Social Media in Public Gardens

Member Highlight: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Interview with Joe Reed, Interactive Marketing Assistant


APGA: How are you engaging your visitors via social media? 

PC&BG: Phipps engages its visitors through a multiple-channel social media strategy. We strive to achieve a balance between two predominate modes we’ve observed in nonprofit social media activity: The first is informative, entertaining multimedia content (including photography from our gardens, “what’s in bloom”/”did you know” spots, gardening tips, quotes of the day, and occasional video segments); the other is action-or request-oriented content (exhibit promotions, new class and program calls for signups, special event ticket sales, etc.). By maintaining a consistent, friendly tone throughout both types of communications and blurring the lines between the two, we seek to gain and maintain the trust of our visitors.

As we recognize that many of our followers on one channel are also followers on other channels, we do not automatically syndicate content, favoring a considered approach of conforming or replacing content as necessary to make the best possible use of the appropriate channel. 


APGA: In addition to the initiatives you mentioned above, can you tell us a bit more about the various channels of social media that you currently employ? 

PC&BG: We use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Flickr, each to their own distinct purposes, as follows:

Facebook is a very visual medium – especially with the launch of the new “timeline” format for pages – and we’ve found that posts with large, colorful images attract the most attention; as such, we attach a relevant image to every Facebook post we make. Sometimes the image is the focal point of the post itself; every few weeks we post an image from the Conservatory with a famous quote about nature or plants overlaid in an attempt to create a meme, and we’ve found that these posts tend to generate a greater-than-average number of Likes and Shares, and that we experience a slight increase in the number of new Fans in weeks when one of these posts is featured. Posts like these are also an important part of the trust-building that is part of our overarching social media goal, as they ask nothing of the Fan but a simple gesture of solidarity with the organization and serve as a reminder of the beautiful and tranquil experience the Conservatory offers its visitors. While we regularly keep our Facebook fans up to date with the latest happenings and reasons to engage, we find it is important to temper this content with a softer approach. To avoid dominating our Fans’ feeds, we typically limit our Facebook posts to one per day, plus additional interactions through comments and posts to our Wall.

Twitter is a medium which we find distinctly useful for its up-to-the-minute nature. Through our Twitter feed, we give daily updates each morning of the Soup and Quiche of the Day at Café Phipps. We often post “Save the Date” items and take advantage of all opportunities to note collaborations with other organizations, as “@” references within a tweet increase virality. On Fridays, we frequently take the opportunity to remind our Followers that we stay open until 10 p.m. We have also begun to live-tweet photos and information from on-site events, including the recent APGA Green Buildings and Landscapes Symposium.

Flickr and Pinterest serve related purposes for Phipps; both services are tailor-made for highly visual organizations like public gardens. While both our Flickr and Pinterest pages feature many beauty shots, we’ve put them to use in different ways. Our Flickr site features two sections with completely exclusive content:  “Seen at Phipps,” documenting visits from prominent figures from around the world, and “Events and Programs,” offering photos from past events and public programs. This focus gives our Flickr followers a unique glimpse at the annual activities of the Conservatory. Our Pinterest site utilizes some Flickr photos alongside additional content from around the web to give another unique look at Phipps—one focused on portraying Conservatory as more than a destination, but a part of our visitors’ lifestyles plans and dreams. While the service is still new, we see great potential for the promotion of Phipps, particularly of our focus on green and healthy living, and the reinforcement of the Conservatory as a destination for weddings and other celebrations.


APGA: What are your strategies for success?

PC&BG: Many experts say that it’s important that an organization define its own goals and strategies apart from established standards, and Phipps is in the process of developing those standards as we speak. In recent months, we’ve began to examine our analytics more closely to see which strategies yield the greatest amount of interaction and examine what we can do to repeat that success.


APGA: What do you consider a 'win' in social media? 

PC&BG: For us, a ‘win’ in social media is reflected by a notable increase in interaction and in growth of our base. We track our number of Facebook Fans, Twitter Followers, and opened Email Broadcasts weekly and have now identified our normal growth patterns for each of these channels, making us better equipped to detect spikes and connect those back to specific activities.


APGA: Can you provide a specific example of a success you've had in social media?

PC&BG: With our first roll-out of a “quote of the day” image on Facebook in August, we noted that likes and shares were significantly higher than usual; by studying our web audit, we were able to additionally observe that during that week, we had an increase in Fans that was almost double that of a typical week.


APGA: What have you learned from something you tried in social media that didn't work?

PC&BG: One of the most revelatory findings early on came when we observed how much more attention a Facebook post with an image attachment gets than one without. Indeed, the difference was so clear that we’ve never looked back – all of our Facebook posts now feature either a relevant image or a video link.