If the last decade has shown us anything, the new frontier of interaction and communication has been a boon to growers. Bridging the gap between the field and table is now a click away in myriad ways, and building your audience is now part and parcel of building your customer base. Growers of any size can now take advantage of tools that years ago were only available to large corporations with marketing departments.

The digital world has continued to expand in amazing directions, not the least of which is social media. It’s no longer new, though; it’s just part of your marketing toolbox, if you’re a forward-looking business. How you connect with your customers, suppliers and peers now includes a significant amount of online time.

The numbers are staggering:

Social site Twitter (www.twitter.com) said in April 2011 that it was adding just under a half million new accounts per day and that there are 175 million registered users (www.ReadWriteWeb.com).

Facebook (www.facebook.com) reported in January 2011 that it had over 600 million registered users, including millions of business pages.

As with many new opportunities, though, it can be a double-edged sword. The online world remains the Wild West in many ways, and feedback can sometimes be abrasive and even abusive. Part of managing your image now includes managing that feedback, handling it and owning any criticism as much as praise.

The other trick is finding the right way to use these tools to benefit your business, genuinely build your customer base and make that connection in a meaningful way. There isn’t any secret sauce, though. The best advice is to be yourself, represent the business in a positive way, interact whenever possible and, as an old Internet adage advises, “don’t feed the trolls” – that is to say, don’t take the bait, don’t engage in an open verbal battle with antagonistic individuals and, whatever you do, don’t let ’em get you down.

However, the benefits far outweigh the costs for any business, especially one that involves direct customer interaction. Creating those lasting connections with your customers allows you to generate both goodwill and profits. From keeping an actively interested audience up to date on what’s available at the farmstand at any given time and engaging in meaningful discussions about important issues to promoting events and positive news, these platforms offer amazing flexibility and usefulness.

Now for the self-promotion, of course: Check us out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GrowingMagazine or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GrowingMagazine. Drop us a note, like our page, let us know about your business’ page or Twitter account.

We’d love to hear from you!

Bob M. Montgomery