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For any farm business that is trying to reach out to a customer, marketing needs to be a critical line item. It can help people become aware of you and what you offer. It can also translate those aware of your business into customers, repeat customers and even champions of your business and product. Without this transition, it can be a tough road getting enough business to make it worthwhile.

Social media presents some tremendous opportunities for farm businesses to promote themselves at a relatively low cost. (low – not free, your time is valuable) When looking at what tools are available, the first one that typically comes to mind is Facebook. We are going to delve a little deeper into how Facebook can fit into your marketing plan that is reaching out to a non-farming consumer. (Keep in mind that you still need to create a marketing plan in order to be successful. Who is your audience? What information are they looking for? How often will you post? How will you track success? Is Facebook even the right channel? These are all questions you need to answer before you start. )

Facebook is the giant in social media. With over a billion active users and 500 million people signing in per day, it is no wonder that marketers think of Facebook first when they think about social media. North Americans spend more time on Facebook than on any other website. The first step is knowing what is available to you.

A profile is what you create when you first sign up for Facebook. It represents a person. In fact, it must represent a person. Facebook can come along at anytime and shut a profile down if they do not believe it to be a person. This is why you don’t want to create a profile for your farm, but instead only for yourself. I’ve seen it happen where just as a business becomes successful, Facebook wipes it out because it wasn’t created properly.

A Facebook group is very similar to a real-life club. It allows a group of people to share photos, videos and text, usually around a specific topic. A Facebook group can be public for anyone to see and be a part of, or can be private so that only those invited can see and be a part of the conversation. It creates a more personal experience around an issue, but is limited in the number of people that can join. A group is usually not recommended for promoting a farm business.

A page is where Facebook wants all of the businesses, brands and causes to line up under. It offers similar tools to your own profile page, such as event calendar, photo gallery and a wall to post information. You can also use some of the Facebook applications to further personalize your page. This is the recommended tool for farm businesses to promote themselves and their products.

With a Facebook page set up, we bring in a farm that has found tremendous success on Facebook. Heeman’s is a family farm with flower greenhouses as well as produce ranging from sweet corn to their very popular strawberries. They are based east of London, Ontario near Thorndale and Will Heeman is the third generation and now handles all of the marketing and customer relations. When talking about social media, he says they started using it because they were hoping to attract a younger demographic to the idea of gardening and sourcing local produce.

Facebook has been one of their biggest successes, boasting a community of nearly six thousand likes. It offers everything from gardening tips, to what is in season. That content isn’t taken lightly though. “Posting what you see or what you think, is interesting but without focus you can find yourself consumed in social media with no measurable returns,” says Will. “I always consider how the content I am posting will support our goals for that platform and work – either directly or in the same direction – to reaching the goal.”

With a focus on content, Will has been very happy with the results. Because Facebook offers ‘insights’ it allows Will and his family to measure their messages. “We have a 92% female audience, 80% of whom are over the age of 35 and that’s huge for us as this demographic are most likely to garden and purchase food for their household. We’re also reaching our next generation of clients, and we hope that when they seek out a trusted source for flowers or berries, they come to Heeman’s.”

Facebook can be a great tool to help your marketing efforts, but it remains critical to plan. Will makes a great point in saying, “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” When you have a plan you can be ready for the next big social media tool, whatever that happens to be, because you are focused on a goal, on your content, and not simply on joining a bandwagon.

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