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Growing Your Social Graces

How to cultivate your operation's Facebook strategy
By Marcia Passos Duffy


You may already have a Facebook page for your agriculture business. If you don't, go to Facebook now (www.facebook.com/pages/create.php). It's free and only takes minutes to set up.

Even if you've had a Facebook page for months, or even years, you may not know exactly how to use it. After all, isn't Facebook for high school kids or people with a lot of time on their hands?

True, Facebook's demographics are weighted heavily toward young adults, but that is changing, and more businesses are seeing the benefits of jumping aboard this social media giant. After all, Facebook boasts more than 500 million users - half of whom log in every day - and that means one out of every 13 people on earth (see sidebar) has a Facebook account. These are staggering statistics.

So, how does a grower capitalize on this trend? How can you get "likes" and encourage people to "share" and publicize your farm? For these answers, we consulted three Facebook experts:

  • Catriona Harris, managing partner, Uproar PR, public relations and social media experts, with offices in Orlando, Fla., and San Francisco, Calif.
  • Chris Heiler, a social media consultant and speaker and owner of Landscape Leadership, LLC of Austin, Texas.
  • Mark Schmulen, general manager, social media, Constant Contact, a company specializing in email and social media marketing.

In what ways do businesses use Facebook that are not helpful?

Catriona

Too often companies hop on Facebook for the sake of hopping on and just post random pieces of information. Even though the platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest) are social, they need to include effective communication from and about the company.

Chris

You can't use it solely as an advertising medium, because that won't get results. When businesspeople look at all the statistics about how many people are on Facebook, they can get the wrong idea. Facebook is not the place to advertise products and services, because people who are on social media don't want to be marketed to.

Mark

The main reasons people "unlike" have to do with relevancy and frequency. Content isn't king; relevant content is king. Effective marketing is about earning your audience's permission and delivering relevant and actionable content without being overly intrusive. It's not only important to produce great, engaging content, but to follow best practices and find the right balance between overdoing it and not communicating enough.

How can a farm get more "likes" on its page?

Mark

A farm could run a social campaign with a compelling offer asking people to like their page in exchange for a coupon or discount or free admission to an upcoming farm event, for example. After creating the offer and publishing it to Facebook, they can send out an email to their existing subscribers notifying them about the campaign, and also post links to the campaign across Facebook and Twitter and any other online channels. This is a great and easy way to get existing fans excited, re-engage them and compel them to "share" with their friends. This type of engagement is golden, because it will keep the farm top of mind and even attract new customers.

Chris

First, it's important to remember that the goal is to get the right people to like your page. I'd rather have 100 of the right people following me than 1,000 people following me who aren't relevant to my business. To increase likes you have to post relevant content on a consistent basis, say five to 10 times per week. It takes an intentional effort to get more likes because people won't magically find your Facebook page; you have to publicize it. Get a shortened vanity Facebook URL by visiting www.facebook.com/username (you'll need 25 likes on your page in order to do this). Put your Facebook URL on everything, just like you do with your website and email.

Catriona

A farm may not need a goal of getting more likes; they probably need to focus on the quality of fans rather than the quantity. They are not necessarily trying to reach every end consumer out there.

How can Facebook best be used to promote a farm business?

Mark

No matter the business, many tend to forget the "marketing" in social media marketing and think social media success is just about posting content and getting as many people as possible to like your page. The truth is that for a farm to get real business results from their efforts, they should set their goals higher than just getting more fans and followers. To maximize their investment in social media, it's crucial that farms build a community, engage their audience and create "word-ofw-mouth" by compelling their audience to share the farm's message with friends.

Catriona

Farm businesses need to focus on who their key customers are and determine if Facebook attracts them or builds a relationship with them. For most, the answer is going to be "yes," but it may just be a handful of people. Farms need to focus on the interaction with fans rather than the number of fans, as quality is much more important than quantity. Post things you want those key customers to know that they may not get anywhere else.

Chris

The first step is to identify the audience the farm most wants to connect with on Facebook. Is it a pick-your-own customer? Is it a wholesale company? A grocery store? Remember, the message will be different for each of these audiences. Facebook is better at connecting with customers than other businesses - LinkedIn is better for B2B. If a farm wants to connect with its retail customers, the best thing to do is to post meaningful content, not blatant advertising. Some of the marketing and promotional stuff is OK, but stick to the 90/10 rule. With 90 percent fitting the criteria of content that is meaningful, useful, entertaining or inspiring. You can market your farm, but keep those posts in the five to 10 percent range. With a grower, what falls into the 90 percent can include seasonal tips, recipes and even behind-the-scenes photos of farm work.

How can you get Facebook users on a page to interact and share?

Chris

Studies have shown that photos are the most seen update on Facebook. So post pictures of your farm operation and plants or trees that are blossoming or growing. Farm operations have a great opportunity to connect with Facebook "likes" by posting its own recipes with photos. This will get a lot of likes and shares. The beauty of shares is that you get exponential exposure. For example, if you have 100 fans and three people share something you post to their personal page, with an average of 100 friends, you are potentially reaching 300 more people. It is almost like your fans are doing the marketing for you, but it's so subtle they don't even know they're marketing.

Facebook: Serious Business

Just in case you aren't quite convinced that your agriculture business should be on Facebook, consider the following statistics:

  • Each and every day Facebook is viewed 700 million minutes, 72 million links are shared, 144 million friendship requests are accepted, 216 million messages are sent, and 30 billion pieces of content are shared (according to 2011 Digital Buzz Block Facebook Statistics).
  • The average Facebook user has 130 friends and accesses 80 community and event pages. Users spend about 16 hours a month on Facebook, about half-hour each day. Forty-eight percent of 18 to 35 year olds check Facebook immediately when they wake up. The average age of a Facebook user is growing - the 26 to 44-year-old demographic is about 36 percent of users and growing (according to Web Business Facebook Demographics, 2011).

Facebook is not all fun and games. It can be seriously good for business. According to the Syncapse Social Trac Report, the average Facebook user spends $71.84 on products they "like," and the average fan is 41 percent more likely to recommend the product or service on business pages they like to friends.

Catriona

By posting relevant content to your key users, you will automatically garner the interaction you are looking for. Facebook has great analytics built in that shows you just how your fans are responding to content. No two brands have the same fan base, so what works for one company might not work for another. Listen to your fans, just as you listen to your customers traditionally. See what they respond to. If your posts are being shared, that is one key indicator that your content is interesting and worthwhile to your audience.

Mark

Word-of-mouth has always been the best way to grow business. Social media marketing is really just word-of-mouth powered by technology; and sharing is social media's essential function. Social media is all about discovering and sharing cool stuff, and every interaction you have through social media has the potential to reach many new people. Sharing is important because it is an endorsement that is visible for everyone to see online, and it opens you up to an audience that is much greater than your current following. Sharing gives your content the "network effect."

Describe what you think "success" means for a Facebook page.

Chris

Facebook success totally depends on your objective. There are typically three broad objectives for using Facebook or any social media: brand awareness, direct sales or customer loyalty. Companies need to pick one of them, not all of them, and just focus on that.

Catriona

Each company is going to have its own goals for Facebook. Not every business should strive to have 10,000 or 100,000 fans. You should look at your target customers and figure out how you can get to them. If you find a percentage of them liking your page and interacting with the brand, your Facebook page is successful. Prior to Facebook, there was no real-time way to get information into the hands of those people; now there is.

Mark

In one word: engagement. An engaged community is a successful one. The key is remembering that it's not just about getting the "like." It's about what you do to keep your fans engaged when they aren't right in front of you. This means posting content that will both help you to build stronger relationships, as well as to compel fans to share your content with their friends. The ability to easily share content across a wide network is what makes Facebook such a powerful referral engine. Consumers want more than content online; they want to make a human connection. This means it's no longer enough to push information out to your audience. You need to engage with them and have real, meaningful, two-way conversations. Consumers are not only willing to connect with brands on Facebook, but those that do are also more likely to buy from and recommend brands to their friends.

Any other Facebook tips you'd like to share?

Catriona

If you don't understand Facebook or other social media platforms, partner with somebody who does; they can help you decipher what you need and don't need. There are many firms out there that can help you at a number of levels, whether it's putting together a plan that you can follow yourself, or completely handling and running your social media strategy.

Mark

If agriculture businesses would like more information, a list of 29 links to posts that the Constant Contact crew has put together to help make you awesome at Facebook marketing can be found at: http://conta.cc/GrowingFacebook0612.

Chris

Let people see what's behind the curtain on your farm. Farming is a profession that is held in high regard and people are curious about the work. Show people what you do on a daily basis. Don't just show off the apples or corn, but show off everything that goes along with growing it. Tell a story about your farm.

The author is a freelance writer from Keene, N.H.