How New Media is Impacting the Future of Gardening

– Posted in: Miscellaneous
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One nice thing about the GWA Symposium is that most of the meals are donated by various member businesses. But we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, or a free breakfast, for that matter, so you probably already guessed that the business that pays for breakfast thereby procures the opportunity to speak to us while we are eating.

Scotts logoOn Saturday morning this privilege went to Scotts Miracle Gro. (I can hear some of you booing and hissing already. Will it appease you any to learn that Bradfield Organics and SafeLawns.org got the floor for Sunday’s breakfast? The irony wasn’t lost on some of us. There’s room for all kinds in the GWA, especially if they’re paying for breakfast.) I was surprised at the level of conversation going on around me while the presentation was being conducted. Apparently just because someone gets up to talk, the members don’t feel obligated to listen. Some people claim the microphone wasn’t working. Perhaps the temptation to catch up with long lost friends was too great. Or maybe some people were remembering a certain lawsuit and were deliberately being rude.

Where Gardeners Hang Out Online

Too bad for them. It was an excellent presentation. The first part was a talk by Phil Gomes of Edelman (the title on his card reads Vice President, me2revolution), who I believe was hired by Scotts as a consultant to help them figure out how to use the internet to increase interest in gardening. Phil knows his stuff. He used various online research tools to demonstrate where gardeners were hanging out and what they were doing there, and he didn’t leave out garden blogs. As a matter of fact, he spent several minutes at This Garden Is Illegal explaining various aspects of Hannah’s site. Most importantly, he understood the strengths and weaknesses of the web as a communication medium, and he brought them out clearly. I especially liked the way he summarized his findings:
Now, more than ever, gardening journalism will be about Moving from lecture to conversation, Moving from oracle to facilitator, Telling the story in more than words and pictures, Elevating and contextualizing hyperlocal knowledge

I agreed with him that “online media is not a replacement to traditional media. If properly embraced, it’s a complement.” I thought his presentation was a complement, as well, to the discussion on garden blogs I would help present the following day. For people who have been immersed in print media all their lives, it was a very good overview to what’s going on “out there.”

Can the web make gardeners out of non-gardeners?

In the second half of the breakfast talk Craig Humphries presented research Scotts had done to determine what kinds of obstacles kept people from getting started in gardening. They analyzed these findings to figure out how the web could help get non-gardeners into gardening. Long story short, they are going to launch a website next spring that is designed to address some of the reasons people give for not gardening.

I found the whole process of how a large business goes about finding new markets fascinating, but I wonder how well the website will achieve its objectives. First of all, several websites have beat them to the punch. We have Folia (hat tip to Colleen), The Mulch (hat tip to Elizabeth), and Blotanical (kudos to Stu!). (Let me know of others that I’ve missed.) Secondly, they also cited research indicating that the people most likely to turn to the internet for gardening information were already passionately interested in the subject–no surprise there, right? Graph showing gardeners' use of the internet for informationSo, how do you get non-gardeners to go where they haven’t gone before?

Can marketers make gardeners out of non-gardeners?

I’m in favor of turning more people on to gardening, and I don’t care if a horticultural mega-business like Scotts is the one to do it. Certainly, if all it takes is enough money, Scotts should be up to the job. They also hired some brains when they brought Phil Gomes on board, but while he has his ways of finding things out online, he doesn’t think like a gardener. (Come to think of it, those of us who think like gardeners are already online, so maybe that’s actually an asset, not a liability.)

But I don’t trust the information from polls, surveys and the like. It’s too easy to ask questions that will give you the answers you want to hear, and to neglect the questions that really need to be asked. And those being queried don’t always understand your question, or they don’t want to admit to the true answer, or they don’t really even know what the truth is. If someone is asked, “Why don’t you garden?” and they respond, “Because I don’t have anyone to do it with,” what does that really mean? Does it mean they wish they had a friend by their side, potting pansies at the same table, or pulling weeds in the same bed? Or does it really mean, I don’t have anyone to do all the hard stuff for me? And do the pollster and the one being polled even have the same definition of gardening?

View the webinar and make up your own mind

I was impressed enough with Gomes’ part of the presentation that I went up to him right after the presentation and asked for his card, hoping to get a transcript of his talk. But apparently enough people wished they had heard it that the GWA and Scotts jointly sponsored a repeat of the presentation as a “webinar,” which was an opportunity to watch Power Point slides on my computer screen while listening to the presenters on the phone. If you are willing to devote an hour of your life to it, you, too, can watch the webinar by going to Scotts press release page, downloading the Webex viewer (which I had to do to view the webinar in the first place), and clicking the Playback button. On that same Scotts page there is also a small .pdf Social Media Glossary. There were a few things on it that I wasn’t already aware of, so it might be helpful for you, too.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Nan Ondra January 6, 2008, 8:50 am

Thanks ever so much, Kathy, for your detailed report about this session, as well as about other aspects of the GWA meeting you attended. They’ve been very interesting to read, and you’ve shared a great deal of valuable information that I doubt would come across in a straight transcript.

wiseacre January 5, 2008, 1:38 pm

Can marketers make gardeners out of non-gardeners?

They do put ideas in people’s heads. But then a real gardener has to come along and help them out.

The internet has made it easy to find information and make connections. I’m (gut feeling) sure it’s helped many on their gardening quest. But what really makes a gardener is the personal connections with others in real life. Sharing knowledge and favorite plants, showing off the garden and the pleasant conversations on a sunny day are part of being a gardener. Another trait most of us suffer from is our urge to convert non-gardeners. I can’t decide if I’m a missionary or a pusher. Am I converting non-believers or dragging other’s into the depths of addiction?

I’ll give media and marketing credit for inspiring people. That alone is enough to make a gardener. But no gardener stands alone. Behind every gardener is another and another and another.

Curtis January 5, 2008, 10:15 am

It helps to have someone to talk to like gardening neighbor’s for instruction and advice. And going online to research gardening methods is a good to avoid mistakes other gardeners have made.

Ellis Hollow January 3, 2008, 8:25 pm

I kind of like survey research. Maybe it’s because we did a lot of that back in my print publishing days. My hope is that when it comes time for the marketing folks to really study the online gardening community, they’ll come to you, Kathy, to make sure that the right questions are asked.

That said, I’m going to go with something from my gut. (And according to a political show I’m streaming right now, whenever a pundit says that, they mean that they have absolutely no evidence to back up what they are about to say.) By wanting someone to garden with, would-be gardeners really mean that they want someone to help them avoid making mistakes.

No one likes to kill plants. No one likes to waste money. And with gardening, your mistakes are right out there for everyone to see.

To have a local mentor who is right there to help you make decisions and help you channel your limited time and resources is the ideal way to boost confidence in would-be gardeners — someone ‘wise’ to tell you that you are going to kill a few plants and that you aren’t crazy to experiment.

I think the promise of the Internet is in the ‘elevating and contextualizing hyperlocal knowledge’. I just wish Gomes had said it in plain English: Connecting neighbors to help them share gardening skills and knowledge, or something to that effect.

But then that kind of knowledge doesn’t earn you the big consulting bucks. ;-7

These connections used to happen in physical neighborhoods. More and more, we’re going to build these communities in cyberspace.

Kathy Purdy January 3, 2008, 6:09 pm

Robin, I would be the first to admit I have no knowledge of marketing techniques, professional or otherwise. I just know how frustrated I usually feel on the receiving end of a survey. My answer is usually not among the predetermined choices. For that matter, the questions I’d like to answer are not among the questions. No one ever wants to know my heart’s desire, they just want to know if my experience was satisfactory or highly satisfactory.

Robin (Bumblebee) January 3, 2008, 5:53 pm

Being a marketing researcher by profession I have to take exception to your comment about not trusting surveys. A well designed survey with a properly drawn sample and sample size provides highly reliable information that is lightyears ahead of the anecdotes and opinions that some marketers use. Certainly there is quite a lot of poor research out there. But good research is what makes for better, market-driven products and the ability to reach markets efficietly and effectively. Without good research we wouldn’t have many of the “aha” products that we have today and companies wouldn’t be able to so carefully reach their carefully defined niche.

–Robin (Bmblebee)