Why garden centers should be ruling Facebook

Departments - Digital Dirt | Modern marketing tailored to independent garden centers

Though the social media platform may be intimidating, IGCs come to the table with many advantages.

June 21, 2017
Rob Sproule
People on Facebook respond more to educational and entertaining posts than posts about sales.

My dad always told me that you fight battles from your strengths. Facebook for business is intimidating for both beginners and experts, but our industry has strengths built into it that we can use to rule Facebook. Let’s start there.

If you think you have a tough time making interesting Facebook posts, try being a mortgage broker. Here are the advantages IGCs come to Facebook with:

1. Our industry is gorgeous. Point your smartphone at most spaces in your garden center and chances are people will love that picture.

2. Your customers are passionate about gardening issues, especially when it comes to growing food, bugs and sustainability (ex. pollinators).

3. Your share a primary customer base with Facebook: 30- to 60-year-old women. They’re there, so let’s go get them.

Here’s how you can take advantage of those strengths:

Posts about current pest and disease issues, like this one about the Scarlet Lily Beetles, do well.
Use Facebook to promote, but not how you think

You’re offering 40 percent off your tomatoes this weekend, and you want your 3,000 fans to know about it. You post “Juicy tomato this weekend, 40% off, hear ‘ye hear ‘ye.” No one shows up.

You check your insights tab and see that only four people saw it. It was a ghost post, invisible because no one engaged with it. The message you wanted to get out most sunk to the bottom.

Facebookers don’t care about what you’re selling; they care that you can help and/or entertain them. Even if they do care about your tomatoes, they can see everything they need (40 percent, this weekend) as they scroll past. Facebook assumes they don’t care about your post because they don’t engage with it (i.e. click through), and it sinks deeper to the bottom.

Try this: At my garden center, I have an “Online Wednesday” sale every week. I send a Facebook post out every Tuesday with a teaser, but not the key information. They need to click through to my website for that, where they can also sign up for my “Online Wednesday” email list. With this strategy, you can:

  • Tell people about the sale
  • Achieve high Facebook engagement, which spreads the word further
  • Build a niche email list (mine has a consistent 65 percent open rate)
  • Increase traffic on the slowest day of the week
Share a wide variety of posts to provide balance

Every business needs to walk its own line between engaging and promoting. At my garden center, I follow a 3-1-1 rule.

Of the five posts I generally share per week, three of them are either helpful (content), entertaining (quizzes, shares or jokes), or inspiring (quote or human-interest). Aim for engagement of over 5 percent.

One post is about my business, but it’s not a sales pitch. Team profiles or selfies, news about charity involvement, and photos of people or products (preferably people) all engage well. I sometimes stretch this to two posts because I have an enthusiastic base, but it’s a judgment call. I shoot for a 4 percent engagement rate, although it often spikes to 8 percent or more.

The last post can have a sales pitch … sort of. If you’re doing a direct sales pitch, you’re going to see less than 1 percent engagement (and that’s just depressing). The creativity comes from finding ways to wrap a promotion into a more engaging post format (see tip above).

Be useful
When providing relevant information about pests and diseases in your area, photos are essential.

Our industry is loaded with information, from the evergreen questions of killing mealy bugs and fertilizing lawns to the trendy topics of native plants, vertical gardening and edible container recipes. Our customers are desperate for this information, and Facebook is the best way to deliver it.

The key to delivering useful content is knowing what’s in the zeitgeist at the time. What pests are emerging, what’s exciting, and what’s intriguing but needs to be demystified?

Pay attention. It’s easy to live our lives thinking of suppliers, labor costs and balance sheets. But your customers don’t care about any of that. They care about what’s eating their lilies and how to get their hands on that cucumber that looks like a little watermelon.

Winning at Facebook is about seeing the world from your customers’ eyes. Join local Facebook gardening pages, browse gardening magazines, and most importantly, get out onto the retail floor and ask people what they care about.

Useful posts garner Facebook’s most coveted engagement type: the share. When a follower shares your post, she’s vouching for you to all her friends and becomes a promoter. That’s why Facebook’s algorithm values shares so highly.

In my experience, the most useful posts:

  • Offer a product that’s highly sought after
  • Gives a gardening guide that beginner gardeners can use to build confidence
  • Offers insight into a pest of disease that people are concerned about
  • Something that picks up on a strong, trending feeling among your followers. Even if it’s not directly connected to gardening, it’s like a multivitamin for your Facebook page.

Rob is co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouse, an independent garden center based in Alberta, Canada, and founder of Craft Marketing, a lean digital agency specializing in content marketing for independent businesses. rob@craftmarketing.ca