Digital marketing is the advertising of choice for many growers these days. It simply requires a smart phone, an internet connection and someone familiar with using different digital platforms. The best part: It is free to use.

“In our situation, we believe the most effective and most cost-efficient means of targeting our audience is through digital marketing,” says Tim Moore, director of sales and marketing at Lucas Greenhouses, a wholesale-only operation in southern New Jersey.

Leigh Ann Centeno, sales manager at Parks Brothers, a large grower-retailer operation in Van Buren, Arkansas, echoed Moore’s sentiments.

“We have found that it works better than any other media — newspaper or radio — to attract our customers,” she says.

Choose your platform

Companies must experiment to discover which social media platforms or channels work best for them. Parks Brothers mostly utilizes Facebook, posting photos and pertinent articles to customers who come into their own garden center. They’ve also dabbled with Instagram and Pinterest.

Much of their digital marketing is targeted at potential customers for their garden center, where they sell annuals, perennials and poinsettias. Although Parks uses Facebook to attract customers to their retail store, they’ve found that they’ve inadvertently picked up a few wholesale accounts from Facebook.

“We get a lot of followers and some of those turn out to be full-time customers,” says Centeno. “They’ll ask questions and I’ll direct them to call the office for more information.”

In addition to posting pictures of beautiful plants throughout the season, Parks also post videos to Facebook, mostly to engage customers in the offseason and to get them excited for the coming year.

“A lot of times, we’ll video people planting in the seed houses,” Centeno explains. “My mother likes to build interest in the wintertime, so she’ll go out and take video of them planting seed and transplanting to the greenhouses.” She said her niece targets potential wholesale customers by posting pictures of their products to Instagram.

Lucas Greenhouses is using social media platforms strictly for garnering leads for their wholesale operation. They’ve been utilizing Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and may give Snapchat a try.

YouTube is an important part of the mix at Lucas Greenhouses, where staff posts a video once a week during the spring season. The video accompanies a plant availability list and is used to highlight certain crops and show customers what’s available, Moore says.

He says they’ve recently added customer testimonials to their website and social media channels.

“That is where our marketing focus will be in the coming year as we look to connect potential customers with the experiences of our current customers,” Moore says. All of the marketing efforts at Lucas Greenhouses are aimed at directing people back to the company website.

Moore offered three key principles when developing goals for your digital marketing: defining your target audience, getting to know them and creating valuable content for them.

Moore adds that you must identify the best digital avenues or platforms for your company, not just the ones that appeal to you. It’s also okay that not all of their Facebook followers are potential customers.

“We believe anything that is promoting what our industry can bring to homes and gardens is beneficial to all of us in the industry,” Moore says.

Assign someone to the task

Parks Brothers is a third-generation family business, and will soon include a fourth generation when Centeno’s son completes his horticulture degree and jumps on board. Centeno’s mother, Claudette Parks, runs the garden center business and also does much of the social media marketing, taking photos daily with her iPhone and iPad and uploading them to Facebook. The arrangement has worked well for this company, which swore off selling to big-box stores several years ago to focus on independent garden centers. They’re currently the largest greenhouse plant wholesaler in Arkansas.

“My mother does a lot of the posting, what’s current at Parks” says Centeno. “She has the most time to do that but all of us, including myself and Jason Parks, do it.”

Moore says they designate people to different digital marketing tasks. The Facebook and Instagram accounts are managed by Corey Goetsch, who collaborates with Danielle Fleming on video and the website.

Still, some companies might be hesitant or intimidated by the technology or perhaps just confused over the myriad of choices available to market digitally.

“If you are new to digital marketing, or don’t feel like you are social media-savvy, ask for help from the younger generation,” Centeno says. “They are social media experts. Try to focus on posting pictures of product, any new items, special events, new arrivals, etc. to generate excitement with your followers and bring in traffic.”

Consistency is the key

Both companies understand the importance of posting consistently to different platforms to keep their customers informed of current offerings while keeping them engaged with the company.

“We put together a list each week on what we want to focus on for the video for our customers; Corey does a lot of photography that we will intertwine with that,” Moore says. Lucas Greenhouses also posts a steady stream of photos throughout the growing season on Facebook and Instagram.

Parks posts daily, highlighting new products and what’s currently on sale. Centeno, who says their posts have reached more than 11,000 potential customers, receives comments almost daily, which they do their best to answer.

“I believe that when using social media, it is important to post regularly — at least once daily,” she says.

Measure results

Targeting your market and measuring the results of your digital marketing activity will ensure that you’re investing your time in a way that will provide the biggest ROI. Both companies can do this by monitoring web traffic to their websites as well as using the tools provided by these social media platforms.

“Whatever avenues you focus on, make sure you can measure success,” Moore advises. “If not, then you are really just throwing spaghetti against a wall hoping some of it sticks. We live in a digital world now. Most potential customers are going to visit you virtually before you ever see them in person. We want our customers out in front telling their story and how Lucas Greenhouses has been a vital part of it.”

“The beauty of social media is the ability to advertise your product through images,” says Centeno. “Who doesn’t want to see how beautiful your Wave petunias are on Facebook or Instagram before coming out to shop?”

Neil is a horticulturist and freelance writer and copywriter for the green industry.