Millennials are often called “the transparency generation.” They like to look inside things and behind the scenes — that’s why 38 percent of them listen to podcasts, according to Edison Research. Transparency and education is very important to them. It’s also important to our industry, where we have discussed at length the importance of educating consumers about what goes into making the products they consume. The increase in dialogue between producers, growers and the public has been encouraging. The number of small businesses that have embraced social media as a way to communicate with their customers and continue the education process has grown exponentially.
Despite the transparency of social media, our technique in exercising this goal still needs some work. I see two common extremes on business social media pages. Although they represent opposite sides, they stem from a similar issue.
Proving your legitimacy
These are the businesses who are always posting about very serious issues. They repost political articles defending their trade. They warn about the consequences and negative repercussions of various internal issues within the industry. They use big words and the latest data and statistics. They are definitely trying to target a more intellectual-leaning crowd.
I’m sure they have customers who appreciate the information, but the undertone of their marketing strategy feels desperate. They sound like they are trying to prove themselves, reminding everyone that they deserve a seat at the Big Kid Table. This makes their business feel very “heavy” for customers. Using guilt or fear to increase support rarely works as a marketing strategy — especially these days, when people are overwhelmed by negative news and are beginning to check out from such things.
These are the businesses with the exact opposite strategy. Not only do they stay far away from politics, they act as if everything in their industry is roses. They post things that are funny or silly, things that bring their customers joy and humor. But they don’t give an honest account of what their day-to-day lives actually look like.
Recently, a popular national magazine amended their strategy after a customer complaint. She was a farmer who noticed that all their Instagram photos were of a romanticized version of farming: prancing baby goats, lush vegetables, scenic fields. She asked where the honest representations were, of butchering days and financial stress and diseased crops. So they let her do an “Instagram Takeover”, where she shared some honest photos from her farm to their page.
You may not run a farm like she did, but what are some ways that you can apply that principle to your business? What are those honest moments that can help people connect to your day-to-day life?
Not either/or
The key here, of course, is not to choose one extreme strategy over the other. It is to balance them both. You don’t want to preach to your customers or guilt them into supporting your business. “The Sky is Falling” strategy has never been a successful marketing technique. But you also want your social media page to be an accurate reflection of what you do.
Among all your social media posts about Best Practices or educational awareness, when was the last time you posted a photo of your kids covered in mud after wrestling in the dirt? Despite all the great, humorous memes regarding your industry, when was the last time you mentioned how late you stayed at the office?
Somehow the word “transparency” has been defined as people proving of a lack of corruption. As if it’s just about being defensive. But the idea is so much deeper than that. If I give people a window inside my life — in this case, inside my business — it’s not just to ease their suspicions of me. It is to let them share in my joy and excitement, tragedy and struggle. It is to present a full picture of my career to the world.
Social media lets people vicariously work at your company. The idea of “A Day in the Life” of someone has been an obsession of our culture for decades. But now that we have this virtual way of making the concept viable, we are learning that real transparency is a very intimidating thing to put into practice. As you strive to grow and improve in this area, simply keep the idea of a ‘balanced approach’ in mind.
Emily Enger is a Millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as communications director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at . For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at .