Thursday, February 04, 2010

How to Get the Word Out?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A bright, sunny afternoon here on the mountain. The temperature pulled its way up to 15 degrees by noon but wind chills keep dropping it back down, forced lower by persistent winds averaging 5 mph but bursting to 20. Snow clouds whip by my office window in little whirls. It's cold out there!

I have been on a mission to learn more about social networking lately and some of it makes sense and some is more confusing. We have had our website, for several years, our blog, The Vermont Gardener, for four years, a Facebook page for a month or so (look for George Africa) and we just began using Twitter (look for vtflowerfarm). With the demise of advertising on television, radio and in various printed formats, and a noted decline in classified ads by 70% over the past 10 years, I am trying to reach conclusion on social networking. Do I continue with this blog, put more emphasis on Facebook or work Twitter to the n-th degree? Is a combination of the three the way to go? Read this article and help me figure this out.

All sorts of social demographics work into the equation and in the flower business, any business I guess, you have to know your customer very well. Since fresh grown and picked flowers have a limited season, it's real important to get our message out correctly the first time. Gail and I have about given up on newspaper and magazine ads except for special events. We were about ready to toss the costliness of radio ads until Gail had a chance to pick up a three minute spot on Friday afternoons. She doesn't have to prepare all that much and tells listeners whats blooming, what is on special, planting how-to-dos, and her cares and concerns. Reflecting on her success last year, Gail concludes that the radio talk brings in a number of people including male construction workers looking for "Where's that woman I heard on the radio today?" Bring in the men and you eventually bring in the wives and girlfriends, parents and families.

I get a chuckle out of how new customers ask for "that woman" even though Gail mentions herself by name. I shouldn't be surprised as Vermont is the land of "my husband", "my wife" and "my girlfriend" even if the couple have been married or living together for years. There's a strange, nameless way Vermonters handle their relationships but as long as they leave with some flowers, we really don't care what they call each other. It's not as callous as that but I think you get the message.

Current data shows that as people grow older they are less involved with technology. I believe this may offer a misrepresentation because baby boomers were the first group to experience widespread exposure to computer technology and probably a portion of those in the current age 60 and up group either have not had computer experience, don't own a computer or don't want to learn to operate one. The next group to follow shows close to 100% exposure and an extremely high rate on continued involvement.

Even though I'd like you to be thinking about gardening and a visit to Vermont Flower Farm this summer, help me with this question about social networking. Do you ever read this blog, like it or want to move right along; do you have a Facebook page or do you use Twitter? I need some direction and you can help. If that fails, point yourself in the direction of Marshfield this summer and we'll talk when you get here.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's almost time to make a fresh batch of noodles. What flowers are pictured above? Amaryllis that are just finishing up. Reds, whites and Apple Blossom.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardner
Vermont Flower


Teza said...


I enjoy reading your blog, high on the mountain above Peacham Pond.... its one of the staples of blogging. I can relate to your confusion albeit frustration with the world of social networking. It can be very frustrating at times.

I found that I went overboard.... Facebook, Twitter, this blog and a website, and as a result I haven't but enough effort into most of it. Twitter seems the least bebeficial.... lots of chatter but I don't think it would increase your business... maybe traffic to the blog or website as when I publish a new post it automatically sends a message to Twitter.

I know the nursery where I work has a blog that they are hoping to convert into a 'website' where they will focus most of their advertising. Its a hard call. We also sue the local Freepress, but its delivered with a slew of other adverts and for the most part goes from post box to blue recycling box in one foul swoop.

My sister is a Virtual Assiatant and she claims that Facebook is the future for businesses. I have an aversion to Facebook, the whole 'friends' popularity contest and all of the incessantly addictive applications [games] that suck my attention span. Not sure if this helps at all..... I would definitely stick with the blog, and maybe add a weekly feature or your own adverts on the sidebar. Add the url to your register receipts and/or newsletters. Hope this helps. I will be knee deep in the same discussion next week when I return to work. I will let you know what we decide.

Elizabeth said...

You’re right about the demographic studies as interpreted today. I do wonder whether in 10 yrs we boomers will have grown tired of being constantly wired.

How you decide to use a technology depends on what you want out of it. Do you want to widen Vermont Flower Farm's name recognition? Facebook can help with that, for sure. Facebook is also the place to go to make announcements about the shop opening, about sales, about what’s starting to bloom (and be sure to add a link to the blog.)

Do you want to deepen the value of that name recognition, gain followers or “faithful readers”? Stick with the blog, which allows you to be a thoughtful writer, and for people to be thoughtful readers. This is really good for gardeners, who need to be thoughtful to succeed at that endeavor.

I think that Facebook might “open the door” for customers; the blog will convince them to walk in.

Get some facebook-knowledgeable person to tell you how to link “George Africa” and “Vermont Flower Farm” somehow. I went looking for Vermont Flower Farm before I knew the page was under your name.

Here’s a caveat for any retailer. Being online via a blog or facebook may increase the need to do online sales.

Personally, Twitter is a waste of my time. I cannot imagine anyone who needs to know my every move. Is there anything that happens so quickly in the gardening world that Twitter would serve a need?

Keeping up with technology is a challenge. Good luck!!

James Trundy said...

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah . Hate to see the blog go!! One of the high points of any day that it appears.

I also follow you on facebook and have made some good connections doing so:)

Never use Twitter and doubt I will ever Tweet!!!

So Keep the blog and promote it how ever you will... facebook, tweeting, e-mail signature.... but bring them back to the blog and your Nursery.

KEEP THE BLOG!! My 2 cents worth
from my humble abode and gardens in the Land of McIndoe.

Mat said...

Hi George! You'll know me as 3LittleBirds1 on Twitter, Mat and 3 Little Birds Lanscaping fan page on facebook or from my blog. You'd be amazed at the number of small business owners asking your same questions. The most important thing is it's free advertising and limitless. I agree that you can use facebook to make people aware of your business and use your blog to get them in the door but make sure you link those together and with Twitter. Don't forget to retweet your friends posts because many times they will tweet back and you never know who will start following you.

I don't use Twitter as much as I should but a lot of my posts on facebook and my blog end up there through links. A good balance of each is the way to go. Make sure all of your customers know about each and even offer facebook or Twitter only promotions. Mention your sites as much as possible through your other advertising and post as much useful info as you can to further increase the fan base.

When I got onto facbook it was still the college crowd and I don't remember any businesses, non-profits or media outlets on there. Now I see new ones added every day! Grandparents are on, media personalities, local politicians and representatives, you name it. Friend everyone you think will be a potential customer and link with other businesses in your area to cross promote.

I could go on and on and am sure you and I will help each other along the way. How else could a Vermont Gardener and 3 Little Birds from Minnesota get to know each other and become friends?

Good Luck and keep on evolving:)

The Suburban Gardener said...


Please keep the blog. I enjoy reading your blogs and I also enjoy looking at those pretty pics.

lynn'sgarden said...

I think with all media venues, things go in cycle. What's popular one month is dead the next. I like seeing you on FB...which reminds me to read the blog when I'm neglectful there. But I haven't visited Twitter in no help with answering your!
The amaryllis in stages is wonderful...the resulting bloom always take my breath away. Say hi to 'that woman' for me :)

eagiffin said...

ellieblue said Please keep the blog going. I don't know how much it costs, but you might consider an ad on GardenWeb.

GARDENVT said...

As a working gardener, I truly appreciate the thoughtfulness, passion and wisdom with which you approach your blog and it's contents. I have been a devotee of your writings for a couple of years now,usually with a cup of tea and Will Ackerman playing in the background.
I have since stopped in Marshfield to purchase some astilbes and, I think, a daylily. They are doing fine.
I implore you to keep on with The Vermont Gardener. It is special.

I have added your link to my modest blog,
Hope it helps.

Mercedes said...

Having done a blog internship and received helpful input from my metor re: social media for business here are some thoughts.

Twitter is great to get your meida based customer to feel like they have the inside scoop by offering twitter only discouts. It is also great for networking with other businesses and announcing day of events/special.
Facebook is more interpersonal, so this is an excellent place for having a dialog with customers especially answering technical questions.
The blog is where you can link back to these; a tweet or facebook discussion. You are talented with writing and the blog already has a loyal following. Use it to intergrate your info and reader to your other social media outlets.

Hope this helps, and keep your hands in the dirt :)

~ ANNE said...

George great you used social media ! You posed a ques. People wanted to help .They'll blurt out your blog as I did for so long on TWITTER. Now you're on there . You need to connect with the #ag folks , the #autism folks, the Beautifying folks, environmental etc. I think tweeting your blog and asking a question gets followers & interest. You're a terrific writer& just need "branding." Links are what they need. I use TWITTER as my daily newspaper, often knowing world events before the morning paper arrives the next day. Don't give up (retweet, do a shout out and DON'T tell everyone what you just ate (however those people get followers for some reason..AND become an underwriter on my show. Good deal. (And you can get on other shows too..) @anne_barbano on TWITTER (wink!)

Jan (Thanks For Today) said...

Hi George, like others have said, I think it depends on what your mission is. Networking happens really well on FB and I'm amazed by it--I just joined in late Oct. It's been fun for me, mainly I use it to keep in touch w/friends and family but I'm really staying abreast of the garden writing world through it. I tried Twitter and closed the account after a couple of crazy weeks. It looks like you have a variety of suggestions here, so perhaps you can come to some conclusions that you are happy with. By the way, I glanced at your post yesterday. This morning I put up a post. I posted my Amaryllis in stages, too. And to be honest, I didn't remember it from your blog because I hadn't read it. Great minds think alike!

George Africa said...

Hello all readers; I continue to receive email opinions about social networking, so much so that I keep breaking away from my tax prep to learn more about spreading the word. Prudence would suggest getting the taxes done first but there's nothing fun about taxes.

The blog isn't going anywhere but I do hope it will go farther over time. Truly, I started it to drive traffic to our website,, in hopes of making a dollar. The blog is doing the "driving" part but not the "dollar" part yet.

Please keep coming back and share comments when the time is right. I have to finish up the piece on hosta gardens and then will move on to wildflowers.


beth said...

hello george,

i discovered your blog a few weeks ago and spent a couple of hours catching up on the last few years. i was so excited to discover someone with some writing talent and an interest in gardening. i live in western canada so a trip to your nursery is out and unfortunately i have discovered many nurseries don't ship over the border due to regulatory concerns. very disappointing.

i didn't know you were on fb but i will check you out there. i don't use twitter and so can't offer you an opinion on that. with fb maybe linking to your blog or your website would help and maybe posting some of your photos with names and prices might help.

having a blog following can be a good thing if you ever decide to publish a book of photos or garden experiences or a how-to.

anyway, i do hope you keep the blog as i really enjoy your writing style and the information presented.


rebecca said...

Hi George! I'm new to your blog (just found it after reading your very thoughtful comment on my new Fan Page)...and I think you have a most amazing way of writing, and have truly beautiful photographs to boot.

I'm a huge Twitter fan. My friend, and editor w/Fine Gardening, turned me on to it last Summer and it's been wonderful. I've met countless fellow-designers (dozens in person!), a few of which have become my good friends. I'm even venturing into a new business with one of them. I've met garden producers (I'll also be featuring some of my videos on her garden show) and other magazine editors. I say this not to brag, but to promote Twitter as a great way to meet others in your industry. Some of my followers are Proven Winners, Annie's Annuals, as well as several other nurseries - who I think have found it incredibly useful as well. Not as a forum to tell eachother 'what you had for lunch', but to connect on a business-level....all things gardening! I think you'd be wildly successful at this, as your writing style is great, and you seem very 'approachable' - not the sort to just tweet your 'wonderfulness' - but to actually 'engage' with other gardeners.

Just my thoughts! And yes, I'm now going to find you on Twitter & follow you! If you like, follow me and I'll 'introduce' you and your blog (as you probably know) to my own followers via #FF announcements! Sometimes that helps to get the ball rolling.....

p.s. I just now started figuring out Facebook. I've hated it for years. Yesterday, I hired a social media maven out here (yes, I met her through Twitter!) for 2 hours and she was REALLY helpful! Setting up my Fan page, explaining the purpose of it, how to use it for business, etc. What made me go down this dreaded road? Most of my clients use Facebook, but not Twitter. I just wasn't connecting with them! Since FB seems to be so darn popular, it's another way to connect with those who aren't on Twitter. I don't plan to go down any other roads, though, Twitter and FB are enough for me!

Jessica said...

Please keep your blog alive! I enjoy checking in and love hearing about the many projects you and your wife are working on. I don't have a very extensive flower garden yet...but when I do your nusery will be my first stop (hopefully in 2011)!