Engaging the ag industry in social media

Yesterday I participated in the CAMA (Canadian Agri-Marketing Association) Ontario Webinar on Engaging Farmers in the New Media Platform. The webinar was led by Shaun Haney (www.realagriculture.com). Haney is an early adopter of social media technology in the ag industry. I want to pick up on a few of the things he touched on in his presentation.

Wearing my freelance writer hat, several months ago I interviewed Haney about this topic for a story I wrote for Seed World magazine (http://www.seedworld.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=219&Itemid=204). During that interview we discussed some of these same things.

As Haney said, it’s all about engagement. Many ag companies have a Facebook page or Twitter account just for the sake of having one, but don’t actively use it. It’s kind of like a stagnant website. No one wants to visit a website that’s not maintained. The same goes for social media. Social media accounts are essentially useless if you’re not keeping them up-to-date and engaging with your “friends” or “followers” or whatever they may be called. If you’re not going to bother maintaining your Facebook page, for example, you may as well not have one.

Haney also said many ag companies avoid social media because they’re afraid of losing control of their brand. In the past, ag companies have controlled their message. And when you put yourself out there in the social media world you’re losing some, if not all, of that control. But what’s important to remember as a company is that people are still talking about you – whether you’re on Facebook or Twitter or not. Social media allows you to be part of the conversation about your brand/company. You have the opportunity to reply immediately to criticism or compliments. And it’s important to respond immediately – don’t wait. Responding right away shows you care about what they’re saying about your company.

An advantage of combining agriculture and social media is that it allows for collaborative learning, according to Haney. This is a good point. Canada is a large, diverse country and there’s a lot misunderstandings from one end to the other. Social media allows farmers to connect with each another across the country, and in other countries, and learn from each other. They can share antidotes, ask questions, offer advice etc.  This is important in remote rural areas where there’s often not a lot of people to engage with.

I’ll admit that when social media such as Facebook first became popular I was leery about using it. I felt like it was just another excuse for people to not talk to each other. I soon realized that people still do talk to each other but in a different way. Social media has opened virtual doors and allowed me to communicate with other like-minded people who I never would have met otherwise. I strongly believe that social media is the way of the future. You can either jump on the bandwagon or be left in the dust!

What do you think of social media? Should farmers and agriculture companies be using it? Post a comment or send me an email.

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