May 07, 2018 | Mackenzie Moyer, Dr. John Foltz and Dr. Jay Akridge
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How Social Media Marketing Can Boost Your Business

Make better choices by understanding the platforms involved

How Social Media Marketing Can Boost Your Business

Do you feel your feed and grain business is lacking a push to take it to the next level? If so, it may be time for you to consider a social media strategy. In many cases, creative and effective use of social media has taken companies to that next level.

In today’s digital economy, word of mouth is being overshadowed by posts online. Instead of neighbors sharing news in person, they share it with each other via social media, texts and e-mail.

In the agricultural industry, we are seeing many companies use social media in creative and impactful ways. Beck’s Hybrids “Why I Farm” campaign and Dodge Ram’s “So God Made a Farmer” commercial have taken the web by storm and are prime examples of what social media can do for an agricultural product or to reach an agricultural market.

Whether you’re engaged in social media or not – social media will be a major part of the future of marketing. Forbes stated in 2016: “Numbers don’t lie. Based on data alone, there is no arguing that social media is changing the way brands connect with consumers.” And, even if you don’t see the application of social media with some of your current customers (better check your assumptions), social media will be key in reaching the next generation of farmers.

Where to start

There are thousands of different social media channels, however in the name of efficiency, we will only discuss four. The first one and arguably the most popular, is Facebook.

“With more than 2 billion monthly users, Facebook hosts over a quarter of the world’s population, providing advertisers with an unparalleled opportunity to reach virtually anyone and everyone,” said BigCommerce.com. You can log on to Facebook both on your laptop as a website or on your phone through their app. Facebook’s audience is all ages and you can reach many, many people very quickly.

As a business on Facebook, you would want to create something called a “page.” Other Facebook users can go to your page and find all the information they needed know about your business, including hours, location, a link to your website if you have one and your phone number.

Along with all of that information, your business’s Facebook page would be where you can post pictures and updates/information about deals going on within your business or a new brand of product you may be carrying. A Facebook page could be your outlet to spreading the word with a large audience about new things happening within your grain and feed business.

Twitter is another very popular social media platform for sharing news about your business. You get 280 characters to capture your message in a “tweet.” With your tweet, you can share photos, websites, useful articles or a university’s latest news. You can retweet others’ useful tweets. Twitter is a fast and timely way to engage with your customers.

If you want to get your customers news about how you will be handling a bad weather event, you can tweet it. If you wanted to share some new nutritional insights with your producers, you can share a link to a manufacturer’s website. If you want to introduce your new salesperson, you can tweet it. Twitter can be a great way to connect with and engage those customers who use this tool — “followers” in Twitter jargon.

The third social media we will cover is Instagram. Instagram is an app you download on your phone. In Instagram, you strictly have a page that you post pictures to. With those pictures you can add a caption to the post.

Instagram would be perfect for posting a picture of that little boy who just picked up a bag of milk replacer with his dad for the fair calf he just purchased. Or perhaps a picture of the girl who just came in and bought a bag of lamb feed for her fair lambs. Instagram allows you to put a picture, a “face” per se, to your business. Photos of a new piece of equipment, an informational meeting, a satisfied customer — the photo could be funny or serious — but Instagram can be a way to show people what is going on in your business.

Lastly, let’s talk about Snapchat. Snapchat is an app on your phone that you also post pictures on. However, Snapchat is very different from Instagram. When you post pictures on Snapchat, they go on a “story” for 24 hours then are erased. The only people that can view your story are your friends that you add, just like on other social media platforms. You can also individually send pictures to your friends so that only they can see them.

Many farmers are on Snapchat, so this could be a great opportunity to connect with them. Say you are sending someone out to spray a field for them and you are unsure which field it is exactly, have them “snap” a picture to you on Snapchat. That way there is no question which field you should be spraying.

Another fun aspect of Snapchat is that different locations have different “filters.” Many times when people are at an event, town or store, they will take a picture and it will have a frame around it with their logo or a slogan. If your business develops a filter that would pop up for Snapchat users when they are visiting your location, this could be a great form of connecting the photo to you and of advertising for your business.

Social media pros and cons

Benefits to social media use can include reduced marketing costs (depending on your strategy) and hopefully, increased sales. Social media is a great way to engage with your customers in a dynamic way that is just not possible through more traditional media such as print, radio and television advertising. Social media can also be fun and complement your other marketing strategies.

Using social media can also provide additional opportunities for customer feedback and engagement. As mentioned above, it may well be the best way to connect with some customers who are social media users.

While posting on the social media sites we have discussed is “free” (from the standpoint that your business will not have to pay a charge), this does not mean that it does not “cost” you anything.

As we will discuss in more detail, someone must create the content you post. And, if you commit to a social media strategy, this means staying engaged in social media on a very regular (daily or more) frequency. If you only engage with your social media once a week or less, your followers will quickly lose interest.

Of course, managing your social media may be undertaken by someone you already employ, but it means they won’t be able to do other things with the time they spend managing social media.

Another potential drawback to social media is your firm appearing very informal and perhaps not “professional.” This can be somewhat avoided if you take care to emphasize this concern to your social media point person.

Spelling is important, and the acronyms and lingo often used in texting or e-mail (i.e., LOL for “laughing out loud,” RU for “are you,” or SLAP for “sounds like a plan”) should be avoided.

Finally, social media sites are public. You can control your posts, but you cannot control the behavior of others, which may include negative, bullying or harassing posts.

Of course, one drawback to social media is that not all of your customers will be using the tool, so you have to give thought to who you will reach and who you won’t reach with your approach to social media.

How to implement your social media strategy

Who should be in charge of social media in your business and how much time will this take? Start small.

Say your company decides to create Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts. We would recommend putting the duty of social media on your office manager or marketing person in the beginning until you decide justhow “big” you would like to take it. Depending on how eager you are to dive into social media, starting everything up should take about a month to implement.

Once you are started and organized, the time investment should be modest with regular planning. Start with printing off a calendar and planning one post for each social media channel you chose and post at least once a week (more if you are on Twitter). This should be manageable if you plan them all on a month-to-month basis.

This all may seem overwhelming but there are great resources out there to help you make your move into social media. One example would be the For Dummies book series, which has a useful book on Social Media Marketing. A different source of help would be to watch YouTube.

A YouTube Channel called ‘The Futur’ did a video on “How to Use Social Media to Grow your Business with Mark Fidelman” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItvgJ3o5CS0).

Fidelman is an expert on marketing and social media and the segment was a question and answer session about why and how social media could be implemented in your business.

“Why do companies need to be on there?” asks Fidelman. “Well they need to be on there if their customers are on there — there’s no question.” We couldn’t agree more.

Always have someone monitor social media even if you don’t use it for communications purposes. Many times, people will “talk” about you on social media — not that differently than the coffee shop conversation, except this one is public. Or, they will talk about issues they are dealing with, questions they have.

If you are in a market where a substantial number of people are social media users, you should have someone designated to just follow the social media news to see what is on the minds of your market.

In addition, you should consider a social media policy. Your employees are likely on social media and any guidance about what they post about your business and when they post it should be clarified. An online listing of a number of corporate social media policy examples can be found at: https://everyonesocial.com/blog/need-sample-social-media-policies-here-are-7-to-inspire-yours.

Today’s day and age

Deciding to jump into the social media world doesn’t mean that the marketing tactics you are using now are ineffective, but now you have new tools to make your marketing even better.

While the average age of the American farmer is around 60, don’t be fooled by age — even our most seasoned farmers and their family members are on social media. It’s vital to reach the younger generation where they are, and for many, this can be done through social media. (We provided some additional tips in our column “How to Work with the Facebook Generation,” in the June/July 2011 issue of Feed and Grain.)

Preparing for success

There are many benefits to adding social media marketing to your business. It can help validate your brand message, bring a “face” to your business, and engage customers in a highly personal way.

Social media can help you build deeper relationships, ultimately boost your sales and help give your business constructive feedback that it may need. With careful planning, social media marketing can be a way to reach an important audience.

The social media bandwagon is only growing larger because many businesses are seeing the benefits from using the social media tools. Take a long look at how others are using social media, give careful thought to what you want to accomplish, find someone in your organization who can be your point and try a pilot on one of the platforms mentioned.

Social media is a powerful way to connect with your customers and continue to move your business to new levels.

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