February 2010
Social Networking: Does it Work? By Kimberly Bird

Texas-based Calloway’s Nursery never wanted a New York PR agency approach to reaching their customers. So theirs stays true to its roots: It ties in with every aspect of their marketing plan and is tailored to the community they know and love.

Social networking is certainly all the rage. Some users claim it’s changed the way they network, connect with customers, promote events and drive people to their business — in many cases, there’s cause for excitement. But in many other cases, results after all the time and investment can be disappointing. Let me share with you the Calloway’s Nursery approach. Social networking doesn’t have to be complicated. Even if you view social networking as overwhelming or of little value to you, there are some key things to consider.

The Four Cs

At Calloway’s, we rely on the “four Cs” of communicating on social networks: cost, commitment, connection and compilation.

Cost. If your business is like ours, you’re cost conscious. We choose carefully and measure the returns of our promotional investments (of both finances and time). The entry costs of social networking are very low; there is no charge for setting up a YouTube, Twitter or Facebook account. The bigger cost is the time invested in developing and maintaining a presence. So when you’re looking at how to promote your business, social networking can be a low-cost option as long as you focus and manage your approach.

Commitment. Social networking requires a regular commitment to posting and responding to your connections to truly build a community, and it’s not a matter of strictly using these vehicles as another means to broadcast information. It requires training, practice, diligence and persistence to build a true community.

Connection. The social networking efforts you undertake are only as valuable as the degree to which you integrate it with your existing marketing mix. Where will you drive your connections once you have them? Your website? Your blog? Your store? Your special event? You don’t have to have an award-winning website, but you do need to have a landing place for these online relationships. It should connect to something going on at your store — an event, an article that drives interest in a product you carry, a story or news release about your brand.

Compilation. What happens in your social networking endeavors must be a compilation of your marketing efforts. You’ll best leverage your social networking efforts if your messages, posts, and connections tie easily into your overall marketing plan and promotional efforts.

Does It Work?

Back to the question at hand: “Does social networking work?” It depends on your objectives and what you’re trying to accomplish, and it depends to a very large degree on the factors noted above.

Has it worked for Calloway’s Nursery? That depends on how you measure success, but for how we measure it, the answer is, “Yes!” Social networking isn’t going to take over the entire marketing mix at Calloway’s Nursery any time soon, but it has become a key ingredient.

There’s no “silver bullet” to surefire success in social networking. Sometimes putting your toe in the water is the best way to familiarize yourself with a tool, and if you’re just getting started, your audience will be very small, so the risk of damaging your brand or reputation is low.

Once you’ve established your objectives, target audience and the messages you want to share, you’ll be ready to go. The simplest way to get started is to go online, sign up and start communicating. You’ll want to map out your plan for staying current and relevant over at least a three-month period. It can be as small as a list of weekly tips you plan to share. You’ll need to consider this vehicle in all that you do and all that you promote so you can integrate it into your communications and promotions. You can add in sales notices and conversation starters along the way. Once you have the basics of an approach, your next objective will be growing your community.

We’re not web experts at Calloway’s, but that isn’t our objective. We want to provide Texas gardeners with what they need to be successful and have fun in the garden. So the fact that we may not have taken a Los Angeles or New York agency approach to social networking is OK with us. We are a Texas business that wants to connect with our Texas community in ways that are simple, down-home, comfortable and personal.

Our goal is to grow our social networking communities so we can tap into them for ideas and feedback; connect with them as a resource; and share information about why they should visit our stores.

Whether you’re looking to build your brand, get people in your store or sell products online, the real advantage to leveraging social networking is the opportunity to connect with people in one more way and show them the essence of who you are, what you can offer and why they should come visit you.

SIDEBAR

Connect with Calloway’s Nursery

Web:
www.mytexasgarden.com

Facebook:
www.facebook.com/mytexasgarden

Twitter:
www.twitter.com/mytexasgarden

MySpace:
www.myspace.com/mytexasgarden

YouTube:
www.youtube.com/user/mytexasgarden

The Results

Calloway’s social networking vehicles have allowed them to:

  • Increase traffic to www.mytexasgarden.com
  • Grow communities online with 1,182 Facebook fans, 1,582 Twitter followers and 63 YouTube videos that have generated 47,000 views
  • Drive store traffic for major sales events
  • Generate greater attendance at special events
  • Connect gardeners to experts through online garden advice and in-store consultations

Kimberly Bird

Kimberly Bird is vice president of retail marketing for Calloway's Nursery. She can be reached at (817) 222-1122 or kbird@calloways.com.





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