5 social media lessons gleaned from the garden

Ripping open a bag of manure and spreading it across the garden is rarely a wise move; similarly, this approach hardly ever works in social media.


Last weekend, I spent seven back-breaking hours in the garden, repairing damage caused 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.

At some point in the ordeal, I started to think about the similarities between garden upkeep and social media. Fact is, many of the tenets of good gardening also apply to cultivating a solid social presence for your brand.

1. Don’t use a lawnmower when a hand trimmer will 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 return on investment (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 take off. Look for socially-connected bloggers and social network denizens who 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. Look for the negativity and respond appropriately. Often the best offense is simply paying attention.

3. Cultivate the good stuff.

Strong, healthy desirable plants can choke out weeds effectively. Treat the fans and followers who engage with the brand 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, it means not spraying Round-Up on a plant unless you are 100 percent 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 and the weeds invading my beds, the Herculean efforts to repair it would have been unnecessary. Vigilance and regular maintenance are good for gardens and also for your brand’s social presence.

One last reminder: A common approach to gardening is, when all else fails, to rip open a few bags of composted manure, spread it, 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 e-book Unlocking Social Media for PR. We’ve just announced The Crowd-Sourced eBook: The Definitive Guide to Social Influencer Engagement and invite you to contribute.

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