While most agricultural concerns are still kept in the family, the close-knit farming community is becoming increasingly social. By snapping, posting and sharing, farmers are telling their unique stories and building relationships with potential customers from coast to coast.
Those using social media platforms highlight the benefits of engaging customers, building brand awareness and sharing information in a timely manner. On the flip side, the instantaneous nature of social media requires forethought and a commitment to staying current.
“I want to make sure every farm I work with has a strong marketing plan, and certainly social media can be a part of that mix,” says Annie Baggett, agritourism marketing specialist for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. However, she continues, it’s important to keep social media in perspective as one piece of a broader plan.
Planting the Seeds
Five generations have kept Vollmer Farm in Bunn a thriving operation. Begun as a tobacco farm, current owner Russ Vollmer’s father transitioned to produce, and today, the certified organic farm is also a popular agritourism business hosting farm stays, weddings, tours, a festive fall pumpkin patch, ice cream shop and a marketplace.
Vanessa Weathers, who heads marketing efforts and is engaged to Vollmer, says they use a variety of social media platforms but rely most heavily on Facebook. In addition to using an organic reach to interactively engage followers, Weathers invests in boosted posts when she wants to tailor her messaging. “I can go in and choose a demographic we’re targeting – an age group, a specific town,” she explains. “It makes it so easy to reach a certain group of folks.”
“I was not so much of a believer in the power of social media, but I was proven wrong by Vanessa,” Vollmer adds with a laugh. “It’s become not just something we want to do – we realize we need to spend a certain amount of time on it. I used to think it got in the way of my work, but actually it’s become a part of my work.”
When Weathers says, “Everybody is on Facebook,” she isn’t exaggerating. According to a recent Pew Social Media Update, Facebook has an average of 1.15 billion daily active users. “Nearly 71 percent of all adult internet users have a Facebook account,” Baggett adds.
Sunburst Trout Farms, headquartered in Waynesville, was an earlier adopter of digital media.
“We’ve been doing social media since January 2009, which is pretty early on in the scheme of social media,” says Anna Eason, marketing and human resources director for Sunburst.
Current owners Ben and Wes Eason are the grandsons of Dick Jennings Jr., who founded the company in 1948 to supply trout to anglers and sportsmen. Over the years, the customer base has expanded to include grocers, restaurateurs and individuals. Eason notes their famed trout jerky has loyal customers from New England to California.
“Our reach, which just used to be local within a hundred miles, has now expanded all across the U.S.,” she says, adding social media helps her engage customers nationwide. Like Weathers, she uses boosted posts as needed, allowing her to target a much larger audience when the marketing plan calls for it. With her degree and background in marketing and informatics, Eason also pays close attention to the analytics available through social media platforms. “I definitely look at our peak traffic times to figure out when to post,” she says.
Avoiding a Drought
An important but tricky tool, one common pitfall is neglecting social media channels. Baggett notes, “If you make a pledge to have a presence in social media, don’t jump on every channel. Make a thoughtful plan and follow through.”
While best practices call for posting daily, Eason recognizes that might not be possible but encourages posting at least weekly. “Keep it fresh and updated so people don’t forget about you.”
Vollmer says in reality, it only takes a few minutes to stop the tractor, capture a shot and post it. “We have to move some of our mental furniture to make room to realize this is the most effective way to reach a certain customer base,” he explains.
Eason agrees, noting, “It just takes five minutes to snap a picture of what you’re doing.” However, she continues, none of that matters if there isn’t a plan to capitalize on the attention gained through Facebook or Instagram. “In addition to social media, you need to have a good website. It validates everything you’ve shown people. If you’re not keeping that updated, customers are not going to come because they don’t know how to find you.”