Social Media Free and Worth the Effort, Farmers Told

1/26/2013 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent

HARRINGTON, Del. — Leaning over the fence and talking to your next-door neighbor is not so far removed from Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

That was one of the messages from a social media session for farmers during the recent Delaware Ag Week in Harrington. The Wednesday, Jan. 16, session focused primarily on Facebook and Twitter.

Among the speakers was Mike Fennemore of Fifer Orchards in Camden, a farm that has been growing apples and peaches since 1919.

Fennemore urged producers to not be intimidated by social media, saying it allows you to get your message out quickly with a minimum of expense. “All these tools are word-of-mouth advertising.”

Fifer Orchards uses Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as well as e-newsletters. They currently have 5,700 Facebook fans and 1,300 Twitter fans.

They have also had a website for the last 12 years.

Fennemore urged people to remember the rule of three and 10. That means that a customer will talk to others about a bad experience 10 times, while he will only repeat a good experience three times.

Katy O’Connell, communication and information technology manager with the University of Delaware, offered some other reasons for farmers to think about “new” media. She said surveys show that 86 percent of consumers skip over television ads, that 44 percent of direct mail is never opened and that there is a 46 percent decline in technical and trade show spending.

Finally, she noted that Facebook now has one billion users worldwide, and it’s free.

What are some of the things that social media can be used for? Providing recipes, answering consumer questions, promoting upcoming events and specials, telling people what’s in season, doing surveys and providing photos are a few suggestions.

Fennemore said Fifer used a survey to ask customers what new ice cream flavors they most wanted to see in the Fifer store.

He called surveys a “nice way to get feedback.”

Media like YouTube can be used to upload and show videos. Other social media like Twitter allow you to take a quick picture and upload it to help promote your product.

Michele Walfred, communications specialist with the University of Delaware, said the single most popular picture that the university creamery can post has nothing to do with ice cream. It’s a picture of a newborn calf.

Videos can include everything from: how to make applesauce to Department of Agriculture Food for Thought videos to commercials for your product. One of Fifer’s postings on YouTube is a short video from the farm’s strawberry festival showing kids picking strawberries.

Walfred said photos are a great way to put a face on your product. It can be something as simple as bees on strawberry blossoms or a beautiful sunrise over the farm fields.

Social media has become so popular that CNN has even run articles with titles like “Twittering (actually tweeting is correct) from the Tractor.”

Social media can also be used to head off problems. If, for example, someone posts something incorrect about your product, you can quickly clarify it and turn a negative into a positive.

O’Connell said social media also allows you to be an “agvocate” for agriculture. She said the farming community sometimes feels like it is under attack by activists and that social media is a good way to answer those concerns and help people better understand the role of agriculture.

Here are a few tips:

Avoid polarizing comments on issues like religion and politics. “Your customers are going to have different views,” she said.

Always be polite. Instead of firing off, “That’s stupid,” say something more like, “I appreciate your interest and concern, but I disagree with you and this is why.”

Keep messages short, sweet and upbeat. When tweeting, try not to use more than 120 characters. You can use 140 characters, but by limiting it to 120 characters, it allows messages to be retweeted without losing any of your message.

Report SPAM.

Use strong passwords.

Try to use the same photo for different social media in order to be consistent.

Speakers suggested that you try to create a dialog with your social media. When you encourage people to send photos or recipes, take surveys or be involved with your business, then you are using the media more effectively because customers are more connected, said O’Connell.

She said two common problems are that people forget that it is “social” media and that it needs planning. Good social media needs to be planned and updated regularly and does not simply just happen.

She said you have to decide what is right for your business and then try to engage customers, keep your information current and respond to questions and concerns.

A common excuse for not using social media is that there isn’t enough time. O’Connell said the answer is to simply have someone else do social media for you.

For those with trust concerns, you can set things like Facebook pages with the security setting you choose, whether that means everyone can see it or almost no one can see it, she said.

For Twitter users, you may want to tune in to #agchat. It’s a food, farming and fiber chat every Tuesday evening from 8 to 10 p.m. and draws national attention.

Another suggested resource to help explain “new” media is a YouTube video from the Virginia Farm Bureau. The video is “Shift Happens: From Traditional to New Media.”

While social media is important, it isn’t enough to make your business thrive, Fennemore said.

“Social media is not the be all and end all of marketing. ... Provide a quality product and good service and the three times effect (the rule of three and 10) will take care of the rest.”

Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

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