I was going to write “Five lessons from GWA” because it’s short, to the point and SEO friendly, but the organization’s new name, GWA, the Association for Garden Communicators, tries to encompass all the ways we communicate about gardening. I think we should change the organization’s name to GCA, get a redirect link for the website and move on, but I’m not part of that decision-making process. There’s probably a good reason we haven’t.
I am on the Outreach Task Force. I giggle every time I say or write that. I feel like part of the Garden Army Special Forces or something. My weapon of choice would be a berry-colored Dramm One-Touch sprayer.
But, as usual, I digress. Here are five lessons I took home from the Garden Communicators’ annual meeting.
1. Videos and live streaming are bigger than ever.
Chris Sabbarese from Corona Tools gave a great talk about live streaming videos. Here is one I did live today on Facebook on my garden bed facing the street. It seems videos are more important than ever on the social media front. If you don’t do videos, the algorithms won’t notice you. Isn’t that nice? Do you ever feel like there are Gremlins in the social media networks who are just messing with us? I do.
I tried live streaming on Facebook after Chris’ talk and promptly figured out I needed a mic for my iPhone. I ordered an iRig Mic Lav compact lavalier microphone for smartphones and tablets, so expect more live streaming from me. I hope I don’t bore you to tears.
He suggested using Crowdcast or Huzza. Several people still use Periscope–although in another social media session, the experts said it was no longer a thing–while others use Facebook’s live feature. Just remember that YouTube is now owned by Google, and Facebook isn’t. They don’t always play well together or support one another. Oh, and Twitter is considered basically dead, although I still go over there and play sometimes. I have different friends in different places. Instagram is still a big deal because it is photo and video driven, and it started a new thing called “Stories.” This was to compete with Snapchat. Both only last 24 hours.
I often think the social media CEOs are just dividing us up like so many toys and smashing those they no longer want, but that’s another subject for another day.
2. Only 20% of Americans are into gardening and understand it well.
That means 80% of American consumers still know very little about gardening. I learned this in a talk by Angela Treadwell-Palmer from Plants Nouveau. If you’d like to read up more on this, see “What Consumers Under 50 Have To Say About Plants, Gardening and Garden Stores,” By Bridget K. Behe and Carol Miller in Greenhouse Grower magazine. This is just one of many studies out there analyzing consumera.
It confirmed something I’ve thought for awhile. Maybe we’re all just talking to each other and not bringing in new gardeners. This is a sobering thought after I’ve spent the last thirteen or so years talking, writing and photographing gardening for various outlets including RDR. Because I’m worried about the next generation, I even wrote a book for millennials.
Maybe in our efforts to remain professional, we’ve scared away potential gardeners.
I don’t know. I hope not.
I felt both inspired and even more worried after Angela’s talk.
She said we need to change how we communicate about gardening or horticulture. It’s clear that even using the word horticulture is intimidating. She suggested we not use industry jargon like plant material, midrib, ornamental, evergreen, floriferous, continuous bloom, etc. Try writing on a 6th to 8th-grade level, but not talk down to consumers. That isn’t easy, but I’ll fall back on my newspaper training. Lead with the most important information. Write in short sentences. Use the inverted paragraph, whatever it takes, to get the message out.
And, if we’re all feeling quite superior right now because we know botanical Latin, perhaps we shouldn’t. If we’re not careful, our hobby, nay passion, may go the same way as philately–no offense to stamp collectors intended.
3. Self-publishing isn’t dead, or even on life support.
Claire Splan and Katie Elzer-Peters gave a rousing talk on self-publishing with Claire talking about ebooks, and Katie discussing print. They gave me much to think about. I don’t know if, for my second book, I’d go that way, or approach a traditional publisher, but it’s something to consider. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, you need to build up your subscription list. Writing for Facebook isn’t the same thing as having your own hub either. Your website is still your hub on the internet even if there are other ways to share.
4. Atlanta and Athens gardens in September look like Oklahoma gardens in October.
I felt right at home in Atlanta and Athens, GA, except for the humidity. Many of the plants (not plant material) were the same as what we grow here. There are passionate gardeners there too. Plenty of humor too. Meeting Coach Vince Dooley and his wife, Barbara Meshad Dooley, was a highlight of the conference and tours. Smart and funny, they went with us as we toured Athens’ gardens.
The coach was also one of three keynote speakers. He discussed his passion for his garden and was completely authentic. He is a self-taught gardener, as am I. Of course, he’s friends with Michael Dirr and Allan Armitage so he had good teachers.
5. The people are the best part of the conference.
My colleagues are the kindest and best people out there. They will step up to help you solve problems. They loan people photo cards and batteries. They trade out electrical cords and the stupid Mac VGA adapter–which no speaker who uses a MacBook Air or Pro, or iPad can be without. Yes, people forget them. The support and good cheer are contagious. I felt like this year at GWA was the best in a long time. The mood was upbeat, and the new management company, Kellen, did a great job herding us about with grace and good humor, and without making us feel like we were in grade school. Sometimes, change, while hard, is not just good, but vital. GWA is making quick progress, and my heart is glad.
So, those are my five lessons from the annual meeting. Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts on gardening, social media, and organizations in general. Have you learned anything new about your craft this year?