A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say. In our business, we’d like it if our pictures were worth a thousand sales! If you’re not capitalizing on the visual power of your product, you could very well be losing out on those thousands of sales. Yet, our industry as a whole has been slow to warm to social media in general. Most of you probably question the value of using a platform such as Instagram at all. So let’s first make a case for it.
I follow certain growers and distributors on Instagram who are doing a great job with their visual content and their posts have caused me to seek out their project and make purchases. ArizonaEast, in particular, shows up constantly on my Instagram feed, so I decided to check in with them to see how their efforts on Instagram are paying off.
Why go social?
ArizonaEast is a grower and wholesaler of cacti and succulents that operates out of Southern New Jersey. I contacted Brianna Genovese, who is in charge of product development and communications, to talk about ArizonaEast’s Instagram strategy. My first question to her was, as a wholesale grower, why use social media at all?
“It seems the industry as a whole hasn't quite warmed up to the idea of using social media,” Genovese says. “But I do think it's a very valuable tool for B2B communication that shouldn't be relegated to just B2C companies. The use of social media sites like Instagram help give a nursery some personality and color beyond your typical availability list.”
Her comment about using Instagram to boost a typical availability list is spot on. If there was one request I repeated more than any other to my growers when I was in retail it was, “Can you send me some pictures?” I felt like a broken record. A grower would send me a standard, text-based availability list with a note about peak product. Rarely did I receive any photos of product without making a follow-up request. Even then, I might not have gotten photos back at all. But when I did get photos, and the product looked great, I’d bump up my order significantly. I’d always tell my suppliers that they could probably increase my order by 30 percent automatically if they sent me photos instead of only a list.
Get in touch
Instagram feeds aren’t only a way to generate sales, but also a way to build relationships and do customer research. “A large portion of our customer base here at ArizonaEast is made up of independent garden centers — most of which have their own presence in the social media sphere,” Genovese says. “A small investment of time spent researching your customer base can yield huge results in connecting with and nurturing relationships with IGC customers.”
When it comes to research, Brianna feels Instagram helps her fine-tune her individualized customer service. “Connecting with customers on social media gives us a chance to tune into the vibe of their store and the content that makes their customers tick while giving them a chance to see what we have to offer in a more natural, less sales-y way.”
Give back by sharing
Savvy retailers that are using Instagram will also be keeping an eye on their supplier’s feeds. I have no doubt that if one of my growers posted a great photo of a current product on their Instagram feed, I’d probably get in touch with a potential order. It’s a fast, on-your-feet way to drive demand. It’s also a way for you to cross promote your retailers.
ArizonaEast is a big proponent of sharing. Genovese always tries to cross-promote her customer’s content when she spots it on Instagram. “For example, if I see them post a photo of our product in their store I'll ask if they'd mind if we ‘regram’ their post to give them some kudos and send customers their way.” They’ve also used Instagram to test-run customized product for their retailers before it’s released. They’re then able to provide their retailers feedback from customers about product before it hits the retail tables.
If you’re a grower that sells direct, then you have a bigger reason to use Instagram. Whether you realize it or not, many users are shopping on Instagram, which means they’re looking for inspiration, ideas and making purchases, albeit not directly through Instagram, yet. While Instagram has yet to employ direct-buy options, there are a number of work-arounds being employed by small and large brands to let customers buy the products they see on their feeds.
Apps like Like2Buy, Soldsie and Like to Know It help Instagram users buy products directly. While you can’t include working links in picture descriptions yet, you can include links in your profile. If you sell online, simply add “link in profile” to your photo description and update your profile link to take customers to the specific sales page of your website.
What’s my ROI?
I always caution clients not to think about social media in terms of ROI. Even after years of evolution of social media, the benefits can be seemingly intangible. Remember that the goal of social platforms is engagement. Many of our customers, or future customers, spend plenty of time on Instagram. Brand exposure, even if you can’t track it back to a specific sale, is crucial in today’s dense market.
I asked Genovese how she felt Instagram was working for ArizonaEast based on her time investment. “The amazing thing about Instagram is it's still the easiest way to garner organic engagement from an audience without having to invest in social media advertising” she said. “We've gained 521 followers on Instagram in six months. In the same time period, our Twitter and Facebook saw just a fraction of that growth even after giving it the same amount of time and attention.” Instagram is topping the charts when it comes to user engagement. Instagram users also more actively search for content using hashtags, which enables you to get more mileage out of such marketing tools.
Genovese credits social media channels like Instagram with bringing swagger back to their product line, especially their succulent terrariums. “Plants have really exploded in popularity thanks to the shareability of social media, which has really helped make them ‘cool’ again.” She hopes that this new relevance will help inspire a new generation of gardeners.
There are some challenges to using Instagram, which probably also help keep it fresh. You can’t add photos directly to your Instagram feed via your desktop. You have to use the App on your smart phone. That’s how Instagram is really meant to be used: on the go. If you have a personal Instagram account and a company account, you’ll have to sign out of the app then sign back again to switch between accounts. Until recently, you couldn’t automate your Instagram posts with social media management platforms. While Hootsuite now allows you to integrate the app so you can monitor your Instagram posts and reply to comments, you still can’t directly upload photos or schedule posts there; at least not at the time this article was written.
Last year a new App called Latergramme was released that allows you to schedule Instagram posts and manage multiple accounts, from a desktop or phone. I’m experimenting with it now, but the jury is still out on its long-term ease of use. Whether you use an app or not, your best bet is to pick one employee who is always attached to their phone who can be in charge of populating your Instagram feed.
A good strategy
Remember that when using any form of social media, consistency is key to success. If you rarely post, you’ll rarely — if ever — be noticed. A good Instagram strategy is to post daily or at least several times per week. Be sure to include your website link or contact info in your profile. Take pictures of great looking seasonal items that customers can access in real time. Add a short but detailed description of your product so interested customers can find it in the real world.
Make use of hashtags in the comment section for each photo. General hashtags such as #perennials or #gardening are good, but also include very specific hashtags that reference colors, seasons and events. Consider crafting a unique hashtag for your company that you use in all of your posts in order to breed familiarity. Seek out and follow all of your retailers so that you can cross promote product. Tag your #IGCs using their @ account name.
Do these things consistently and you should see your organic exposure and customer relationships grow in a new niche marketplace.
Need some inspiration to set up your Instagram account? Here are three greenhouse operations that do it right: