Shaun Haney: Getting social media tools into the hands of farmers and ranchers
The Internet has revolutionized the way consumers do business, communicate with one another and find information. Today, YouTube is a more popular search engine than Google; Facebook messages are quickly replacing traditional e-mails; and Twitter is a complete, one-stop shop for news and information. Online social networking sites have become a mainstream way for communicating with others, and modern ranchers are taking advantage of these tools to share the agriculture story with their customers.
Shaun Haney, based out of Alberta, Canada, is the founder of RealAgriculture.com, an agriculture blog featuring ag-related news. Haney uses social media networking tools to facilitate information to the public. He is also a founding member of the Ag Chat Foundation, which is a forum for people on Twitter that occurs weekly, on Tuesday nights, from 8-10 p.m. Ag Chat discusses different agriculture-related topics each week, and the foundation’s objective is to get social media tools in the hands of more farmers.
“What are we talking about?” asked Haney. “Social media is a term that is, in many ways, overused. Programs like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr are all really important tools. The reality is this kind of stuff is a huge marketing tool, especially in agriculture.”
While these tools are growing in popularity among farmers and ranchers, Haney said there are some big road blocks preventing producers from taking full advantage of these programs. Producers ask, what is my return on investment? Can we make money doing this?
“Internet marketing isn’t a fad; it’s real,” explained Haney. “Today, Facebook has more traffic than Google. In 2009, one in eight American married couples met via social media sites. People who are getting their news via Twitter and Facebook are growing at a staggering rate. It’s changing the way we communicate.”
Haney shared that the total advertising dollars being spent on social media will exceed $6 billion in 2011. With 10 billion active online accounts, 26.8 percent of users access their accounts through a mobile device.
“Smart phones will make social media use more easily accessible for farmers and ranchers on the go,” said Haney. “Why is agriculture a good fit in this regard? Looking at Facebook and Twitter allows agriculture to drop barriers. We have always whined and complained that we need to connect with our consumers, and we need to tell our story. These applications allow us to do that.”
Haney offered some of his best advice for using social media tools to promote agriculture, share stories and connect with producers and consumers alike.
“I’m seeing farmers use social media to bring to life the concept of a virtual coffee shop, where they can connect to ask questions and share stories,” said Haney. “To me, this is the opportunity that Twitter really provides the user. Agribusiness needs to stop broadcasting messages and focus on engaging with their readers. Social media allows us to do something different than the traditional marketing plan.”
Haney’s best advice is to just get started.
“So many people wonder what to do next after they have set up a profile,” added Haney. “My best advice to get started is to update your status with an open-ended question to begin interacting with others. I still have producers who wonder why they should use social media. It’s the perfect outlet for network expansion, collaborative education, content filtering and agriculture advocacy.”
Haney’s next tips can be summed up in a few words. First, engage or don’t bother. Second, have a sense of purpose or an objective. Third, don’t be scared to ask questions. Finally, have fun.
“The U.S. has done a great job of using social media,” said Haney. “There are lots of numbers, and there is a strong call to action to battle activists, with a heavy push by farm groups. These groups are providing outstanding leadership to mentor newbies. Canadians are more interested in connecting with other producers and learning more about how to improve their own operations. I like the way we use it here, but there are things we can learn from both applications.”
There’s no denying the growing popularity of online social networking tools. The big question is, will ranchers join the conversation, or miss the opportunity to connect with others, engage in conversations and share their stories with customers?
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