leadership of many green-industry companies. This cohort has one of the lowest levels of participation and usage of social media which can sometimes be a hurdle in getting companies to embrace social media. Savvy companies see opportunity in embracing the next generation of buyers who are emerging within their markets. Many of the up-and-coming crowd are finding it difficult to connect “on their terms” with established suppliers. Get there first to win the business.
  • Capture “Thought Leadership” In the last decade, many customers judged the quality of an unknown service provider by the magnetism of its Web presence. Companies that led in content and presentation appeared more innovative and up-with-the trends. Now social media are another place where firms can demonstrate thought leadership, often standing out simply because their competitors are late to the party.

Interestingly, social networkers have been shown to be more engaged in their communities, more active politically and more likely to be asked to recommend products or services. They sound like people you want to know!

Now to the tips. Here are some common mistakes green-industry companies make when they get started with social media. Review this list and keep your efforts from going off course.

  • Don’t skip the planning step. Many companies jump into social media too quickly, seeing it as merely completing some tasks. They build a Facebook page or launch a blog with no vision to what the future might bring. After the “let’s give this a try” burst of enthusiasm and hopes for transformative results fade, there’s often a feeling that nothing happened. The work was done, but what did we get out of it?

Before you begin, define what you’re looking to accomplish. How will you measure success? What steps need to be taken to make success happen? It is not as simple as “build it and they will come.” How will you reach your intended audience and get them to engage with your content and message? What will you offer that’s unique and that will be eagerly anticipated by your audience?

  • Social media are not one more place to “advertise” Look around at the Facebook pages of many green-industry companies. You’ll see a lot of firms trying to use social media as a way to distribute advertising messages, often the same ones they share by mail or e-mail. The tone is promotional rather than conversational; the cocktail party equivalent of the guest who loudly talks about himself and tries to sell life insurance to the other attendees. This approach repels interest rather than attracting it. Keep doing it and watch your audience melt away permanently.

Social media should be an extension of face-to-face relationships. The goal is engagement where participants actively “like” posts, respond with comments, participate in polls and receive special privileges for being part of your social network. If you’re not getting participation and engagement, revisit what you’re offering, pronto.

  • Daily care and feeding Developing a company’s social media presence requires a long-term vision. Like a beautiful perennial garden, it takes time to mature into a constant blooming source of inspiration and involvement. The right feeding and care can make it flourish; the wrong or sporadic mix can deter healthy growth.

A common mistake I see in our industry is the firm that blabbers incessantly during the off-season and then disappears when their marketing team gets busy during the season. Social media’s power of engagement makes it most effective precisely when customers are in the “in the moment” in making purchase decisions. A part-time approach leads to poor results. Be sure you’re able to execute your best messaging at the height of the season.

Jeff Carowitz leads a landscape-industry marketing agency. Find him on LinkedIn or at Jeff@StrategicForceMarketing.com