The marriage of agriculture and social media likely conjures up images of crop seeding on Farmville, but socially savvy agribusinesses are proving that the connection runs much deeper than the popular Zynga game. A 2011 study by the American Farm Bureau Federation revealed that of the 98% of farmers and ranchers ages 18 to 25 who have internet access, 76% of them use social media.
Sure, agribusiness often gets a bad rep for being “behind the times,” but that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, agribusinesses have embraced social media as a channel that is revolutionizing both B2B and B2C communications for the industry.
It Starts with Education
The agribusiness social media movement is, in part, due to the efforts of groups like the AgChat Foundation, which serves as an educational resource designed to equip farmers and ranchers with the necessary skill set to engage with businesses and consumers via social channels. The foundation’s website is full of useful tips and information that can benefit anyone from Twitternewcomers to blogging veterans looking for new ways to interact with fellow farmers and consumers.
The takeaway is that it isn't necessarily a resistance to technology that keeps a group or industry out of social media, but rather a lack of knowledge about how digital tools can have tangible business benefits. Marketers working in notoriously non-social media-friendly industries can learn from the way AgChat has made social channels not only accessible, but a place for focused outreach.
A Platform for Discussion
One way the AgChat Foundation is working to get people talking and building outreach is through weekly #AgChats on Twitter. These chats have seen more than 2,000 participants from seven countries and four continents. #AgChat is moderated by a different agricultural professional each week. Among the recent topics: the drought currently plaguing much of the Midwest.
Joining these Twitter chats provides participants great insight into the industry, and also gives farmers a chance to prove their thought leadership in a public forum. For farmers trying to build their businesses, looking into moderating, or even just participating in these chats can be a great way to network within the field and gain respect and recognition from peers.
Kickstarting Digital Development
Beyond the blogosphere and Twitterverse, farmers have tapped into other marketing channels to raise awareness for their causes. Maryland’s largest organic farm, One Straw Farm, has taken to Kickstarter as a way to harness digital influence and online fundraising for the development of two mobile apps. The first app would provide a way for farmers to communicate with consumers on a weekly basis throughout the harvest season, while the second app would assist farmers with keeping records. No enterprise is immune from the need for record-keeping, and for an industry where the bulk of time is spent in the field (literally), this app was meant to alleviate issues with recording procedures by enabling farmers to update their records from anywhere.
While One Straw Farm’s campaign has fallen short of its fundraising goals, a simple search for “farm” on Kickstarter shows that numerous other agribusinesses are having success using the platform to raise funds for farm-related business endeavors.
The Consumer Connection
The media coverage of “pink slime” has made clear the growing focus on the farm-to-table movement, giving those in agribusiness yet another reason to turn to social media. Ecotrust’s desire to connect professional buyers and sellers is what sparked the creation of their popular social networking platform FoodHub.
FoodHub’s purpose is to provide an online community that connects farmers and ranchers with buyers and distributors. With this connection, buyers — who can range from chefs to school dining service directors — can easily obtain background information and stories about specific farmers and ranchers, and their operations. While the network is currently only available in the western U.S., FoodHub presents a great opportunity for all types of buyers to capitalize on the farm-to-table movement by hand-picking the farmers and ranchers they want to work with.
In addition to using platforms like FoodHub, farmers are also using social media on a personal basis to tell their farm’s story, give updates during the harvest season, promote upcoming farmers markets, answering consumer questions and more.
Self-described “Farm Girl” Erin Ehnle has spent all of her life on a farm, and now uses multiple social media platforms to share her experiences with more than 13,000 Facebook fans and a loyal blog following. Through photos, tweets, infographics, Pinterest, heartfelt blog entries, and informative articles, Erin proves how agribusinesses are indeed taking their experiences from farm to Facebook,.