These days it seems as though the options in the digital landscape are endless. Whether the goal is to make a purchase, obtain information or simply communicate with other industry folks, the path to take can be more sensory overload than opportunity and overwhelming at best. Is there any value to this social media connectivity and a way to optimize it? Furthermore, can we in ag still find a reason to encourage it?
The answer is a resounding yes, even if it takes some arm-twisting.
In 2016 on our Marketing to Farmers blog, we published Understanding how farmers use social media can improve your marketing, and those points have long resonated with our audience. Social media isn’t going anywhere and, if anything, has only increased in importance as a marketing tool and communications medium. What has frequently been viewed as an app or gadget for younger generations is now actively used by all generations in all industries. Peek at Twitter and you will notice how it is the primary means of chatter for every major news outlet, political figure and brand name in industry. Similarly, Instagram uses photography to show off advertising the latest products, corporate headshots and everything in between. Likewise, Instagram, which wasn’t included in our data last time, has now outpaced other social media channels on use. The source itself notes that up to 80 percent of its users are engaged with businesses on the platform. And then there are the old standbys, YouTube and Facebook, still strong in the social media landscape and actively pursued by advertisers and newcomers alike.
Creating Virtual Social Communities
Though these platforms aren’t new, what they all have in common is the ability for farmers to participate in Virtual Social Communities (VSC). VSCs provide for an environment where the farmer can easily and interactively communicate with a brand through likes, follows, comments and shares of the brand’s content. This welcomes them into the brand’s community and establishes a level of trust, as well as opens a dialogue and invites a relationship, thereby initiating the customer journey. It also offers a climate of camaraderie for those participants who are engaged with the brand.
These communities exist throughout all of social media, however one example, AgFuse, demonstrates the VSC model as a free tool that connects over 4,300 farmers, agribusiness professionals and organizations, with the goal to network, educate, promote products and gain valuable resources. Like Facebook but specifically for ag, this is the optimal way to both introduce and integrate within the intended community.
A Look at the Data
While fresh blood like AgFuse are bringing these VSCs directly to the farmers, the platforms most popular with farmers have varied little since we last checked the stats. Reflecting on the data we presented in our previous post and comparing it to the most current data provided by our source, Meredith Agrimedia’s Successful Farming, the below example shows that, with relatively minor fluctuation, YouTube is still leading the charge (most current data provided from 2017). Farmers continue to use YouTube primarily for its instructional purposes.
A June 2019 Pew Research Social Media Fact Sheet revealed some rural social stats.
% of Rural U.S. adults who use each social media platform:
- Facebook – 66%
- Instagram – 21%
- LinkedIn – 10%
This chart from the same Pew study shows the growth over time.
We also know that even though social media is used less than traditional media, there are a variety of reasons that farmers use it. Below shows the most common reasons why farmers use social media, although worth noting is that a specific social media platform is not indicated.
VSCs are the portal for farmers connecting with other farmers, with Extension educators to answer questions and with brand reps to learn about products and get support, in addition to awareness about promotions, and these other key purposes for seeking out networks attached to brands. It remains to be seen how the current platforms will evolve with farmers and if new technologies will develop.
We encourage you to consider how your platforms support your brands and the ways in which VSCs are developed.
- Do farmers actively participate in the online conversations that occur?
- Does there exist the essence of an online community between the brand, farmers and your agribusiness counterparts?
- Do you feel as though engagement is created virtually and can transition to reality?
Because that is the success of engagement, the VSC and goal of the customer journey.
A version of this article first appeared in our Marketing to Farmers blog.