"Our goal is not to find customers, but rather position our farm to be found by customers," says Blaine Hitzfield.
Hitzfield handles marketing and distribution for his family's farm in Roanoke, Indiana and as the name "Seven Sons" implies, is the second son in a band of seven brothers for which the farm is fondly named.
Seven Sons Farm's journey in direct marketing began like many other similar farms with a focus on farmers' markets and calling upon local chefs, food buyers, and specialty grocers. However, Hitzfield explains they soon realized this was very time-consuming, and at times, frustrating. The farm had some barriers to overcome, challenges in logistics, location, and visibility. However, he emphasizes, the number one barrier they faced was inconvenience.
"As farmers we sometimes forget how inconvenient we are just by the very nature of what we are doing," says Hitzfield. "Our farms are located outside the city away from people. They are not visible or very accessible."
Today Seven Sons Farm takes a much different marketing approach focusing on convenience and implementing practices online which position the farm to be more accessible to customers. Social media has played a major role in this transition, notes Hitzfield, tying well into the farm's new-found marketing philosophy.
"Instead of going out and selling our products to people every day," says Hitzfield, "Now people find us and our business has grown because of the demand."
Hitzfield depicts social media as a place people visit just like a farmers' market or any other social location people gather, except that this market is always open and not restricted by limitations on day, time, or season. Social media acts like "word-of-mouth on steroids" amplifying and spreading an idea quick and fast, in an almost viral fashion. This creates a fertile environment for marketing and builds trust, which in turn helps with business visibility, and ultimately, convenience.
Website is central
"With our internet marketing, everything is based around the website," says Hitzfield. "Our website, and more specifically, our blog is our content hub."
Hitzfield doesn't waste time creating original content for Facebook or Twitter. Instead, content is website-specific. Time may be spent creating a blog post on the website which then becomes the content hub. Content is then recycled and reused via social media posts. This does two things: further builds the social media audience and gets people back to the website where products are being sold.
For example, Hitzfield illustrates, "We did a special recipe post on smoked Thanksgiving turkey, a recipe and a little video that went along with it. That went on the blog and then out like a broadcast through our newsletter on Sunday. It took me less than a minute to schedule the post on Facebook."
"So a few likes gain a little visibility and gain some confidence to an actual page like. Then that gets them to your website, then a newsletter subscription, and then hopefully a sale, so it's a process," Hitzfield says.
Facebook does heavy-lifting
Facebook, the largest social media platform to date, is Hitzfield's number one. With 80-90% of his emphasis on this network, he believes Facebook is where ag businesses like his own can utilize social media best. With Facebook specifically, his experience has show the quality of the content helps immensely with its effectiveness.
"We have about 6000 Facebook followers and originally I got real confused because I would put a post out and it would only get liked by one or two people," says Hitzfield.
What Hitzfield later learned is Facebook only exposes content to just a few fans at first and then begins gauging interaction. If the post was exposed to a 100 fans and out of that number five people like it, this would be perceived as a good interaction. Based on these responses, Facebook then releases the post to another five hundred people, and so on.
One way to get around this obstacle on Facebook is paid advertising, but Hitzfield points out farmers should think hard before doing so as this feature doesn't always work as simple as it sounds. He recommends Google Adwords instead, because it is less easily manipulated and more effective for the investment than sponsored posts.
Strategy key to reap rewards
Admittedly, Hitzfield wasn't always so sure about social media.
"Everyone kind of thinks, 'Oh well, someone finds me on social media. They click on my website and buy stuff," says Hitzfield. "But, no, it's a real process and kind of courtship to get that customer. That's where our focus is."
In addition, Hitzfield points out the huge time suck social media can sometimes become.
"You can waste a lot of time or you can spend a little bit of time and be really effective," says Hitzfield. "It's just a matter of figuring out the correct strategy for doing that."
To use time wisely, Hitzfield tries to spend no more than five to ten minutes a day on social media management. This might include scheduling a post or two, looking over the newsfeed, or researching interesting articles to share such as content from other bloggers. Having a strategy beforehand will create synergy and effectiveness in the long run.
Additionally, Hitzfield says to keep social media posts relationship-focused. Think of social media as a community of people. The more relatable and personal posts are, the better they will do in engagement.
"You are giving something of value and establishing some credibility in the process, so it's not any different than a relationship face-to-face," says Hitzfield.
Some social networks will offer analytical means to measure post engagement such as the "Insights" feature on Facebook pages. This feature allows the user to view how popular each post gets and is useful in fine tuning your strategy.
"You always want to have an image or video with your post," adds Hitzfield. "The amount of visibility you get from a post if it has a picture versus just text is quite dramatic. It's to the point you don't even want to spend time on a post unless it has a picture with it."
Lastly, Hitzfield suggests network integration as another way to streamline social media management. It is possible to create integrations between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+, allowing content to get shared automatically between networks. Depending on the network, this feature may have to be set up on the network itself or through use of a social media management application such as Hootsuite or BufferApp.
A side benefit from these integrations, says Hitzfield, "On those social media platforms that you do not have a huge audience on or it's a more narrow audience, integrations allow for participation without the extra time invested while still building an audience."
Hitzfield encourages farmers, if they haven't already, to start building their social media presence now. While a producer would never think of going to a farmers' market before they had a product, things are completely different with virtual marketing.
"You do all the work to produce the product and get it to market," says Hitzfield. "It's hard to invest time in any of these social media platforms when you only have a couple followers. So I try to stress to as many farms as possible they should start early on with their marketing. You don't have to have a product in hand to start building those audiences."
While social media adds a transparency to the mix and gives the customer more control, Hitzfield concludes it also offers an opportunity for those in agriculture to share their stories.
"It's an opportunity for any industry to gain integrity and at the same time expose their selves to some accountability," says Hitzfield. "It's a two-way street for sure."
Read more about Seven Sons Farm on their
website and follow them on
Facebook and Twitter (@Sons7).
Authored by Jesse Bussard a agricultural writer based in Bozeman, Montana.