Social media can not only help market your farm, but it can raise sales and bring in new customers. Starting with the basics with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there are hundreds of ways to utilize them for your farm.

Utilizing social media makes it easier to directly communicate with customers and put your farm out there to be discovered, especially among the younger generations. Visually, Facebook and Instagram take the cake and Twitter is great for quick updates on the go or on the farm.

How do I start?

With a plethora of social media platforms, how can an agricultural worker find his or her niche?

Karen Cannon, Life Sciences Communication Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has two recommendations on how to start up a social media platform.

“My first recommendation is to participate in listening. Find different informational accounts like news organizations or trade associations to grab information from,” she said. “Also, find leaders like University professors or leaders and organizations like advocacy organizations, for example.”

Secondly, she suggested to start engaging by sharing what these industry professionals and associations are posting.

“Use other people’s information to participate, especially if you’re reluctant to start participating on your own,” she added. “Share what you see and include your comment about it.”

By curating the information that you see and are interested in, add your perspective. That’ll help build your online reputation and your social media presence, Cannon emphasized.

Twitter

Twitter, according to Cannon, is the easiest for beginners.

With a cap of 140 characters, users can post what they think to the exact second and then have it retweeted by others who follow them. Hashtags, more easily recognized as the pound or number sign, are used to connect people with similar interests using one or more words.

“Facebook is more of a closed system and you almost have to curate it more,” Cannon said. “Twitter is faster. I look at Facebook as a social network and Twitter is an informational network and my way of directing people to something.”

Finding your voice and tone for your posts is just as important.

“Lean towards being conversational rather than distant-professional,” Cannon recommened. “By nature of its name, social media is social. It’s important to be approachable and open to discussion and ideas.”

Hashtags are great tools to help bring new viewers to your farm business that pertain to the farm life. However, it’s important to note that hashtags can sometimes take off and become something completely opposite of what it was meant to be in the first place.

A case study example of a hashtag taking off in the wrong way is #Farm365, where animal rights activists hijacked the hashtag and posted photos of animals, ‘reveal’ the treatment of them and accuse farmers of being murderers.

According to Lyndsey Smith of http://RealAgriculture.com, there’s a real danger of those extremist views taking over the hashtag feed and drowning out this incredible opportunity for consumers to openly ask questions directly of farmers.

If and when something like that happens, it’s crucial to answer calmly and refrain from being negative. Click here to read how the original hashtag’s owner handled the situation. (http://www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca/2015/01/08/the-highs-lows-of-week-one-on-farm365/)

Facebook

Christine Glade/istock

With Facebook, users can make business profiles to “promote products and network with existing and potential consumers,” according to the Social Media Tools for Farm Product Marketing white paper. Building a customer base, increasing sales and promoting new products are just three advantages of using Facebook. Starting discussions and commenting on other discussions can elevate the experience for both you and your fans.

The key is to post content that is useful for your fans without the risk of getting blocked, according to Social Media Tools for Farm Product Marketing. Posting photos is another great tip to get more traction to the farm’s Facebook site. People are visual creatures and would sometimes rather see a photo than read a paragraph.

According to an example from Social Media Tools for Farm Product Marketing, Carrie Vaughn, a farmer, carries a camera around the farm as she works and her coworker posts the photos to give people an ongoing connection with what’s happening at the farm.

For beginning farmers, utilizing Facebook can help get you started off on the right foot. Advertising sales and anything else happening on your farm can save some time and money.

Instagram

Instagram takes the lead as being one of the popular photo-sharing social platforms. Using different filters, users can slightly edit their photos for their audience to see. Profiles can also be connected to Facebook and Twitter accounts for more audience visibility.

Farmers can snap photos of their business and livestock and share photos for their followers to see and comment on. Similar to Twitter, Instagram users can also use the hashtag symbol to connect with others who have similar interests.

Developing a social media strategy that coordinates with your farm and other accounts and sticking to it can help your farm business in the long run. Once you have been at it for a few months, it’ll be easy to tell which account has the most traction and influences sales the most. From there, you can then decide whether or not to invest into that specific social media platform with ads or sponsored posts.

“In agriculture, we can’t afford to keep operating on the defense,” Cannon said. “We have to be upfront about things and let things happen as they might.”

The No. 1 rule is to not be nasty, Cannon adds.

“Restrain yourself from being negative, even if you see something that enrages you,” she said. “It’s important to understand for your own piece of mind and online reputation to be a person with dignity. Be who you are offline, online. Engage thoughtfully and don’t troll and pick on people.”

Photo courtesy: shotbydave/istock

The only thing you can control is what you put out there, according to Cannon. Once you put it out there, you cannot get it back.

“You can’t control what happens, so being thoughtful and strategic in what you do is crucial,” she said.

Digital and social media are growing year after year. If the agricultural community doesn’t get on board, they might be pushed out of the way.

“There’s no question about it, social media isn’t new anymore,” Cannon emphasized. “It’s here to stay.”

Cover photo: zorattifabio/istock