Social media has quickly become a valuable marketing tool for small-scale farmers. According to surveys conducted through the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, more than 70 percent of all Internet users also use social media, giving producers the opportunity to reach a broader audience. These users are spread among platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with Facebook alone reporting more than 1 billion users (as of Nov. 12014). Social media can help strengthen your relationship with current customers, while also extending your reach to new audiences, resulting in product loyalty and increased sales.
Once you have your social media accounts in place, you might find yourself wondering about your next step. Gaining followers and engaging your audience is a challenge for every business owner, but as popular social media platforms grow, so do best practices for farmers to reach potential customers.
Facebook is by far the most used social media platform, which means it holds huge potential for your home-based business. Visuals are king on social media, and Facebook recommends regularly including photos of your customers using your products or services. Ask them to submit photos and perhaps provide a testimonial that you can share on your page. You can also turn to your fans for feedback. Ask what flavor of jam they would like to see next season or what variety of tomato they would love for you to sell at the farmers’ market.
Make your followers feel special. Provide coupon codes for a percentage off their next purchase or a discount for referring a friend. These types of posts often get shared, which can increase your reach and the number of likes for your page. Also remember that your fans want to be heard. Respond to or like all the comments you receive in a timely manner. People are more likely to engage again if they’re engaged in return.
Facebook suggests keeping the text for your posts between 100 to 250 characters to increase fan engagement. Timing is also an important factor, but the best time is specific to your audience. Test out your posts at different times on different days and keep track of the engagement. Fortunately, the scheduling feature on Facebook makes this easy. Schedule some earlymorning, mid-afternoon and late-night posts and compare their results for the best performance.
The same goes for determining how many times to post updates each day. Some businesses have success posting only one time per day, while others post two to three times. The best course of action is to start posting one or two times a day and gradually increase in frequency. Find the number that boosts engagement without overwhelming your followers, which can lead to them unliking or hiding your page. Your results might not always be consistent, but testing the waters can boost your visibility and increase conversation with your fans.
Twitter is focused on being in the moment, so while scheduling tools can help keep your posts consistent, the experts at Twitter suggest participating in live-tweeting to increase engagement. Tweeting around a current event allows you to join the conversation, make connections and gain followers. Adding one or two hashtags to your tweets will connect you to conversations already in progress or help people searching for a specific topic find you.
Twitter also suggests hosting Q&A sessions where you invite your followers to ask questions for a specified period of time. You might name this something like #AskFarmerBen or #AskBlueBellFarm. Taking a poll from your audience can also encourage conversation. You might structure the tweet as, “Poll: Which jam sounds better—blueberry basil or blueberry lavender?” As with other platforms, photos are effective on Twitter. Use tweets to give a behind-the-scenes look at your business.
Twitter for Business offers some advice for tweet length and frequency, reporting that tweets shorter than 100 characters get a 17 percent higher engagement rate. Most companies find tweeting three to five times per day effective for engagement and reaching new followers. A report from TrackMaven, a social media marketing tool for businesses, shows that Twitter activity increases during the work day with the highest frequency of tweets occurring between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Eastern time; however, more engagement through retweets occurs in the evening between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. Eastern time. The best time will be determined by your audience, so test out tweets just like you would Facebook posts.
Remember to retweet and reply. Acknowledge those who tweet to you or about your products by retweeting their positive comments and reply with a quick thank you. Many people do not use the business handle when tweeting so be sure to search for your product or business name without the “@” to catch tweets that may not enter your notifications feed.
What Facebook and Twitter have preached to us about the power of pictures, Instagram is proving with its growing popularity. This image-driven platform gives business owners an opportunity to share more of what they do with potential customers and to promote products in creative ways.
Keep the theme of your account consistent and make an effort to share high-quality photos, but get creative with how you promote your products. Every picture doesn’t need to be of a package or label—share a photo of your jam spread over fresh baked biscuits or of your goat’s milk in an eye-catching smoothie. Capture the fruit before it’s made into preserves, the goats playing in the field or your weekend farmers’ market setup. These special glimpses into your operation will help draw followers and increase engagement.
Hashtags are a powerful tool on Instagram, and the platform recommends using hashtags relevant to your photos but that go beyond a general term. For example, #goat has over 1 million photos making it easy for yours to get lost in the shuffle, but #goatmilk and #goatmilksoap show far fewer photos, giving you the opportunity to reach people that are looking for a specific product.
Take time to search hashtags and explore the tags you see in other photos to find where your business might fit.
Instagram is accessible via a desktop computer or laptop, but it’s designed to be used with a smartphone or tablet. If you don’t have one of these devices, consider focusing your social media efforts on another platform.
This platform creates an opportunity to reach audiences that you might miss with Twitter or Facebook. It’s ideal for sharing photos and integrates well if you’re using other Google services, such as Blogger and YouTube.
Another visual platform, Pinterest provides a creative way to market your products. By using product-pin tools, you can add pricing, availability and information on where to buy the item.
Tumblr is most popular with those under 30, making it a helpful platform for reaching younger audiences. It acts as a blog but allows you to like and share posts and photos, often creating viral content and big jumps in followers.
If you enjoy making and sharing videos, YouTube can allow you to give followers a sneak peek into your business by sharing your cheese-making process or cooking a new vegetable offered in member CSA boxes.
Choose and Commit
Just because there are multiple social media channels available doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Experiment to find the ones that work best for your business, committing to those that give you the reach and engagement you seek.
One of the worst things you can do is create an account, send consumers there and then forget about it. Questions left unanswered and comments with no response can frustrate followers and reflect badly on your products and services. Encourage your fans to follow you on the platforms where you’re most active. By engaging with your audience and incorporating best practices, you can use social media to generate important supporters of your farm-based business.
Get more beginning farmer help on HobbyFarms.com:
- 11 Rules for Beginning Farmers to Live By
- 6 Beginning Farmer Tips for Securing Farm Funding
- The Beginning Farmer’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency
- The Beginning Farmer’s Guide to Preparing for Drought
- What the Frack? Beginning Farmers’ Energy and Pollution Dilemma
About the Author: Lori Rice is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring the ins and outs of social media. She is a loyal Twitter fan, but she’ll admit that Instagram and Pinterest come in at a close second. Lori provides social-media management services and content curation for a number of her clients in food, agriculture and health. Follow her on Twitter @Lori_Rice.