Cultivating connections: Social networking for ag education, direct marketing

(Part II of a two-part series.)

SALEM, Ohio — Social media users have many reasons for investing time online. For three agricultural individuals, it’s a combination of networking, consumer education and direct marketing — all in different ways.

Mike Haley of West Salem, Ohio, decided to set up a Twitter account after hearing about it at an Ohio Farm Bureau Young Agricultural Professionals leadership conference. (You can follow him at @farmerhaley.)

“I caught on fairly quickly,” said Haley, who owns a cattle and crop operation and offers trucking and custom farming services. “I learn from others, and the more I’m on it, the more I learn.”

Tweeting with consumers. Since learning new things about Twitter, Haley has been able to interact with fellow producers and even consumers.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about agriculture, and consumers are asking questions,” he said. “I’ve been able to get that firsthand experience with consumers through Twitter.”

Haley said his first challenge was figuring out the hashtag symbol (#), which helps users track the topic of a particular message or “tweet.”

By including the # symbol before words such as #farm or #ag in a tweet, Haley can search and be found by people “tweeting” about the same topic.

In fact, using #sustagchat, he has been able to interact with “foodies” and “hobby farmers” who may hold inaccurate views of production farming.

“I have been able to try to explain my point of view,” Haley said. “I’m able to inform them of what we’re doing on my farm and how it is sustainable.”

Although Haley enjoys the ability to send quick, brief messages, he admits Twitter is not always the best outlet for consumer education.

“Sometimes that 140-character limit just isn’t enough,” he explained. “I think I will need to set up a blog before too long — maybe that’s a project for next winter.”

Maize Valley

When Haley does decide to set up a blog, he may want to consider using Bill Bakan’s blog as a source of inspiration.

Bakan, among his many titles, is the marketing director and social media coordinator of his family’s winery and farm market, Maize Valley, in Hartville, Ohio. Upon visiting the Maize Valley Web site’s homepage, viewers are offered links to various links to social media outlets, thanks to Bakan’s efforts.

Maize Valley’s Facebook page has more than 200 fans, while about 370 Twitter users are following the winery’s updates. Although Maize Valley’s blog has not received an overwhelming response just yet, Bakan said it is in a “content-building phase.”

Bakan had initially set up a “do-it-yourself” blog, but he was unhappy with the layout. He spent some time viewing other blogs and worked with a web developer for about two months to set up his current blog, www.ohiowineandmore.com.

Since the first post in April 2009, Bakan has blogged regularly, as often as three or four times a week.

Content. In addition to plain text, many of his blog posts contain videos, detailing aspects of the winery or special activities. Bakan said the goal of the blog is to reach customers on many different levels.

“We’re obviously trying to direct market our products to consumers,” he said. “But we’re also trying to tell them about our agritourism opportunities, and we want to educate them about our production practices.”

Although Bakan admits that these social media sites are not always easy for him to wrap his brain around, he said it is important for him to stay connected with customers.

“I don’t think everyone necessarily has to have accounts on these sites,” he said. “But for me and my needs, social media is definitely a tool in my toolbox.”

Social networking

In addition to consumer education, direct marketing and sharing information, some people are using social networking sites for, believe it or not, networking.

Kelsey Holter, a native of Meigs County, Ohio, will be a sophomore next fall at the Ohio State University, where she plans to study agricultural communications.

Holter has been using Facebook for almost two years, mainly to keep in contact with friends. She plans to set up a Twitter account because she has heard so many people discussing it.

Holter is also one of about 145 members of an agricultural social networking site called “Proud to Dairy”, which aims to unite dairymen and women across the nation. Holter uses the site for making connections in the dairy industry and for gaining information from blog posts.

Similar agricultural networking sites include Ag Job Network (www.agjobnetwork.ning.com), Farmers for the Future, and Agricultural Communication — Sharing Agriculture with the World.

While each site may have a specific area of interest, they all have the same overall goal — providing an opportunity for agriculture producers, job seekers or enthusiasts to network with one another.

Holter hopes to use these types of sites to make connections to potential internship and career opportunities in the dairy industry.

“Social media is a way to meet new people that I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise,” she said. “I can also use it to find out about opportunities that will lead me to a career in a dairy-related field.”

Stay current

No matter what purpose people have for using social media — networking, consumer education, direct marketing — these three individuals agree that keeping an eye out for the next popular tool is essential.

“By the end of the year, I’ll probably be right back in this same position — learning something new all over again,” Bakan said.

Read Part I: Cultivating connections: Telling the ag story through social media

About the Author

Emily Caldwell of Beaver Falls, Pa., serves as the 2009 Farm and Dairy editorial intern. She is a graduate of Penn State University, where she studied agribusiness and agricultural communications. Feel free to follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emily718. More Stories by Emily Caldwell

One Comment

  1. Great article. I agree that using Twitter can open up opportunities in almost any industry including the dairy industry.

    Recently there was an article on how restaurants are using Twitter to market their business. If they can do it – anyone can! The article was so interesting to me that I cited it in a blog post a few weeks ago.

    Enjoyed the post Emily! Good luck!

    Yours,
    Kirsten Grant
    TwitterId: Kgrantcareers

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