Can social networking lighten the workload of the direct market farmer?

As the saying goes, before you grow anything, know how you will sell it first. Your product should have a market before you plant the first seed. But trying to do it all, from growing to market, makes a farmer very very tired.

I made this presentation recently, and thought I would share it here, in case it might be useful to you.

So, can social networking lighten the workload of the direct market farmer? I see social media as having enormous potential for saving farmers the endless long hours of work. The learning curve is steep however. At the outset, it takes awhile to figure out how all these different media work, and how you and your business will adapt.

Before you begin, it is important to have gone through the process of identifying your branding strategy, how you present yourself (not just online) and who you are to your customers, so that you deliver a consistent message. Then you can incorporate social media into your marketing strategy.

Introduction:
Marketing today is so different from the way it used to be. The internet has made the marketplace much more accessible to buyers simply by having a website, but when used within a marketing strategy, social networking, such as Facebook, offers farmers a great way to stay in touch with customers, network with other farmers and attract new customers.

Why use Facebook?
•    engage your customers
•    display pictures of your farm
•    provide regular updates, just 140 characters long
•    online chatting and messaging

Definitions:
•    Social media – media for social interaction, using the web to turn communication into dialogues.
•    Social networking – networking on an online site that focuses on building social relations among people, e.g.who share interests and/or activities.
•    Online communities – are group centered rather than individual-centered.
•    Social media marketing – when social media impacts how we do business. Organizations are going on-line to gain support, build connections, share information and collaborate on projects.
•    RSS (Really Simple Syndicate) is useful because, as you can imagine, people don’t have time to follow your website. Instead, they can subscribe to have your update delivered to their email.
•    Twitter – This little bird is a love hate thing. The beauty is that the information being sent is limited to 140 characters (microblogging)!  Very useful for sending news worthy links to your community.

Some uses for social media:
•    Interacting – blogging, forums, social networks (Facebook),
•    Collaborating – open source collaboration (Wikipedia), bookmarking, google groups, product and service ratings,
•    Sharing – blogging (sharing your farm story), photo albums, videos, podcasts,
•    Marketing – microblogging (Twitter),
•    Training – live streaming, webinars

What can going online do for me?
•    Reduce operating costs
•    Develop more efficient processes and communication
•    Able to compete with bigger enterprises
•    Save long phone calls giving details and where or how to get your product
•    Reach new markets
•    Build credibility and legitimize your business
•    Find better deals for your business
•    Increase sales       …… you cannot afford not to!

How do I get started?
•    Decide how you will present yourself; your identity and branding, not just on-line.
•    Get a farm website designed professionally.
•    Put a profile up on linked-in (or facebook if its for personal use) to begin your networking.
•    Consider posting photos on flicker or picasweb, and sending a link to your customers so that they can see what you are doing on your farm or, start a weekly newsletter and send it by email or, post it on your website or in a blog.
•    Track your results.  If it does not work, try something else.  Don’t waste your time!

How do I know that social marketing is working for me?
•    More people are visiting your website
•    When potential new customers contact you, they are almost ready to buy.  They have done their research
•    Your sales increase, with less time invested
•    You experience increased customer loyalty since customers are buying even in the winter when you are not at the farmers’ markets
•    More people know about you (brand awareness)
•    You have increased 2 way communications with your customers
•    You get calls from the media

I am already so busy! How do I make time for this?
•    Start small; learn one thing at a time.
•    Take some of your time spent on the phone, and start entering that information in your computer, so that you can email it instead. Get call display!
•    Look at your most time consuming marketing approach. Is it generating enough revenue?  If not, cease doing that activity and redirect that time and energy to an online strategy.
•    Over time, your marketing processes will become more efficient and you will have time for getting other things done.

What other opportunities does the internet offer?
•    a website features your farm business and products 24/7, better than a brochure can
•    email newsletter blasts can be used to announce new products as they come into season, or events of interest to your customers
•    blogging or photos allows you to share your story (people want the experience behind your product more than they want the product!)
•    sales from an online marketplace

Selling Online Using Your Own Website – What is E-Commerce?

E-commerce refers to the process of buying or selling products or services over the Internet. Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular because of speed and ease of use for customers. Business to Consumer (B2C) involves the online sales of goods, services and provision of information directly to consumers. Business to Business (B2B) refers to the online exchange of products, services, or information between businesses. The majority of online sales still occur between firms as part of business-to-business (B2B) sales. In Canada, sales from business to business amounted to $31.4 billion in 2006, which represented about 68% of total e-commerce by private firms.

Why E-Commerce for farmers?
•    you can reach new markets and increase your sales
•    you can use the Internet to find leads, and announce offers
•    you can provide current information and product availability
•    window shopping for products and services online can save you time and money by allowing you to find the best prices
•    you can use the Internet to find new suppliers, post buying requests or search for products and services.
•    on-line exchange between buyers and sellers saves a lot of phone time and you can do it at any time of day or night, or save it for rainy days

Since 2000 the value of online sales has increased from $5.7 billion to $49.9 billion (2006) in Canada. Over one half (57%) of Canadians use the Internet to window shop while 43% reported ordering personal goods or services online.

How do I set up an online marketplace?

In order to process an online sales transaction, three things are needed:
1. Shopping Cart (Product Catalogue,  Shopping List, Checkout System)

2. Secure Server (To sell on-line, you will need a Digital Certificate)

A digital certificate is an electronic ID that helps to show the credibility of your website. You will often see the lock symbol when you are on a secure sever.

3. Payment Processing (Instead of processing payments yourself, many turn to third parties like PayPal (www.paypal.com).

PayPal is the most popular third-party online service provider.They work by charging transaction fees, including a percentage of the sale. The money from the transaction is deposited in a special account controlled by the service provider and you are emailed every time there is a payment. Upon request, PayPal will transfer your balance to your bank account.

Of course, there is always the option of receiving the payment manually when product is picked up. Many use their websites to initiate contact by having customers send an email or order form through their website that comes to your email. Completing the sale is then done by phone or email.

Last words about marketing:

1) The key is to find out what you love to do, and what you feel best doing. I found working at a farmers market exhausting. Although I enjoy meeting with my customers, it was just too much. With the internet, I can now talk to my customers through a keyboard. This is way more my style.

I also enjoy showing others the wonders of farming and witnessing people discover the miracles of life or food for the first time; therefore, I enjoy coordinating farm tours.

2) Get a good sense of who you are, and what your business represents. Create a brand for yourself and then present a consistent persona for your business; in person, online and at all your other marketing efforts.

3) Don’t forget that the goal is to WOW your customers. This is where your uniqueness comes out, not just in your products, but in all of us as farmers.

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About Kaytlyn Dale

#nuffield13 scholar passionate about sacred agriculture and holding space for transforming ourselves so that we can help regenerate the land, soil, Earth and our food system. Pursuing an MA (Theology) in Spiritual Care & Psychotherapy
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