Feb 4th, 2010

Snow & Shortys Take the Garden by Storm

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

It’s  been a whirlwind week at the Garden.  First, almost a foot of snow, which until this year, hardly EVER happened in Richmond. The Garden shut down for 3 days while we cleared the snow from the walkways. And, practically at the same time, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was declared a finalist in the Shorty Awards — “the Oscars of Twitter.”  Not only that, but thanks to Richmond’s incredibly supportive social media community, we were “seeded” in 1st place.

The Shorty Awards are an international competition that attract quite a bit of attention. In the #culturalinstitution category, we were up against some heavy hitters including  MOMA, and The Royal Shakespeare Company. We’re not a tiny garden, but with just over 40 acres, and about 50 full-time employees we’re kinda’ small compared to MOMA.  For example, on Twitter, we have about 2,750 followers compared to MOMA’s 75,500 plus!  The Garden has only been on Twitter for 15 months. Well in the world of social media, everything is new. The #Shortys themselves are only in their second year.  Which is why, I think, that there is some confusion about what  the ShortyAwards  stand for, and what it all means.  I wondered that myself, in fact. What would the value be to go for such an award? What would it bring to the Garden? And why might I pursue it?

After reading the Shorty Awards website in more detail, it all became clear. If you look past the flashy judges (MC Hammer and Alyssa Milanno) you’ll see that this is a legit competition, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For me, all of a sudden it clicked why this contest  is important. The Knight Foundation takes social media seriously, and that is why they sponsor these awards. More than most, they understand that emerging media, blogging and citizen journalism is the future, and that there is no going back. They also realize that the early adopters of emerging media need to be rewarded for taking risks, for being on the frontier and for doing social media well, so that they will continue to strive to be the best. As a former print journalist myself, who now runs a community news blog in addition doing social media for the Garden, I realized that  these are folks who speak my language.  The Knight Foundation’s mission is clear: They want to make a difference.

They,  “…seek opportunities that can transform both communities and journalism, and help them reach their highest potential. We want to ensure that each community’s citizens get the information they need to thrive in a democracy.”  They fund a lot of projects — to the tune of nearly $400 million dollars. And they expect projects that they fund, to show passion, among other things.  They have such a beautiful vision.

We believe nothing big happens without a big idea, nothing new without a new idea. In every project we fund, the idea comes first.

Every day, we ask the question, of ourselves and our partners, “Is this the best there is?” We seek out leaders who ask the same, who can identify the best opportunities and turn the big ideas into action.

The five basics that all transformational projects seem to have:

  • Discovery of the facts
  • The vision to see what’s possible
  • The courage to push for change
  • The know-how to get it done
  • The tenacity that gets results
And so, when someone questions, why I would take my precious time to go for a #Shorty Award. Or why I would ask you, to take your precious time to  go vote for the Garden in this contest, the answer is easy. It’s because I know that these forms of new media are critical in the transformation to the way we communicate with each other. And the Knight Foundation knows that too.  They are taking the time to find out who are leaders in the  new and wonderful world of social media.
And while the awards may be “trying the patience of many in the twittersphere,” the upside is that I have faith that The Real Time Academy will pick from the top finalists, not the person with the most votes, but the person with the best combined portfolio. They will look at what you said in your Shorty Interview. They will look at how you’ve helped people in your community, and if reached out to others in your field.  They will look at your network, of who is voting for you and why. And they will pick the winner based on merit, not popularity. After all, the Shortys say they are, “honoring the best content producers on Twitter,” not deciding who can ask for the most votes. Because social media is not about me and it is not about you. It is about us. It is about our community.
As for me, I’m on Twitter because I know I can connect with people that I need to connect with  that I cannot find anywhere else. Where else but via  Twitter. would have I found out about Landscapedia.info‘s  free mobile  phone application? Coming soon, because of this Twitter connection, you’ll be able to take a virtual tour of Lewis Ginter, on your phone. Landscapedia founder, Michael Franklin, was inspired by President Obama and created this application, so you can access 35,000 plants and a variety of public garden’s virtual tours, all for for free (which is very important when you are a non-profit garden like us!) Public gardens are talking to each other, getting advice, networking and helping each other on the #PublicGardens hash tag I created.  Most importantly,  the public can listen to the conversation, ask questions and connect as well.  I know that even if the garden doesn’t win a #Shorty, that we are doing something right, here at Lewis Ginter.  I know that we can bring the Garden to people who can’t get here today. And that maybe they’ll be dreaming about coming here all week because of a photo or a memory I shared with them.  And when they have time, they’ll come to the Garden. And they will experience something special when they come, whether it is curling up with their laptop by the fire in the library, using our new free WiFi access on a rainy day, or  building a fairy house in the Children’s Garden with their grandchildren. Yes, we have lots of plants and flowers here at the Garden, but we have so much more than that. We have a community.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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