Connecting Agribusinesses to Consumers Through Social Media

[field date] | Letters
Authors: Dr. Trey Malone, @DrTreyMalone, Assistant Professor of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University
Marcia A. Cripps, @CropQueenMarcia, Graduate Student of Agronomy and Soils, Auburn University

New media provides a low-cost opportunity for sellers to engage with their buyers more directly and personally than ever before. Additionally, new media marketing creates unique opportunities to collect data on how customers engage with agribusiness brands, allowing firms to easily develop two-way relationships with their customers. While many opportunities are available for agribusiness marketing on new media platforms, many potential pitfalls must be navigated to achieve each business’s goals. We recently discussed these new media issues on   for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. This letter provides four key steps for developing your new media presence based on that discussion.

Step 1: Have a Clearly Defined Target Audience

No one starts at the top. The first step in developing your new media presence is to identify your target audience as narrowly as possible. This includes geographics, demographics, and psychographics. Everyone wants to sell to the biggest clients, but the key is to find ways to build toward those clients. Ultimately, be sure to define the minimum viable audience that can create a profitable agribusiness.

Step 2: Align your Marketing Strategy with the Target Audience

A clearly defined target audience will help an agribusiness understand which platforms to utilize. For example, only 3% of farmers consider podcasts as their top choice for educational information in lieu of in-person educational events during COVID-19.

Good online marketing strategies focus on helping the target audience tell their own story with an aesthetically pleasing feed alongside engaging, high-quality images and video. When you decide what content to post, be sure to ask yourself whether the post will help a potential customer learn more about your product or agribusiness. Using questions or poll features on social media sites allows you to interact while also gaining useful feedback. For example, what if you owned a pumpkin patch that was considering changing your hours of operation to attract more customers? You could simply ask your audience via Instagram Stories and gain instant feedback.

When you are able, take original photos with a DSLR camera or smartphone camera. As an alternative, websites such as Pexels provide free stock photos.

Proper timing is also critical for aligning your marketing strategy. Each platform provides free analytics features that can help you identify when your audience is most active. A best practice is to post content anywhere from 30-45 minutes prior to peak activity to give your posts the most amount of exposure. Mere exposure matters — prioritize quantity when you begin to share your story. Especially at the beginning, post frequently (2-3 times a day). 

Step 3: Make Relationships

Your audience is likely to have prior beliefs about agribusinesses like yours. Consider the questions we recently posed to Marcia’s Twitter followers. We first asked farmers to describe their end consumer (people at the grocery store). We then asked end consumers to describe farmers and created word clouds of the responses to highlight the most common answers. Note the mismatch between beliefs about farmers and consumers. While consumers often describe farmers as “hardworking, essential and committed,” farmers are more likely to describe consumers as “dumb, confused and misinformed”.

in response to a twitter tweet, consumers and farmers describe each other in wordcloud formThis quick exercise suggests a disconnect between growers and consumers. To narrow this gap, share behind-the-scenes content to provide viewers a chance to see the process first-hand. Again, be sure to actively interact with your audience while you share behind-the-scenes content, as the added transparency provides an important method for bridging the gap between producers and consumers.

Be sure to add relevant hashtags to your content, with location and content-relevant hashtags being most effective. Confused? Flick can help you select and monitor hashtag performance.

How do you interact? As you begin to develop your platform, follow at least 200 potential customers and a few accounts that share a similar target audience. Then, interact with those potential customers directly. While “liking” posts can help, the algorithm for social media platforms favors at least three to five word comments.

In addition, you might efficiently build relationships by tagging and engaging relevant influencers and businesses. Remember, the partnership works best if you share similar target markets. For example, floral and ornamental companies might benefit by interacting with a local wedding photographer as both businesses share similar target customers. Collaborating with other social media accounts can be mutually beneficial as the relationship can increase each other’s exposure. Again, it is crucial to make sure your collaborator has the target audience you want. Analytical tools such as Buffer can help compare the audience of your potential collaborator.

Step 4: Make the Request

various social media icons are shown on a phone screenWhen you first create your social media account, you are in the “give” stage as your posts “give” your audience benefits, such as education, entertainment, gifts or inspiration. The first three steps help you efficiently “give” content to your audience, but it will all be wasted if you do not say what you want from them. Be sure to make that request with a clear call to action and make your request as convenient as possible. For example, your post might ask your audience to “check out your website” to explore specific products via a direct link in the bio. On Instagram, you might also simply add a link in your story so that your audience can simply be directed to your website by “swiping up”.

If the platform provides a “shopping” feature, utilize it to make your content easily accessible. If you are selling a service, highlight how to receive a quote or visit your location. Having a giveaway, coupon code, or contest is a great way to help execute a “give” and an “ask” simultaneously. Giveaway contests are a great way to increase traffic. Be sure to include a clear request like asking your audience to follow your page, tag friends or write a fun caption to your post. This clear path is especially important with giveaways to avoid potential backfire.

Best Practice Observations Based on Our Experience
(click to expand each)

To Invest or Not Invest?
  • Invest: In a modern smartphone or basic DSLR camera (a DSLR camera is the better option)
  • Invest: In editing software
  • Don’t Invest: In paying for likes/views
Be sure to:
  • Use hashtags
    • Relevant
    • Location specific
    • General hashtags
    • Join trends
  • Do giveaway challenges
    • Ask for contact info
    • Ask for sales orders
    • Raffle off a gift
  • “Give, give, give, ask”
    • Post great content
    • Provide knowledge, tips and tricks
    • Give some more
    • Ask for what you want
  • Break up big information into multiple posts
  • Post high-quality photos only
  • Stay consistent
  • Post often, especially on “high traffic” days
  • Keep it short and sweet
    • Less than two sentences
    • Less than one minute of video
You’ll want to avoid:
  • Posting blurry videos/photos
  • Posting irrelevant content
  • Hot-button topics that might alienate your target market
  • Writing lengthy paragraphs for your post

People lose interest after three sentences