Social media: exploring its value for rural business

23.05.13 Social media: exploring its value for rural business

There was no doubt that twitter is the preferred social media platform of choice for farmers and rural businesses due to its reach beyond the industry, the sharing of best practices and the speed of communications.

The view was that any communication that brings farmers together has to be good for the industry, and brings with it the opportunity to tell great stories as they happen, and to develop credibility and authenticity.

Farmers ultimately have to realise that if they are not talking about farming, the conversation is being had without them; there is no obligation to participate on social networking sites but inherently part of the benefit is to debate, part to learn, part to inform.

Those who enjoy using social media need to be trained for maximum effectiveness, and also realise the pitfalls of its use. In terms of future development, it is hard to predict its impact – 5 years ago there was no such social media in its modern form.

More importantly though, farm voices have been unleashed and the message to others in the industry and also the general public i.e. the consumer, has started spreading.

The discussion held on Thursday 23rd May 2013 looked at the topic of “Social media: exploring its value for rural business” and generated a total of 815 tweets on the topic from 136 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1 Which social media platform is considered the best by farmers/rural ind? Is twitter the most popular?

  • Twitter for b2b and business professionals, Facebook for business to customer/consumer
  • Twitter works well for the sector, this account was 30 minutes old and had a trade enquiry.. It pays to invest the time
  • Got to be twitter for sure! I’d feel lonely without this massive network of farmers on hand!
  • Depends on the person. Twitter is a personal favorite, but others like Facebook. Some farmers love instagram, others YouTube
  • My personal favorite is Twitter, due to reach beyond ag, sharing of best practices & energy in the speed
  • Twitter is not as intuitive as FB for many people; get hung up on the terminology
  • DairyCo opted for Twitter first as this was where the important industry conversations seemed to be taking place
  • Linkedin is also a great professional networking tool, but probably moreso for agribusiness and rural biz than farm
  • LinkedIn not just a glorified address book? Twitter for attracting attention, building business
  • LinkedIn – Pro is accessibility to connecting/emailing colleagues. Con is that it’s relatively boring
  • We do an agri- blog with ‘full’ story on issues but use twitter to get message out & exchange ideas.

Q2 Using SM for business is v different from personal chat-can it do more harm than good without training?

  • Absolutely essential that the SM manager for any business is trained and knows the business well. Many big fails happen
  • Good question. I’ve always been on SM for business – the cause of connecting food and farm
  • While training is important for maximizing impact, SM is ultimately about convo. Know purpose, build community accordingly.
  • SM is like toothpaste – once it’s out you can’t put it back in
  • Training can move SM efficacy along more quickly, but not sure people will do more harm unless they stick their foot in mouth
  • Any communication that brings farmers together has to be good for all
  • Twitter for work but twitter has its place for image and information sharing. Training essential to ensure ‘on message’ coms
  • While caution is needed, showing personality sometimes needs to come before the perfect tweet. We are, after all, human.
  • It’s about showing personality. People LOVE a glimpse of human, not tech

Q3 How do you use SM to tell your story? What are the SM benefits to a UK rural business? Can you define its VALUE?

  • Twitter is truly instant communication with consumers and business
  • Hashtags a great way to spread a story via Twitter
  • Benefits … access to “up to the minute’ latest news and info.
  • Small percentage of population is rural. SM gives people a glimpse inside, builds understanding
  • Tell great stories as it happens – credibility and authenticity
  • SM works well as small bite sized info suits busy rural lifestyle
  • Social benefits great for sometimes isolated lifestyle, find similar like-minded people
  • Social media in OZ has worked to form communities, break down barriers of isolation and start conversations
  • Value of SM? People who do not know each other exist connect! They may also meet up and become friends?

Q4 How do you get those farmers & rural businesses that are not using social media to start..? Should they?

  • Need more events like Twitter in the Farmyard to demonstrate actual practical situations/benefits
  • Farming & Growing can be a lonely business at times, Twitter’s a good way to keep in touch with little effort spread the word
  • They should, as it can connect them to a wider group of potential customers, but persuading older farmers is hard
  • Give farmers a very clear reason why they would benefit from using social media. Different in different countries
  • One of the ways I help farmers understand need to be in SM is to show my research on activists talking farming
  • Education is the best way. farmers are technical, they’ll soon get the hang of it
  • Only been on twitter for just over two weeks, but amazed by farming activity on here
  • Some farmers enjoy the sharing of best practices, others seek answers, others like to ‘get off the farm.’ Need them all
  • Farmers ultimately have to realize that if they are not talking about farming, the convo is being had w/o them!
  • Would back up the call to have decent broadband & mobile coverage, modern comms falls to often at first hurdle
  • People need to enjoy Social Media for them to keep using it. No point trying to convert someone who isn’t going to enjoy it

Q5 How do you convey the benefits of SM to the sceptics? What helped you make a connection with a “non-ag” person through SM?

  • It’s a no-brainer: social media like AgriChatUK adds to more traditional ways of hearing informed debate on farming issues of the day
  • Share personal SM journey and examples from others in community around world
  • For us interaction with MP’s and decision makers has been invaluable
  • Part of the benefit is to debate, part to learn, part to inform
  • Agree! MPs and journos often more likely to respond to a tweet than email! Quick way to get message across
  • 41 People currently on our website, 7 from social referral. Google analytics speaks for itself
  • Social media is great for young people in agriculture to find work. There should be a social media platform dedicated to them where they get many Views
  • Personal experiences with SM good way to sell it to sceptics
  • Social media is all about conversations, talk with consumers, talk with producers
  • SM platform functionality is also truly staggering – link, embed, share… It’s all free and it’s all hugely effective
  • Growing trend (in non-farming matters largely so far) to raise awareness through twitter campaigns

Q6 On a scale of 1-10 (1 being low) how useful is social media to rural businesses now vs. in 5 years and why?

  • Think if we had SM like twitter during FMD outbreak it would have helped with the stress and lack of info
  • Must be a 10 for me have had fantastic feedback from all SM ,YES we need to share and get more farmers on SM
  • Assuming 10 is best, I’d say we’re at a 7-8, depending on your purpose. 5 yrs impossible to predict in ever changing SM space
  • SM is increasingly important esp when there are serious issues where communication across rural communities is beneficial
  • I’d say 9. SM can help drive innovation, knowledge transfer, media messaging and a sense of ‘community’. Really positive!
  • Bigger question is what tools will be available & how high will SM apathy/overload be?
  • We have no conception. 5 yrs ago there was no SM. in 5 yrs time who knows. But farm voices are unleashed. That will remain.

Q7 How do you combat social media apathy/ overload? Something that needs consideration?

  • My wife helps when she comments-are you on b****y twitter again? Time to put it down??
  • Like anything, it is essential to take a break sometimes. Don’t fret about unfollowers. Refocus, recharge, give + receive value
  • You can use hootsuite to spread your messages through the day with auto-schedule
  • We all need to switch off sometimes all I can say SM helped me through some tough times on the Farm this Spring
  • Wife to me this evening ” Are you on Twitter again ” Me “this is important it’s AgriChatUK and I have got to concentrate “

Q8 as SM is all about info & knowledge sharing & engagement, can u recommend 1 person to us who is a true “agvocate” & say why?

  • THIS, every Thursday. What better agvocacy?
  • I don’t think there can be any one person, it is a network after all, it can’t rely on a single person. It’s all of us
  • We all have non ag followers. Every Thur they see our feed, think WTF! But sth must go in. Subliminally the word spreads.

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 2 June 2013

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