The marriage of agriculture and social media likely conjures up images of crop seeding on Farmville, but socially savvy agribusinesses are proving that the connection runs much deeper than the popular Zynga game.
A 2011 study by the American Farm Bureau Federation revealed that of the 98 percent of farmers and ranchers ages 18-25 who have Internet access, 76 percent of them use social media. The agribusiness industry often gets a bad rep for being “behind the times,” an assumption that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In reality, agribusinesses have taken social media by storm as a channel that is revolutionizing both B2B and B2C communications for the industry.
Education a Key Driver
The agribusiness social media movement is in part due to the efforts of groups like the AgChat Foundation whose mission is to “empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms.”
The foundation serves as an educational resource designed to equip farmers and ranchers with the necessary skill set to engage with both businesses and consumers via social channels. The foundation’s website is full of useful tips and information that can benefit anyone from Twitter newcomers to blogging veterans looking for a new ways to use social media to interact with fellow farmers and consumers alike.
The takeaway is that sometimes it isn’t a resistance to technology that keeps a group or industry out of social media, but rather a lack of knowledge of how to productively use digital outreach for tangible business benefits. Marketers working in notoriously non social media friendly industries can learn from the way AgChat has made social channels not only accessible, but as a means for focused outreach.
One way the AgChat Foundation is working to get people talking is through weekly #AgChats on Twitter, held Tuesdays from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern time. These chats have seen more than 2,000 participants from seven countries and four continents.
#AgChat is moderated by a different agricultural professional each week, with recent chats being led by industry leaders like prime rib and hamburger farmer Darin Grimm (@kansfarmer) and #AgChat founder and agriculture advocate Michele Payn-Knoper (@mpaynknoper). #AgChat serves as a helpful forum to share stories, discuss the future and learn more about the status of current issues.
From an agribusiness marketing perspective, joining these Twitter chats provides participants great insight into the industry, and also gives farmers a chance to prove their thought leadership in a public forum. For farmers trying to build their businesses, looking into moderating or even just participating in these chats can be a great way to network within the field and gain respect and recognition from peers, a lesson that certainly transcends the agricultural industry.
Kickstarting Digital Development
Beyond the blogosphere and Twitterverse, farmers have tapped into other marketing channels to raise awareness for their causes. Maryland’s largest organic farm, One Straw Farm, has taken to Kickstarter as a way to harness digital influence and online fundraising for the development of two mobile apps.
The first app would provide a way for farmers to communicate with consumers on a weekly basis throughout the harvest season, while the second app would assist farmers with keeping records. No enterprise is immune from the need for record-keeping, and for an industry where the bulk of time is spent in the field (literally), this app would alleviate issues with recording procedures by enabling farmers to update their records from anywhere.
While, unfortunately, One Straw Farm’s campaign has fallen short of its fundraising goals, a simple search for “farm” on Kickstarter shows that numerous other agribusinesses are having success using the platform to raise funds for farm-related business endeavors. Even when a campaign fails to reach its fundraising goal, Kickstarter is still a valuable platform for increasing visibility of a business as a whole.
The media onslaught condemning the use of “pink slime” has made clear the growing focus on the farm-to-table movement, giving those in agribusiness yet another reason to turn to social media.
Ecotrust’s desire to connect professional buyers and sellers is what sparked the creation of its popular social networking platform FoodHub. FoodHub’s purpose is to provide an online community that connects farmers and ranchers with buyers and distributors. With this connection, buyers (who can range from chefs to school dining service directors) can easily obtain background information and stories about specific farmers and ranchers and their operations.
While the network is currently only available in the western U.S., FoodHub presents a great opportunity for all types of buyers to capitalize on the farm-to-table movement by hand-picking the farmers and ranchers they want to work with.
In addition to using platforms like FoodHub, farmers are also using social media on a personal basis to tell their farm’s story, give updates during the harvest season, promote upcoming farmers’ markets, answer consumer questions and more.
Self-described “Farm Girl” Erin Ehnle has spent all of her 20 years living on a farm, and now uses multiple social media platforms to share her experiences. Part-photographer, part-writer, and full-fledged farmer, Erin shares stories about her family’s central Illinois farm with more than 13,000 Facebook fans and a loyal blog following. Through photos, tweets, infographics, Pinterest, heartfelt blog entries and sharing informative articles, Erin proves the value of social outreach for farmers and small business owners alike.
Far beyond Farmville, agribusinesses are taking their experiences from farm to Facebook, showing that social media plays an important role in the industry’s B2B and B2C communications. By prioritizing the education of farmers and ranchers on the merits of embracing digital communications, the agriculture community has quickly taken advantage of social media to conduct outreach on a budget.
Carolyn Baumgarten is the community manager for SociaLogic, a Chicago-based full-service social media marketing agency.