Social networking or trusted networking?

August 05, 2009
Written by John Stanley
Look at the research that is mentioned in the media and you will find that our consumers are spending more time in front of the computer screen than the TV screen. We now use the computer to do research before we go shopping, communicating with new and existing friends and as a tool to help us get through life a little bit easier. In many ways the social networking now taking place on the computer has replaced the face to face social club.

Do we trust the information that we receive from our computers?  Again researchers tell us that when they do surveys the information we receive via our computer is more trusted than a face to face discussion with a sales person.

If you do not believe that the computer does not have an impact on our lives, think about Susan Boyle who entered the UK program "Britain's Got Talent" in April 2009 and had over 66 million people worldwide click  on to her YouTube  shot in one week after her performance. The computer made her a global household name in a week.

When I am conducting conferences and workshops for the industry I often ask the delegates if they belong to some form of computer based social network. On average two thirds of the audience put their hands up. When I ask who uses any form of social network online to promote their business I often find that nobody puts their hands up.

What makes us think that online social networking works for all aspects of people's lives, except when it comes to gardening?

Malanseuns and their retail arm Plantland in South Africa launched a Facebook page for their business recently to communicate with gardeners in the Gauteng region of South Africa.  In the first week 700 of their customers were talking to each other on gardening matters using this page.

Social Networking


There are many social network sites now dedicated to gardening around the world and more will soon follow. These are mostly used by dedicated gardeners who love sharing their knowledge with each other. The key to their success is that they are used by the dedicated gardener and many non gardeners may find the communications that goes on a bit daunting.

These networks will develop; some will go while new ones appear, but they are not a place of trusted information; they are chat pages and often the advice provided may not be accurate or the information that the person is seeking.

Plus you have to find them; you need a search engine that will direct you to the social network you are looking for. For example if you live in Australia as a consumer and plug in "Mow my Lawn" you will get some advice and a service from the USA.  This is not going to help an Aussie gardener solve their problem. The consumer wants local advice and a local trusted expert to solve their problem

Consumers Need Local Trusted Advice

Now that the consumer has become familiar with using the computer as a source of information there has become a need to tailor the advice they are looking for to their specific needs. Hence the development of directories such as Plant Concierge. This directory was developed by Miriam Young, a Brit who lives in Holland and has been fully aware of the communications and marketing needs of gardeners for some time.

Miriam was aware of communications and marketing needs and identified a need to bridge the gap between gardening enthusiasts and the majority of the population who like plants but are not immersed in gardening as a pastime.

Unlike general local directories, Plant Concierge's profile system is geared to presenting information relevant to gardening and landscape services, hence making it easy to see who is offering what. It identifies established professional businesses alongside talented amateur gardeners, giving users access to the complete spectrum of plant care services available within their local communities.

Plant Concierge enables search in language that non-gardeners can relate to and displays results relevant to the user's geographical location, saving much time and frustration in trying to come up with search terms to get useful results from internet search engines. 

Online communications is now a normal means of communicating for Generation Y, Generation X and the Jones Generation who are our target market and the consumers of the future. The computer has become part of the household furniture, rather than something that used to be tucked away in the corner of the house office.

Put yourself in the shoes of a typical 35 year old who owns their own house and has a garden. The chances are they are a garden lover, but not a gardener. When it comes to help, the first thing they turn to is their computer as a source of advice. When they get onto this site they find real people who can visit them at home to assess their individual growing conditions and requirements and provide tailor-made solutions. They now have their personal garden expert who can offer anything from advice on choosing and caring for locally available plants - including grow-your-own food - to carrying out complete gardening projects and maintenance.

A retail store directory shows stores within traveling distance of the specific searcher. The store profile includes a place to name in store plant advisers so the less knowledgeable customer knows who to ask for when they go to the garden centre. They can also email or telephone ahead to arrange for an appointment. The aim is to build confidence and trust with the customer.

This is not a social network, it is a static marketing site that advertises sources of expertise and provides a more orderly system for connecting those who need gardening help with those available to offer it.

What are the advantages of being a garden centre of trust via the Web?

Like all computer network sites, the key is to get into a scheme early. History shows that businesses that get in tune earlier with their customers obtain the maximum rewards. This system falls into that type of technological opportunity for a garden centre.

To look at the site go to www.PlantConcierge.com and you can put your profile on free of charge and be recognized as the local hero. Miriam has also developed signage for garden centres to enable them to promote the service in their own garden centre.

The Future is Online

I recently worked with a garden centre who was convinced that the only way to drive his business was through traditional marketing strategies, i.e.  newspaper adverts, radio commercials and company fliers. Although I agree these are still important marketing tools, we need to diversify.

The computer is now a marketing tool. It allows a one to one dialogue with the customer that is a low risk and low capital.

The future consumer expects to be able to use their home computer as a source of advice and expertise. Plant Concierge meets the needs of the consumer and is an example of how we need to build our marketing strategies in exciting new ways.



John Stanley is a retail business coach, consultant, speaker and author.  His specialist areas are customer focused layout, customer focused merchandising, customer focused marketing and branding, and customer focused selling and service.  Email John on \n This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit his website www.johnstanley.cc

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