As you look at the costs for seeds, growing media, lighting and everything else that comes with the 2023 season, be sure to include a line item for marketing. Word of mouth is great, but it’s not enough in today’s digital world. However, you also need to make sure you’re seeing results from the funds you put into marketing.

Dr. Bridget Behe, professor of horticultural marketing at Michigan State University, is an expert on the subject. She presented “What Did My Marketing Dollars Actually Do? Measuring Marketing ROI in the Digital World” at the most recent Cultivate event.

“Measuring ROI is like trying to hug a cloud,” she said. It can be an ephemeral endeavor, but Behe presented several ways to consider it.

First, she noted that omnichannel shopping is the biggest area of growth for customers. Three out of four U.S. consumers say they shop both online and in stores. The biggest new window is online shopping, but not to the exclusion of in-store shopping. She mentioned specifically that 11% of purchasing is done directly via social media (per a McKinsey and Company survey), and she believes that number is only going to go up.

With so much online activity, expenditures for online ads total more than all other media combined today. “It’s about the dynamics of each platform,” Behe said. “It is imperative, more so than ever before, to understand the demographic of your market (and their social media platform of choice).” Yes, Facebook is still the most popular, but it is only for those generally in their late twenties and older, and it has a limited reach. Pinterest is definitely more female-centric; Instagram is designed only for images and videos.

TikTok, with 689 million users, is reaching a younger generation but only allows for posting of videos. However, “TikTok ad spending is up 200%,” Behe said. “The static picture is not doing it anymore. People need moving pictures and music.”

JD Carrere, an independent news journalist and digital creator based in New Orleans, shared tips for taking advantage of social media algorithms (specifically for Instagram). “The algorithm works like a points system,” he explained. “Hypothetically speaking: [you earn] two points for posting a Reel, and five points for creating a Reel within Reels versus reposting a TikTok video. The more you feed the algorithm, the more it rewards your impressions.”

The impressions are key. Carrere noted that while he has 11,000 followers, his impressions (views, likes, shares, etc.) are sometimes 50 times greater than that over the course of a month.

Using an algorithm to your advantage “gives someone like me who doesn’t have a massive following an opportunity for a much larger reach,” Carrere said.

Behe said social media has to be a part of your big plan. “We have benchmarks in other areas, but we need it for social media too,” she said. “We need to be proactive in thinking how we can make this social media presence work for our business.”

Businesses have goals for sales and for production, but they should have an overall advertising and marketing budget and goals too. They should be specific goals for customer retention, satisfaction, engagement, etc.

“You’re not alone in your struggle to hug this cloud. Like horticulture, it takes time to produce results,” Behe said.

She explained that social media ROI matters because you want to see what you get for what you invest. There is now a universal expectation that all businesses have a social media presence. Measuring ROI can help you adjust your future social media campaigns and it helps with overall advertising decisions.

“A lot of first-time [horticulture] buyers are younger – and they’re buying more things online, and they have more social media accounts,” Behe explained. “The goal is to recruit younger buyers to become omnichannel shoppers.” She added that a good intermediary step is selling plants and other goods online and having them pick up in-store. (Ask people to tag you on social media too – it only adds to your bottom line.)

Behe also said that people can’t buy something if they’re not aware of it – and that’s where social media comes in very handy. It is often used to promote new products, but it can also state that a product is now available.

The buyer’s journey begins with awareness of a product, then consideration of whether or not to purchase it, then their decision, then their adoption of the product or business. Finally, it can end with advocacy for that good or service.

“Advocacy is not for the customer themselves, but for their community,” Behe said. Those who advocate are the “raving fans of your product.”

Your investment in social media marketing includes content (which can be provided for free by your advocates) or can be paid for. Also take into account labor, as time isn’t free; ad costs (for promoted Facebook posts or tweets); and using any software for management (such as Sprout Social or Hootsuite).

Behe outlined the steps for calculating your social media ROI:

  • Define the purpose of the social media campaign
  • Set measurable goals (likes, shares, etc.)
  • Make goals campaign-specific
  • Measure those goals
  • Calculate social media expenses
  • (Earnings – costs) x 100 / costs = Return on investment

Once you have the relevant data, see how social media marketing compares to your other advertising investments. Select the key metrics or key performance indicators that your management team feels are useful for each step in the buyer’s journey. Look at your key campaigns, whether they were for products or events.

“Don’t drown in the data – figure out what metrics are important to you,” Behe concluded.

by Courtney Llewellyn