by Courtney Llewellyn
Technology has advanced a bit since Werner Tree Farm was conceived. Amanda Werner, the third generation to work the farm, explained, “My grandfather planted only 10 or 15 trees that first year, 1980, and he literally just loved planting trees. He just kept adding to the trees he planted, but we sold only a dozen in 1986.”
Fast forward a few decades, and Werner Tree Farm now has about 30 acres in trees and sells between 1,200 and 1,400 a year. They sell primarily through two locations – customers can cut their own trees at the Middlebury, VT, farm or choose from pre-cut trees at a site in Lincoln. Communicating with repeat customers – and finding new ones – is where the technology has advanced.
Born in 1989, Amanda is the youngest member of the family to work the tree farm, and is in charge of what goes on the web. “I think I underestimated how useful social media would be at first,” she admitted. They evolved from sending postcards and an email list to a Facebook page at first, because “that was something folks don’t mind checking in on,” Amanda said. “Then I realized we could reach new customers with it, and Instagram came along also.”
How does she keep people engaged? Amanda said she likes to do a lot of images versus a lot of text, as people tend to engage with them better. For those looking to expand their social media presence, she noted that Facebook has shown to be more useful in reaching potential and existing customers – the people more likely to be spending money. “Instagram is fun, but I haven’t found it to be super useful for reaching customers – but it’s great for tapping into the worldwide network of Christmas tree growers,” she said.
One trick she’s learned with Instagram, though, is using a location tag – for her, Middlebury, VT – and spending about half an hour going through all the posts in town and finding someone who might live there. “I’ll like a post, make a comment, and that helps create local engagement,” she said.
In the off-season, she might post something two or three times a week, ramping up her activity as the holiday season approaches.
For growers concerned about the photos themselves, Amanda noted, “I’ve done 95% of our photography, and I will occasionally repost customers’ pictures. Fortunately, photography is a hobby of mine, but I would hire someone if I didn’t have that background.” She occasionally uses a Canon Rebel camera, but more often utilizes her iPhone. She said those looking to take their own photos could go for expensive cameras, but iPhones have really good cameras now.
Because she’s out in the field a lot, where service can be spotty, she uses the Preview app to organize things. She explained users can load a number of pictures into a grid ahead of time, add captions and hashtags, and then post them whenever they’re ready. She tends to set up several posts for the week ahead, saving her a lot of time. (With Facebook, users can schedule posts in advance; Instagram has yet to offer this feature.)
“I have a day job but the farm is my real passion,” Amanda said. “I run it with my parents, and we’re working on a transition plan. The latest thing Mom and I are working on is a more regenerative agriculture model – which is good for the land and a useful marketing strategy.”