Opinion: Using social media in the produce industry
By Oster & Associates president Bev Oster
Involvement with social media has captured the world and offers an incredibly effective way to reach a wide range of people and businesses, including those in the produce industry. Even if you’re a B2B company and don’t want to talk directly to consumers, your current and prospective customers are using social media both personally and professionally.
Reaching out to them via social channels will provide new business leads and cement relationships with existing partners. Here are a few ideas that have proven to be successful with some of the companies we work with in the produce industry.
What to use
If your customers are growers, distributors or retailers, but not end consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, choose social media outlets specifically geared toward this audience.
While most of us use Facebook as a way to talk to friends and family, it can be a great way to also reach those shoppers who will go into the supermarket to buy your bananas, tomatoes, peppers and plantains. And never forget that people in business are also using Facebook, so those retail buyers may see what you post or advertise.
But for direct marketing to businesses, the most widely used social media platforms are Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter lets you start and join conversations about specific subjects. It’s fast paced and interactive. LinkedIn is a good place to develop group interaction, to post job openings, find employment opportunities, and talk to others in the industry. And while Twitter is used by both consumers and business people, LinkedIn is more strictly business oriented.
What and when to post
A commitment to social media should not be taken lightly. Consider it equally as important as any marketing program, and develop a plan, a schedule and important messages you want your customers to understand. You can become a thought leader for the produce industry by increasing your presence on social media strategically.
Keep in mind that the people you interact with on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are not all the same. If most of the interaction on Facebook will be with shoppers, then think about what is important for them to know about your brand.
As an example, for Organics Unlimited, an organic banana company who we’ve worked with for many years and manage their social media, our Facebook posts include recipes, nutritional information on bananas, the benefits of organic versus conventional and fun facts that could include how to polish your shoes with banana peels. Since Facebook posts will continue to be visible over a long time, particularly if there are likes or comments, one post can last several days and still be relevant.
On Twitter, some of the consumer messaging you use on Facebook might be appropriate, but some of it is not. Twitter uses a system of “hashtag” conversations using the “#” symbol. If you want to start, or be part of, a conversation on Mexican winter vegetables, use #MexicanWinterVegetables in related tweets.
For our client, Farmer’s Best, we use strategic hashtags to connect with others who are interested in their Mexican-grown produce. Because of the fast-paced nature of Twitter, the only way people will continue to see your Twitter posts is if they are re-tweeted or quoted by other users. Encourage your customers to engage with your posts and keep the conversation going.
LinkedIn is a good way to connect specifically with the industry. Few consumers are going to look on LinkedIn for recipes or health benefits of your high-quality produce. So, use this platform as a portal to the growers, distributors and retailers.
It’s an important place to talk about growing practices that might be a beneficial part of your brand, transportation and logistics issues, government regulations, weather issues in your growing region or the introduction of new merchandising ideas.
These conversations continue to stick around longer than tweets, so they don’t need to be quite as frequent. In all cases, posting regularly on social media shows commitment to your brand and maintains relevance for your company.
But don’t post in a vacuum. If you get comments, respond immediately whether they’re positive or negative. If your friends or the people you follow posts anything relevant to your brand, comment on their posts. Develop a relationship, just like you would with people you really know and would like to continue to be friends or colleagues with the future.
Who to follow
There seems to be no end to the people or companies you can follow on social media. A good place to start is with your customers or potential customers. If you’re selling to distributors, see if you can also find retailers to follow. If you’re selling to retail chains, why not see if the chain has some unique social media presence for stores in specific markets, such as Fred Meyers in Seattle.
After you’ve found your customers, target media influencers by following industry-specific publications, whether they are in print or online. From there, follow writers and editors of these publications. They might connect you with additional ways to market your brand in the future.
Finally, look at who your customers and the media are following to see if you’re missing anyone important. Check out your competitors and see who they are following. They just might give you some new leads.
Relationship building in social media should be no different than an in-person relationship. Saying hello to a person once doesn’t build a relationship. It may start a conversation, but until that conversation continues, it’s somewhat meaningless. Current and potential customers need to be courted continually to develop meaningful, professional relationships and potential leads.
There’s an old saying that patience is a virtue. Patience requires consistency and time to develop a successful future. Reading new comments, engaging with new and existing users and continually posting content may take more time and perseverance than you originally thought, but it will pay off in the long run. Plan carefully how much time your company will spend a week on social media, then break that into time you will spend each day. Time is money in the business world, so make social media a part of your marketing budget as well.
The final step involves taking action and organization. Social media needs a plan, a purpose and an engagement. It can’t be done well on a whim of the youngest and least strategic member of your staff. But it does not have to all be done by one person either.
Like any brand development tactics, it needs specific objectives and a strategies followed by daily implementation. Social media may be the key to the future, but it needs to be approached with the same basic discipline that you use every day to make your business successful.