Social Media in Public Gardens

Member Highlight: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Interview with Judy Hohmann, Marketing and Communications Manager


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

MLA: On our Facebook page, we have over 7,000 likes/friends, which is up from 4,000 in the last year and up from 1,500 likes/friends in 2010. This past September, we started a promotional partnership with one of our media partners to post daily on Facebook with the purpose of creating an ongoing conversation/dialogue. Together with them, we co-create an editorial calendar that supplements FB posts from our staff members. 

We have two blogs that we offer through our website. On our Nature Notes blog, we have 4 volunteer master naturalists that post weekly with photos based on walks or hikes at the Arboretum. They include observations of nature and wildlife, with seasonal commentary. These great volunteers include a high school science teacher, author, children's eduator--and they've all been certified through the Master Naturalist curriculum offered by the University of Minnesota and Department of Natural Resources. On our Gardens of Eatin' blog, we support our home demo gardens that feature 6-8 garden beds for salad gardens, small space gardens, vegetable and perennials that like each other, etc. The garden signage corresponds with the blog descriptions, along with tips and garden design ideas from our landscape gardener in charge of that area.

As far as onsite engagement via social media, we use the back side of our sign near the entry to promote 'Share Your Experience on Facebook'. We have also started using QR codes on our visitor map, exhibit brochure and on selected outdoor signage.  It goes to the website home page and what's happening web page but our overall site is not very mobile-friendly. 

Lastly, we are currently making use of many online promotional vehicles to drive trial visits. We have used Groupon in two different instances; 405 subscribers for one weekend admission and a 2 for 1 Ladies Night Out. For Ladies Night Out, half of the paying subscribers did not show up on site. We've recently tried Google Offers and received 300 of 2 for 1 admission. For fall 2012, we are overlapping with Crowd Cut, Steals and Deals (of the Star Tribune) and Living Social to boost admissions and trial visits. 


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? 

MLA: We use Facebook, which we carry over to Twitter, to reach prospective visitors and others interested in nature, plant, and outdoors. We want them to become aware of the Arboretum and what's going on year-round. Also, we have used Flickr in the past as a way of urging visitors to post photos from their visit, brides to share wedding photos, etc.  We have tested different onlines offers on FB such as 2 for 1 to Ladies Night Out, mentioned above, and have had some takers, although not a lot.

We use pay-per-click online advertising to help us reach wedding prospects, most of whom find us online. So far this year we have had over 150 weddings. 

We have heard about Pinterest but haven't had a chance to explore it further. 


APGA: What are your strategies for success? 

MLA: Right now, our strategies includes doing more investigation into advertising on FB and within popular search engines. We plan to do more video/take more footage to introduce exhibits and events we have at the Arboretum. We are planning to refresh the website homepage to be more interactive and directly ask for more content co-creation from outside sources. Hopefully, we will also be able to facilitate taking polls and offering visitors a chance to share their experiences. 


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

MLA:  We feel successful in social media if we continue to see increased 'likes' each month, increased subscribers to our eNews, increased website visits, and increased usage of VIP passes to visit the Arboretum


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

MLA: In our media partnership for FB, we created a separate landing page with the question: how do you connect with nature? Users must 'like' us before they can post and when they like us, they are also eligible to win 4 VIP passes to the Arboretum. The results were 700 new likes in a month! In October, we will changeout our Facebook landing page and update our events calendar to hopefully continue this success.


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

MLA: We changed our social media philosophy in 2010 to move away from 'pushing messages' of events weekly, to more personal and pictorial postings every day. Daily postings range from pictures of wild turkeys, scarecrows in the gardens exhibi, beautiful blooms, setting up for the Gala fundraiser, and finding a giant turtle in the shrubs.

Our initiative to use pay-per-click for wedding prospects has been hugely successful, especially since we moved from accepting applications over the telephone to an online form. Pay-per-click has been less successful for meetings and conferences but we are planning to test advertising on Linkedin and Facebook. We have done advertising for business memberships on Linkedin and have received some helpful feedback from HR professionals but we have not had any pick-up on the promotion.