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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BlogHer Business 2008: Hats Off To Wiggly Wigglers

Another fascinating aspect of social media is that it 'enables' the most unlikely businesses.

Take farming.

At first glance you might not think that farming and social media have much in common, until you start listening to Wiggly Wigglers' Heather Gorringe who, during the BlogHer Business 2008 social media creation case study, shared her story with us and Maria Niles, CEO of ConsumerPop Marketing and author of the [no longer available] Let It Out Blog™ for Kleenex® brand tissues.

It's all about "having a chat to save the world," in Heather's words. "Who doesn't want to do that?" she asks. I sure do. Especially with Heather who has the most disarming yet intense manner about her. Just listening to her [and talking with her over BlogHer Business 2008 and Blogger Social 2008], I want to get composting again [despite the bears]. She is passionate about farming and social media. She wants to engage people personally. Connect with them, find commonalities.

Heather and Wiggly Wigglers [a "UK-based gardening and farming e-commerce site"] hail from Herefordshire in the UK. Via social media, she has transformed her farming business into a global entity despite that it's located in a village of 63 people. Via social media, she brings everyone from Wiggly Wigglers into your life, "dear listener."

She got started with Wiggly Wigglers in 1990 with a worm composting kit. In 1995, she created a website to promote the company and the products, essentially creating markets because people weren't [yet] composting or doing natural gardening.

Heather talks about the current state of farming: 25,000 farmers are left in the UK. It's in a state of decline, with many farmers losing their sense of self-respect despite knowing so much about what affects every single one of us day in and day out.

Heather likes to talk [and she will have you in stitches]. She accepts that she's not much of a writer so has delegated the writing of the Wiggly blog to Karen Dowell in late 2007. However, she is a terrific podcaster. She has always been intrigued with the notion of a radio show, and, in June 2005, downloaded her first podcast. Unlike radio, she didn't have to fuss with licensing, censoring or control from the likes of the BBC. She shares commonalities across the world, information and perspectives. The shows are friendly, humorous, informative and really fun. As I listened, I visualized the Wiggly sofa, Ricardo, Heather and Farmer Phil. I felt the nasty unseasonal weather. I felt the humanity of the people around the sofa, and the relevance of the subjects they discussed. Every Thursday, Wiggly Wigglers produces a podcast. About whatever is relevant or happening. Perhaps with a guest, or simply the Wiggly experts.

As Heather points out, success is fully a function of using a medium that she loves and that farmers all around can relate to. Can she use it? What about others? Can they easily access it, and keep up? It has to be easy; the technology can't get in the way.

For that same reason, Facebook has been surprisingly effective. The Wiggly Wigglers FaceBook Group is active with over 500 members who help promote the podcast, the catalog and other Wiggly passions.

Heather has been surprised at the longevity of the podcasts, and how effective they are for building an audience. She has gone beyond podcasts into videos, having done 3 so far.

Interestingly, the Wiggly Catalog represents a collaboration between Wiggly's passionate supporters and customers - i.e., the Wiggly Wigglers' community - around the world. All done via Facebook. [Heather, is there any chance you might post a pdf of the catalog? Save paper costs and let more participate in the magic of this community creation?]

As Heather has gotten more immersed in social media, she has shifted how she spends money, gradually decreasing traditional paid advertising in favor of podcasts, or advertorial podcasts that support editorial coverage. The end result is a more equal relationship between advertiser and advertising vehicle whereby the unique Wiggly voice comes through. Imagine, via Facebook, a blog and podcast with 40,000 regular listeners.

Please spend time both listening to the Wiggly podcast, and visiting the Wiggly website. You will be amazed at how friendly and personable both are. You know who makes Wiggly Wigglers come to life; you know what the company is passionate about. You can identify with the energy each puts into meeting the needs of the Wiggly community.

This is not a cold, one-dimensional corporate entity uninterested in interacting with its customer base. Quite the contrary.

This is an example for all of us. No wonder that Wiggly Wigglers has been showcased as a Social Media Case Study. Here is one from Fortune magazine: Should your business be on Facebook? Ask FSB's experts help small business owners cut through the social-networking thicket. By Kathleen Ryan O'Connor.

From that article:
"Her company, Wiggly Wigglers, is all about making a farmer out of anyone, even if your land holdings amount to little more than a window box. Gorringe used to spend more than $220,000 per year on traditional advertising, but a simple podcast costing her only $200 per week to produce has been her most effective effort. Now nearly all of her advertising now falls under the umbrella of social media: the podcast, a blog, a Facebook page, and of course, a Web homepage. What started with little more than passion in 1990 has flourished into a million-dollar business, growing 10% per year and employing 20 staffers."

My hat is off to you, Wiggly Wigglers for turning social media into such a rich composty fertile medium where ideas and business grow so robustly!

[Christa from Christa in New York live blogged several of the BlogHer Business 2008 sessions. Check out her account of this and the other social media creation case studies.]

Additional Wiggly Information:
Wiggly Wigglers was UK Small Business Champion in 2005 and is the current holder of Mouse and Trowel award for best Gardening Podcast. Go vote!

Heather is a member of the Institute for Agricultural Management and a 2007 Nuffield Farming Scholar studying Web 2.0 and social media and the opportunities they bring to farming and rural communities. [Notice her blog descriptor: Heather Gorringe - Around the World in 80 Megabytes. One woman's journey around the World - with the aim to shake up farming using Web 2.0 and Social Media.]

She is also part of The Podcast Sisters with Anna Farmery from The Engaging Brand [recently profiled in Marketing Profs ] and Krishna De, the show that describes itself as "Web 2.0 for the Non Geek!"

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