Tropical selfies

How one Seattle-based garden center celebrated indoor plants and created buzz by requesting the self-focused photos featuring flora on Instagram.

Instagram users got creative with their houseplant selfies, incorporating their cats and giving their plants names.

Love or loathe them, selfies are dominating the feeds of social media channels, especially the photo-sharing app Instagram. Swansons Nursery in Seattle, Wash., has embraced the self-centered photograph phenomenon with its Instagram Houseplant Selfie Contest. The name says it all — the social-media savvy garden center asked people to share a phone picture starring themselves with their houseplants. They were welcome to share stories of success with the indoor plant and even give it a name. Customers who included the hashtag #heyswansons, which Swansons has used to connect with customers online since 2014, or tagged the store were eligible for a $50 gift certificate. A winner was drawn four times during the promotion, which ran from Jan. 8 to Feb. 3.

“We just thought it would be something fun that our customers and other people could do. We liked the idea of them showing off their plants in their home or office and naming them if they like,” says Aimée Damman, director of marketing for Swansons, adding that the plants don’t have to be from Swansons to win. “We have a lot of followers on Instagram, and that’s growing more. It’s one of the channels we’d like to focus more on in 2016.”

The contest aligned with the store’s Indoor Living Event, which ran from Jan. 8 to Jan. 31 and featured a 30 percent off all houseplants and containers deal, seminars and hands-on workshops, quick tips and related blog posts about how to care for indoor flora. Classes included “Orchids 101,” “Create an Indoor Living Arrangement,” and “Build your own Terrarium.”

Although sometimes Swansons promotes workshops and other events and deals through Instagram, they didn’t want marketing to be the focus.

“I feel like Instagram is a channel that’s still very authentic. We’re having more conversations on Instagram. We still love Twitter and we still use Facebook, too, but especially with the visual nature of the garden center and all of the amazing photographs that we can show as inspiration or education, we just felt like Instagram was a really good fit,” Damman says. “It’s really about sharing pictures, sharing other people’s photos … finding new people who have similar passions for gardening.”

As hoped, people posted a healthy number of houseplant selfies, along with questions about indoor plant care, all tagged #heyswansons.

At the end of the contest, they had 33 photographs that weren’t from staff or an “influencer,” someone with both an interest in gardening and social media clout who works with Swansons to help spread the word about the contest to their followers. But Swansons wasn’t looking to hit certain numerical goals. Attracting Millennials was one focus; a marketing department associate recruited her sister, who is a college student, to pose for a photo shoot with houseplants adorning her dorm room.

“We were pushing some of our marketing toward that younger demographic,” Damman says. Staff noticed younger customers coming in during the contest. They also had their best January ever, and increased indoor plant and pottery sales by 50 percent. “We thought that [the contest] would be something that they would appreciate and have fun with. We never had a specific goal of how many new followers, how many new posts — we didn’t look at it that way. It was just a way to reach out to new people. And for us to see people’s successes with houseplants.”

February 2016
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