Before getting involved in the fields of supply chain management and digital marketing, I spent six years working as a buyer and associate manager in a garden center. It was a job I really enjoyed: I worked outside under the sunny California and Arizona skies, helping people design their gardens and be successful at a hobby that is not always easy. The majority of customers always started off with the phrase, “I don’t have a green thumb, but…” Needless to say, gardening quickly became a hobby of mine, and it is something I still enjoy doing today.

Unfortunately, six years into my time here in Germany, I have still not managed to live in an apartment with a garden. However, this past weekend I spent some time pulling weeds in the tiny flower bed in front of our apartment. Additionally, my wife and I, along with some friends, rented a small strip on a local field that we can use as a vegetable garden. Here are a couple pictures of our rented vegetable garden from last year (in case you don’t believe me ;-))

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These two gardening events this past weekend really got me thinking about how gardening is a lot like my newfound passion, social networking. The good old past time of getting outside and digging in the dirt can teach us a lot about social networking.

The sowing

If no seeds are sown, no wheat will be grown. The first step to sowing seeds is preparing the soil. This activity is equivalent to the analysis of the various social networks while deciding where to invest precious time and money. Once a decision has been reached, the sowing can proceed. One of the most common sowing methods involves simply broadcasting a handful of seeds across the prepared soil. This is a good place to start in social media as well. The seeds represent LinkedIn status updates, tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and so on. Put yourself and/or your brand out there! Start broadcasting your message and connect with your target audience.

The watering and fertilizing

Not every seed will germinate and take root into the freshly prepared soil. However, there are measures that can be taken to ensure a great success rate i.e. remembering to water and fertilize. The same is true in social networking. Not every social media post will go viral. You will not always be “followed back” or able to connect with someone on LinkedIn just because you ask nicely. Tending to the growth of a social network is vital to success. Broadcasting is just the first step and it is important to avoid falling into the oft-cited “tweet and run” or “post and run” strategy. This is not considered social. The purpose of social networking is to build an interactive network of engaged individuals. If you get stuck in the “broadcasting” phase your social network will quickly wilt up and die. What is the equivalent of “water” and “fertilizer” in building a social network? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Share the work of others that may also interest your audience
  2. Ask your network questions about relevant current events
  3. Engage in social listening – what is your network talking about?
  4. Search for ways to collaborate with others from your community
  5. Participate in group/online community discussions

These activities are a great source for social network growth.

Pulling weeds

Not everyone is going to like what you have to say on social media. There is a definite line between constructive criticism and trolling. A troll is defined as “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.” Will disagreements come up in the expansive social media realm? Yes, perhaps every day depending on what your message is and how it is delivered. That being said, trolls are just like weeds. No hobby gardener likes to deal with a rampant weed problem. The worst part is, these weeds steal sunlight and vital nutrients from the other plants. Therefore, it is important to pull the weeds (block out the trolls) and focus on productive discussions and interactions that help achieve whatever goals are in place.

The harvesting

A healthy and well maintained garden will yield lots of fruit, vegetables and beautiful flowers. In terms of social networking, creating an engaged community will result in leads, sales, guest blogging opportunities, you landing your dream job, invitations to events, encouragement from friends, and the completion of whatever other goals you set along the way.

Final words

Gardening is work, just like social networking. You can’t expect to build an engaged social network without putting in the work. That being said, gardening is also fun, and it is important to keep that aspect in mind when building a social network. Be encouraging, relevant, engaged and insightful. This will help ensure you reap the great benefits of a productively sown social network.