The six steps to creating a ‘social’ farm business

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David Taylor, author of The Business of Being Social, is the key note speaker at the upcoming YFCU social media seminar #yfsms14.

Here, David gives his top six tips to help create a social farm business:

Social media has now well and truly arrived in the mainstream with millions of users across the British Isles and all age groups now accessing social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Indeed a recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that 45% of those aged over 65 are now on Facebook.

Farming has been one of the industries at the vanguard of adopting social media. At this year’s Oxford Farming Conference, I was amazed at the high level of adoption of social media by farming communities.

From the online farming forum Agrichat to enterprises like Leggygowan Farm using Twitter to attract chefs to their produce and from manufacturers promoting their products on YouTube to farm managers networking via LinkedIn, agriculture has certainly gone digital in a big way.

Yet many farmers - in fact most organisations - are pretty much in the dark as to how you can make most use of social networks. Few have specific objectives for using the sites and don’t accurately measure their performance.

In short, social media can do three key things for your farm business - help you make money, help save you money and thirdly, assist you in creating a viable long-term future for your farm

In order to achieve these goals, I have put together a six-step business model.

Step one is to understand what your exact business goals are for the next 1/2/5/10 years. Many of you will have dedicated strategies which cover all aspects of your farming business. These should now include social, whether you are customer facing or not.

Social media now affects everything including sales, recruitment, marketing, networking, public relations, news distribution, customer service, networking, market intelligence and even product development. So it is vital that you have some form of strategy that looks at how you can achieve your business goals through using the social networks.

You then need to have the right culture to allow social media to thrive. Even if there are just one or two of you working on a farm, it is important that social media is properly embraced rather than something to be done under sufferance.

Those of you with larger farms though can take full advantage of social media by getting your staff, your family and even your customers or suppliers involved. Of course, if you have clearly set out objectives for using social, it makes it far easier to get those around you properly on board.

The next step is to think about the content that you could be creating. Most of you will have a website or at least a presence online. Many of you will also have a presence on one or more social networks. These constitute your ‘digital footprint’.

The key issue is to make sure that this content is interesting, relevant, engaging, regular and timely. Otherwise you’re just creating more ‘noise’ to be ignored!

There are three main sources of content – internally via your staff and family, externally via the traditional and online media plus from your customers and suppliers.

You also want to make sure that any content you create is also ‘rich’ ie lots of photos, videos or ‘infographics’. To a certain extent, we’re all editors, publishers or broadcaster these days so we have a responsibility to ensure our audience(s) gets a consistently high standard of content.

Coming up with content is only half the story. You also need to be ‘social’ – which means you need to be prepared to listen, analyse, engage and respond – in some cases 24/7, particularly if you are customer focused.

Social networks aren’t simply one-way marketing tools. They are forums where other farmers, suppliers, journalists, customers and pressure groups can communicate, exchange views and … socialise!

This means that you need to be both willing and able to converse on social at any time. Fortunately mobile technology and the advent of smartphones means that in theory it is simple to communicate on the move. Unfortunately, the provision of high speed mobile broadband in many rural areas of the UK is still woeful making mobile communications more difficult than they should be.

In common with many other areas of marketing, it is now important to have some form of budget so you can advertise your farm’s products and services online. This is particularly true of Facebook which is now more of a targeted ad platform than a social network.

All the main social networks – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram - now have some form of paid advertising. And in many cases, the only way to achieve your business goals may be to spend a little money on promoting yourself through sponsored content or advertisements.

The final step is to try and make sense of the huge volume of information – Big Data – that is out there. Making simple lists on Twitter, joining groups on LinkedIn and following hashtags are all easy ways of focusing in on what is important to you.

But there are an increasing amount of software tools which can hone in on the data which you need. Ranging from zero cost to hundreds of pounds a month, these can be worth their weight in gold.

So to recap the six steps:

Create a business plan for your farm that includes social media. Focus on your short term and long term goals

Make sure that everyone who works with you understands why you are on social media and is willing to help you maximise your return from the channels

Think about your content reservoir. Keep it topped up with interesting information

Manage your channels rather than just using them as de facto websites

Set aside some budget for advertising

Extract the ‘small data’ you need from all the Big Data and noise online

So, ask yourself this question. How social is your farm business? If you awarded 10 points for each stage, what would your score out of 60 be?

#yfsms14 is taking place on Monday 15th December at Assembly Buildings Conference Centre, Belfast at 7pm.

Local businesses Anna Mathers Photography and Leggygowan Farm will also take part showcasing how social media has helped built their brands.

Spaces are free but limited and must be booked by Wednesday 10th December.

To book contact 028 9037 0713 or email info@yfcu.org.