Last winter I was hired by Mahoney’s, the Boston-based independent garden center, to help them set up, edit, write and launch a blog. I flew up there to meet the team in February, and we decided to bring on the wonderful Layanee DeMerchant as the local blogger. Layanee’s super-qualified – with a degree in landscape architecture, a great blog and a weekly radio show out of Boston. She even knows the Mahoney’s gang because she represented a line of organic garden products for years, so she knows the plants and the garden center business in that whole region. On top of which, she’s lovable and easy to get along with. That’ll be a big help in her new role as online and in-person ambassador for the company – their Networker-in-Chief.
So Layanee and I have watched in anticipation as Mahoney’s whole website was moved, and last week the blog went live!
So, what’s there? Two posts every week by yours truly and at least one a week by Layanee, plus all sorts of contributions by their in-house experts. We’re trying to make it as easy as humanly possible for people who already have full workloads to also contribute to the blog – they just send us an email and we do the rest.
And this next part is particularly fun: Once a month we’ll have a “special guest blogger” – usually a gardening expert/writer there in New England - and it’s been fun soliciting them via the garden writers email group and personal contacts. We’ve gotten definite yesses so far from these New Englanders: Dominique Browning, the last editor-in-chief of House and Garden Magazine, and a hot author. Tovah Martin and Karen Davis Cutler, both well known authors of book and magazine fame. And Carol Stocker, the garden writer for the Boston Globe. People seem eager to be a part of this! Publishers have contacted me to offer posts by their garden-book authors, and free books for us to give away to readers.
Next, the Big Promotion
We’re already promoting the blog in “beta” or “soft launch”, but the real hoopla will start next week, with an official-looking press release and emails to everyone on our blogroll and list of websites. (Who dat? All the gardening bloggers in the region. The best sources of regional gardening info online. All the gardening and greening groups in Eastern Mass and beyond. (Mahoney’s customer region.) And of course public gardens in the region; ditto local food websites. And anything else we find out our new readers want to know about.
Also, a Facebook “Like” page and Twitter account are being set up as I type. We don’t plan to Tweet or update throughout the day, there being no evidence that that kind of social media involvement is needed, but we’ll do it enough. (Events in the region, in-store events and specials, all new blog posts and longer articles for the website.)
Website Content, Too
Oh, speaking of which! I spent all day yesterday reviewing the long, researched articles on this very website to find the best ones to offer Mahoneys and Homestead Gardens for free to put on their own websites. I selected 26 articles covering topics like low-maintenance gardening, lawn care, and compost. I think garden centers need to provide really helpful content like this on their websites and blogs, but who’s supposed to write it for them? They sure don’t have garden writers on staff to do it and it’s no wonder they sometimes just use the marketing pieces offered to them by the industry (Scotts-MiracleGro, but others, too). It’s hard to win reader confidence that way, (understatement alert), so I’m happy I have an alternative to offer.
Well, we provide gardening and plant information and on the local scene, we cover the gardening and greening community, profiling and promoting, say, the Master Gardeners, public gardens, community gardens, and farmers’ markets in the area. Those are the kinds of people-packed stories that can go viral, spreading link love across the Internets. We promote everything via Facebook and Twitter, and who-knows-what-else. (Youtube? Oh, I hope so.)
But you know, this is pretty new territory. I follow corporate social marketing closely and can find lots of big national corporations that blog, and I see blogs touted as the “hub” of a company’s social networking strategy and I totally agree. But just try to find examples of local retailers doing it, much less doing it well. And no surprise – the local dry cleaner, accountant and dentist can just have a 3-page website and be done with it but garden centers? They have a whole lotta teaching to do. Garden centers sell products that the public doesn’t even know how to keep alive, much less look good over time. Customers want to start growing food, they want to learn how to do right by the environment, and they need help sifting through all the controversy surrounding every single plant they grow or product or practice they employ. This ain’t consumer electronics.
And for real teaching, no 140-character Tweet or even longer Facebook updates will do. This kind of social media campaign needs that hub – the blog.
What Other Local Retailers Need to Teach?
Now I’m wondering what other companies need to teach as well as sell products – craft and yarn stores maybe? Indie hardware stores, definitely. But what else?