Using social media to connect people with agriculture
Proprieters of farm and farmers markets are learning to use social media to connect with customers in promoting their products and connecting people with agriculture.
According to the Michigan Good Food report on Farm Viability and Development, the average age of farm operators in Michigan is 56.4. In a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Farm Computer Usage and Ownership , the number of farms with internet access in Michigan is 73 percent. Given those facts, you might be surprised to find those farms using social media tools to connect with their customers and share information about their products and life on the farm. At the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference in January, a session on using social media drew about 25 farmers interested in learning about Facebook and Twitter for their farms.
Social media offers a unique way of communicating with the public because you are creating content that individuals can choose to engage with or not – imagine that it is on a bulletin board. One of the big advantages of social media is that someone can directly respond to what you share with them. A negative is that while once something is posted it is archived and accessible far into the future, it can be quickly forgotten by those who read it because so many people have a flood of content funneling through their social media accounts. So what is the value of using tools like Facebook for farmers or farmers markets?
Creating a close connection with customers is one reason why farmers markets like the Downtown Saginaw Farmers Market use Facebook. Executive Director Shelley McGeathy posts regular updates about what can be found for sale, events, and how people can support the market during the season. This means that regular updates are telling people in the area when they can buy the first of the year strawberries, sweet corn, and apples. During the winter months when the market is closed, Shelley keeps fans updated on the planning for spring and engaged with questions and a countdown to the next season. She thinks about what she is doing to prepare for the opening and tries to think about what the customers will be looking for.
Farmers and producers are also interested in promoting their businesses directly to consumers. This is a great way to educate customers about the varieties available from the farm, new products that will be available, and the best way to contact the farm. For many, a Facebook page for the farm can take the place of a traditional website or a blog because it is bringing information directly to their customer. Timm Family Farms of Bay City uses Facebook to showcase their homegrown products but also to share pictures of their family and the produce they grow. Users can see mounds of Festival squashes, bell peppers, and their many varieties of watermelons by clicking the “like” button on their page. The third generation of that farm family is curating their page on Facebook and keeping the connection with people and their farm alive.