By Alyssa Abaloz
The Nature Academy is focused on training a new generation of environmental leaders in sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration. As part of the Nature Academy program, each intern writes a blog post and develops a project. The project provides an opportunity to take on responsibility in an area of interest, contribute to the goals of their team, and develop a skill or area of knowledge that can be added to the intern’s portfolio. The post may reflect the project or be a nature-related topic of personal interest to the intern.
Many in advertising would probably agree that a social media presence is essential to any modern marketing strategy. Effectiveness, or how your advertising strategies lead to an increase in revenue or renown, is one of the greatest arguments in favor of promotion through social media. Still, an impactful social media campaign can be difficult to achieve.
In this post I delve into the benefits of marketing through social media for a botanical garden such as Matthaei-Nichols. I seek to show how marketing efforts can optimize the strategies that create these benefits to influence the public’s perception of an organization.
Traditional Marketing Succumbs to the Internet
Modern social media was born in the early 2000s as the internet quickly revolutionized communication channels. Back then, when Facebook was only for college students and LinkedIn was simply a platform for resume distribution, social media had almost no value in terms of marketing. Companies relied on traditional forms of promotion such as print advertising and direct mail campaigns to shape the public’s perception of their brand. As these websites gained traction and society’s gears shifted toward digitization, a new outlet of marketing emerged.
Cost-efficiency is the most widely recognized benefit of marketing through social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram. Creating a page is free, and most websites offer low-cost options to promote posts to relevant audiences.
A benefit that often remains untapped by many organizations is the communicative aspect that these platforms provide. A majority of companies today have some sort of presence on top-tier social media sites, but many do not capitalize on the added value of developing legitimate connections to their audiences through social media. For non-profit botanical gardens such as Matthaei-Nichols, this strategy amplifies the organization’s message about its nature-related mission and focus.
Good Social Media Is Inherently Social
In an age where sensitivity to being sold a product (or being used to sell a product) is more intense than ever, companies with significant social media engagement often embrace the strategy of connecting to their audience, rather than promoting to them. It makes sense that a nonprofit’s social media posts should be about engagement, authenticity, and communicating its mission. But executing these strategies is more difficult than it may seem.
Brian G. Smith of Purdue University and Tiffany Derville Gallicano of the University of Oregon dissect the idea of engagement through social media in their academic paper “Terms of engagement: Analyzing public engagement with organizations through social media.” The authors conducted focus group discussions with millenials (those born between 1981 and 1996) about the definition of engagement and how consumers react to organizations’ social media presences. “Engagement is what publics feel about social media content and then what they do about it,” Smith and Gallicano explain. Further into the study, participants discussed the four key elements of corporate engagement on social media: information consumption, sense of presence, interest immersion, and social interaction.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum does an excellent job in hitting these key points when creating social media posts. For example, in late May and early June, when our extensive collection of peonies is getting ready to bloom, engagement on our Facebook and Instagram pages skyrockets. The largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America is easily one of our most popular attractions, thus social media posts about it have a larger reach and higher levels of engagement on average. The Facebook post shown here, announcing the start of the 2019 bloom season, reached an astonishing 23,495 people and had 6,417 engagements.
The comparatively high reach and engagement can be explained by Smith and Derville Gallicano’s four components of well-executed engagement. Fans of the garden were eager for constant and informative updates, an example of information consumption serving as a propellant for engagement. The peony garden’s bloom is an exciting time of the year that only lasts a few weeks, so many of our followers pay more attention to their posts because of this. Since the bloom of this garden is so important to its followers, we do well in maintaining social interaction through consistent and informative updates. These updates included progress pictures as well as testimony from Matthaei-Nichols staff, thus creating a community around peak bloom season that thousands look forward to each year.
This post on Facebook, announcing the start of the 2019 bloom season, reached an astonishing 23,495 people and had 6,417 engagements.
Engagement on a Corporate Scale
Another great example of well-executed engagement is the social media strategy of multinational fast-food corporation Wendy’s. Their Twitter page is largely based on communicating with their fans, staying up to date with the latest trends and memes, and teasing the revival of some of their popular but retired products. The wildly popular spicy chicken nuggets, for example, has fans and influencers alike keeping up with the chain simply for this product. Wendy’s has teased at the re-release of the product for two years since its discontinuation, effectively maintaining the buzz surrounding their company.
Of course one obvious difference between for-profit organizations such as Wendy’s and Matthaei-Nichols is what each seeks to promote. For-profit companies’ promotions often involve a product or service. Non-profits, on the other hand, promote a message or a mission in order to gain support for their cause.
The wildly popular spicy chicken nuggets, for example, has fans and influencers alike keeping up with the chain simply for this product. Demetrius Harmon is an influential comedy personality on Twitter. Demetrius hails from Dearborn, Mich. and is know for his viral posts on Vine and YouTube. When the popular spicy chicken nuggets went extinct, Harmon began posting about them independent of any prompting by Wendys. Wendy’s has teased at the re-release of the product for two years since its discontinuation, effectively maintaining the buzz surrounding their company. By engaging with influencers such as Harmon, Wendy’s is able to foster a less-promotional-seeming and more organic engagement, even though their ultimate goal is sales of spicy chicken nuggets.
In terms of influence and relevance, nonprofits rely heavily on public perception. Thus, social media is a great opportunity for them to mold public perception through posts and interactions. The posts must be genuine if they are to convey an authentic message, an example Smith and Derville Gallicano stress in their paper in relation to a sense of presence. Relaying information that is both interesting to the public and relevant to the organization’s work can aid in the growth of online communities surrounding an organization.
Social Media and Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum
For Matthaei-Nichols a key social media strength is the abundant opportunity for engagement we offer through our regular posts. Instagram series, such as the informative Invasive of the Week collection maintained by Natural Areas intern Emily Lilla or the follower-engaging Question of the Day by Youth Education intern Emma Walsh, actively communicate our mission without being promotional.
We’ve found that posts that interest and engage our staff—including student interns—do very well on our social media pages. The Matthaei-Nichols Facebook page is approaching 16,000 followers and our Instagram page has nearly 2,350 followers. According to Matthaei-Nichols Marketing & Communications Lead Joe Mooney, our Facebook and Instagram followings were built not through promotion but on a steady and mostly organic stream of mission-driven posts. Together, these posts tell the story of who we are and what’s important to us as an organization within the University of Michigan.
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Matthaei’s #qotdmbg Q: “If milkweed is so important to monarchs, do only monarchs eat it?” A: No way! Other beetles and bugs feast on milkweed, and many of them display bright “warning” colors just as monarchs do. Pictured here is a milkweed beetle (in the second pic, they are enjoying their milkweed lunch), often found on the common milkweed. These guys are growing out of their larval stage, in which they have been on milkweed roots, right about now. While the adults chomp on the milkweed leaves, they are herbivores and will not harm the caterpillars. If you have enough milkweed to sustain them, leave them be, they are an important part of the ecosystem and provide an alternate food source for predators that would otherwise feast on monarchs. Come take a lunch break with these guys at Matthaei! #matthaeibotanicalgardens #umichnature
Matthaei-Nichols Youth Education intern Emma Walsh publishes a “Question of the Day” on Instagram, taking advantage of the social media platform and the near-infinite number of amazing nature happenings at the Arb and Gardens.
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Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense, otherwise known as field thistle, is a prickly invasive that is very common. Despite the name Canada thistle, it is not from Canada and is actually from Eurasia. Can be found in roadsides, ditches, railroads, fields, clearings, shores, and disturbed sites including filled land, parking areas, utility rights-of-way, dumps, neglected gardens, etc. It grows between one to four feet tall with prickly stems and leaves, with branching occurring near the top of the plant. A lookalike plant is bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, however, the leaves are larger and spinier. Fun fact: Canada thistle is from the sunflower family. Canada thistle is a stubborn clonal invasive that can sprout from root fragments. The roots have rhizomes that are creeping and extensive. It is an extremely difficult species to eradicate. For farmers, it can present an economic threat as it competes with crops and can reduce crop yield. When do they germinate Make sure to pull seedlings within 2.5 weeks of germination or they will become a permanent resident (perennial). Canada thistle germinates 8 to 10 days after flowering begins and can be in the seed bank for up to 20 years. If it is already at the perennial stage, cutting off the top growth via mowing or loping can reduce the thistle’s available energy for its root system to survive over the winter. This method might need to be repeated over multiple years. For information about using herbicide as a method of eradication, check out this link: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_018027.pdf , and further individual research may be required. Due to how difficult it is the eradicate Canada thistle, multiple management methods are usually necessary. #matthaienichols #umichnature Created by: Emily Lilla, Natural Areas Stewardship Technician Photo credit: https://michiganflora.net/images.aspx?id=284 Sources: https://michiganflora.net/species.aspx?id=284 https://www.misin.msu.edu/facts/detail/?project=misin&id=38&cname=Canada+thistle https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/images/weeds/CanadaThistle_Jefferson.pdf https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_018027.pdf
Matthaei-Nichols Natural Areas intern Emily Lilla publishes an “Invasive of the Week” post on Instagram. The posts have turned out to be very popular with our followers.
These posts communicate that our staff not only care and are informed about invasive species and the questions our visitors have, they also strive to get the word out in an informal, communicative format. Shared interests between our staff and guests help lay common ground for further engagement with our organization. This can transform an organization’s stagnant platform into one that creates a mission-driving online community.
The technological age and its effect on marketing strategies will only progress, and organizations like Matthaei-Nichols are doing well in following the trend. Indirect marketing strategies have become more effective as the public has grown more sensitive to advertisements. A simple solution to this is the dedication of time and effort toward engaging with your audience and conveying a message that both our audience and our staff can connect to.
Alyssa Abaloz is the Matthaei-Nichols’ Development and Communications Intern who is entering her fourth year of studies at UM-Dearborn. A business student with concentrations in information systems management and digital marketing, Abaloz hopes to capitalize on the exponential potential that the technological age has to offer. She has interned with multiple non-profit groups in Detroit as a communications intern and hopes to continue her technological work in the future.