Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and email newsletters are all web-based marketing tools that allow you to actively reach out to and engage with customers. But as with any other marketing tool, you must evaluate each of these options by thinking about what they can do for you and what they require of you to be used effectively. Download CISA’s full “Introduction to Basic Marketing Practices” manual for more information on how social media can fit into your marketing plan, plus a worksheet on social media decision making on page 27 of the manual.
Websites are not considered social media, because their presence on the web is static and passive. However, if you intend to have an online presence, you should have a website as a home base. Websites are flexible and expandable, and can provide a permanent home for all your content (such as newsletters, recipes, photos, etc). Having an attractive website also provides more credibility than just having a Facebook page, for example. Remember to include links to any social media you use on your website. See our previous post on farm websites for more information.
Blog software has gotten sophisticated enough that a blog could function as your website, if it was laid out in a traditional website format and used like a website. A blog can also exist in addition to a more traditional website and be used for timely updates or musings. If you are thinking about using a blog in this way, consider:
• Appropriate for small, timely updates. You may not want to change the home page of your website very often, but a blog can be updated whenever a new crop comes in or a lamb is born.
• A blog structure is useful if you have a lot of content. A large recipe library, for example, can be easily navigated on a blog.
• Blogs can be used for informal content that may not otherwise be important enough to dominate your website’s home page. If you want to share your thoughts on the season, a link to an interesting video, or a funny picture, using a blog is a good format.
• Readers can opt to get automatic updates from your blog through a blog aggregator. Blogs are automatically set up so that readers using aggregators can follow them—this is not a special feature that you need to set up as the blog creator.
• Blogs should be regularly updated. Traffic will drop off if you do not update often.
• Requires a certain skill level with writing or photography. You must be able to develop quality content on a regular basis in order to maintain interest. You don’t have to be a professional photographer or writer, but give some thought to whether your skills are or could be developed.
• If you fixate on creating a successful blog rather than thinking about how a good blog can serve your farm, you can waste a lot of time on this. Are you marketing goals going to be served by what you can do on a blog? Will it help you reach your target audience?
Email newsletters can be used for updates throughout the seasons about new products and markets, and to give existing customers some insight into you and your business. Note: do not buy an email list or add people without their consent. You are legally required to have an opt-out option on every email. If you do not use a service that includes an opt-out button, add a sentence to your email that explains how people can remove themselves from your list.
• Email newsletters are often referred to as permission or consent marketing, meaning that customers have given you permission to contact them about your offerings. This means that you have a direct line to people who are interested in you and your product. This can be a great opportunity!
• E-newsletters can either contain content themselves, or just lead customers to your blog or website. This flexibility makes them a useful tool in concert with your other marketing efforts.
• Content is encapsulated in just the email format unless you also post it somewhere else. So if you are sharing recipes through your email newsletter but not maintaining a recipe section on your website, there is no way for new customers to find them, and even your email recipients will have to dig through their emails for them.
• Not useful for extremely regular updates. Do not send an email more than once a week. Sending emails too often may deter your customers from reading them or even cause them to unsubscribe from your e-newsletter list.
• One-way communication. Unlike Facebook or even the comment section of a blog, email newsletters don’t engage customers in dialogue. That may not be a drawback, depending on your goals.
Facebook is free, intuitive to use, and can be an excellent way to build a rapport with customers.
• Appropriate for short, timely updates. Unlike an email newsletter, you can post updates to Facebook daily.
• Enables dialogue with customers. This can build a sense of connection with customers. It’s worth noting that the commenting features potentially open you up to public critique, so you should consider in advance how you will respond to any difficult comments.
• Proactive. Like an email newsletter, Facebook reaches people through media that they commonly use.
• Allows customers and other businesses to share your information with their networks. Many customers “like” pages casually and easily.
• Informal and personal. You can be quirky and casual on Facebook – it’s a way to show the people behind the business.
• Don’t start it if you can’t maintain it. People will not see your page if you do not regularly post content.
• Requires regular attention: you need to check it often enough to respond to customers in a timely way.
• Not a good host for complex or lengthy content. If you plan to share lots of recipes or want to post nuanced thoughts, consider one of the long-form outreach tools, like an email newsletter or blog.
Twitter is relatively new, and has not been adopted by small businesses in the way that Facebook has.
Like Facebook, Twitter is appropriate for short, timely updates. It is much faster-paced than Facebook – multiple daily tweets is fine, and possibly even necessary if you want your page to be noticed. One feature that distinguishes Twitter from Facebook is that it allows topic-based interactions, so people can find you either through personal networks, or through discussions about specific topics. The challenges of Twitter are that it is fast-paced and dense, making it easy to get lost in the stream of information. It requires active use to yield results, and real effort to build a following. If you already use Twitter, there is no harm in using it for your business. But if you are interested in experimenting with social media, we recommend starting with Facebook.
Claire Morenon is the Program Coordinator for CISA and wrote CISA's Marketing Manual. For questions regarding the manual or its content, contact Claire at email@example.com.
If you are a Local Hero member farm, you can contact Devon Whitney-Deal, Local Hero Member Services Coordinator at 413-665-7100, ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about setting up one-on-one technical assistance for your social media efforts.