Can Social Media Boost Small Farm Viability?

The internet has the potential to be “rocket fuel” for small to medium sized businesses.  Small to medium sized businesses that employ online marketing strategies are 280 percent more likely to grow revenues (Google) than businesses that don’t engage in online marketing.  Online marketing can provide a big boost for small business owners and farmers alike.

Three effective and low cost online marketing tools are social media, e-newsletters and blogging.

This article focuses specifically on how social media can be a low cost marketing tool that has the potential to lift sales for small farms.

Setting up a social media account is free, but posting and managing a profile or page takes time. This article examines how small businesses across all industries use social media.  We provide a list of small farm specific best practices to boost long term viability through brand building and increased sales.

Small Businesses Using Social Media

The statistics vary, but in general it’s safe to say most small to medium sized businesses use social media. Social Media Marketing Report for 2015 found that 96% of small to medium sized businesses actively engaged in marketing were using social media as a part of their marketing strategy

Facebook, with nearly 2 billion active users, is the hands down most used social media platform for small businesses.  45% of all small businesses using social media use Facebook.  Even with the increase in other social media platforms, 80% of small businesses think that Facebook is still a good platform for small businesses.

Other social media platforms are a distant second, third and fourth, and really depend upon the target customer.  Those selling to business are likely to choose Linked In. Those selling to consumers are likely to choose Instagram.  A disconnect appears between small businesses using Instagram and Instagram users.  Of 250 small businesses surveyed by Netsertive, only 6% of small businesses thought that Instagram was valuable to their business.  However, 60% of Instagram users say they have discovered new products using the platform.

Twitter rounds out the top four social media platforms.  Nine percent (9%) of small businesses surveyed engaged in social media actively using Twitter.

Small businesses believe they are seeing a return on their investment in social media. These businesses are using social media to build their brand (44%) and drive sales (42%).   The platform of choice for driving sales is Facebook, with 42 % of small businesses report believing Facebook is the best social channel for driving sales.

How Small Farms Can Leverage Social Media 

According to Curtis Stone, a farmer and farm consultant in Canada, one of the reasons why small farms fail is they don’t treat their farm like a business.  We’ve learned online marketing is a significant lever to help small businesses grow their revenue.  Facebook specifically appears to be the most valued social media platform by small businesses to build their brand and drive sales.  However, very few farmers are using social media to promote their business. Therefore, it’s certainly feasible that a tremendous opportunity exists for small to mid size farms to start using social media as a promotion and sales tool.

Social media best practices tailored to small farms

  • Start with a Facebook profile.  Because Facebook is the most popular social media platform, start here.  Use your logo and tagline in your Facebook profile. List your contact information and link to your website.
  • Consider Instagram. Food, people and animals lend themselves well to imagery. Because 60% of users say they have found new products on Instagram, Instagram may offer a high return for the time spent posting.
  • Generate your own content 80% of the time, re-post another’s 20% of the time.  Original content will keep visitors coming back.  Interestingly, a study from the Temkin Group shows that most people go to a company’s Facebook page for updates before updating their own content.  So keep your content fresh and original as best you can.
  • Engage, entertain and inform. Use Social media to further your story. Give visitors a behind the scene look at your operations.  Tell engaging stories about a day in the life.  Inform about your growing practices, heirloom varieties, heritage breeds.
  • Post Images.  Studies show images are more likely to generate interaction and go viral.  When choosing images, a positive image will bring about positive emotions. Consider using subtitles for video clips since most people mute videos when viewing social media.
  • Include links in your images or posts that link back to your website.  If you don’t have a website, consider using a sales tool, such as Food4All, so that visitors can take action to buy your product or sign up for your CSA.
  • Respond.  Make sure to respond to any comments.  Users expect a response and studies show they will view your brand more favorably if you respond to comments.
  • Post consistently.  If you can swing it, post once a day. At a minimum, post once a week, but aim for 2-4 times per week.  Remember fresh content will keep visitors coming back.
  • Best time to post on Facebook is between 1 – 4pm, (HubSpot).
  • Use a social media scheduling tool to create a cohesive plan and save time.

What about social media advertising? 

The jury is out on whether or not advertising pays off on Facebook.  According to a Weebly survey 62% of small businesses believe Facebook ads miss their target.  And the belief is that Instagram advertising is even less effective.

However, it doesn’t cost much to experiment. Before you experiment, you want to be ready to make the most of your ad campaign by being able to convert visitors to buyers either on Facebook or by linking your ads to you website where you can convert visitors to buyers.  Facebook ads allow you to target a very specific demographic, and gives you the tools to track your ads effectiveness.

Large sums of money are being poured into Facebook ads by companies of all sizes. The Weebly Survey revealed that there are just as many companies spending $50 a month on Facebook advertising as there are spending $5000 a month. And the algorithm that shows what ad is displayed to whom is anything but transparent.

In summary, if you are just starting out, save your money and build a following organically on Facebook and possibly Instagram.  If you have the time and budget, think about playing with small sums to build targeted Facebook ads to your local community.  But make sure you are ready to convert your visitors to buyers, ideally on your website, secondarily on Facebook, so you get the most for your time spent on social media.