by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Many businesses use social media as part of their marketing strategy. Charlotte Smith, owner of 3 Cow Marketing, believes farmers shouldn’t be an exception. She presented “How to Find & Engage with Customers on Social Media” as a recent webinar.

Smith was raised on a dairy that folded because of the difficult economy of the 1980s. After attending college and living in a city for a few years, Smith founded her own farm 10 years ago in Oregon. By applying the marketing strategies she had studied, Smith helped her farm, Champoeg Creamery, thrive, even while farms around hers struggle. That’s why she founded 3 Cow Marketing.

“Social media is a great place to build a community, not a business,” Smith said.

Though that sounds contradictory to using social media as a marketing tool, what Smith meant is that business owners – including farmers – can use social media to create an online community that engages consumers. Smith said online marketing channels can include social media like Facebook, industry specific sites such as Eat Wild, email and boards like Craigslist.

Smith said farmers need to understand three truths about marketing channels because they “are valuable tools to reach new potential customers and can be distracting because it feels like you’re working hard to grow your business. Marketing channels do not work to grow your business without a home base.” The home base is the farm website.

“Without a website to direct people to from all these marketing channels, you cannot grow a business,” Smith said. “You need one place to own all the leads you get from marketing channels.”

Smith said a farm website should include an email list sign-up form. “When people land on your website from social media and other channels, they can sign up to your email list,” Smith said. “This is the only way to own your list of potential customers.”

Only after growers have established a home base should they work on reaching customers through social media.

Smith pointed out a few myths about social media’s use in business, such as “You need thousands of social media followers to be successful.” The truth is, followers are not as valuable as email subscribers.

“Only 2% to 6% of fans see your posts because Facebook and Instagram limit your reach,” Smith said.

Another myth is that those using social media need to use many hashtags (such as #farming and #greenhouse) on each post. Instead, Smith wants farmers to use hashtags wisely by looking at what their customers use. A hashtag that’s too popular may backfire, since any particular post with that hashtag won’t stand out. Smith recommended hashtags with between 50,000 and 500,000 posts.

Another social media myth is that business owners need to constantly sell and push products to garner attention.

“Social media is not a platform to sell,” Smith said. “People come to social media to be inspired, connect with their friends, watch funny cat videos – not to be sold to.”

She wants farmers to make their goal building a community of followers who care about them and their story. The best way to do this is to regularly and consistently post – about four to seven days per week.

“Follow the 80/20 rule,” Smith said. “Engage 80% of the time, sell 20% of the time. Post things to inspire, educate and engage. Find out about your community’s interests.”

Though Smith operates a dairy and poultry farm, most of her posts aren’t about the products she sells. “I’m constantly sharing about things my ideal customer loves: kids, school, self-care, trying to get fit, trying to be more present and I have a rare post about sales,” she said.

It doesn’t take hours and hours to do this. She said that setting aside 15 to 30 minutes per day to engage with people is all it takes. Farmers should leave genuine comments and show customers they care about them. Farmers should also find their profiles and find their friends who may also be interested in the farm.

High quality photos also engage customers. Smith advised using product photos only if they’re beautiful, like flowers, abundant veggies or non-farm things that interest customers.

It may seem daunting to add yet another task to the schedule. That’s why Smith advised blocking off a specific amount of time each day to engage with people. They should also plan a farm photo shoot by either hiring a professional or trading goods or services for their work. To keep up with the posts, she likes Planoly, an app that can schedule Instagram posts to appear at a later time. Facebook has this feature built in. That way, farmers can keep up with their social media posting whenever it’s convenient or tackle it all at once, yet have posts appear throughout a week.