In 2000, eight million Americans had broadband Internet at home. A decade later, that number has grown to nearly 200 million thanks in large part to the National Broadband Plan. Not coincidentally, expanded access to high-speed Internet in rural areas has paralleled the increased Internet use among ag retailers.
Earlier this year, the CropLife Media Group (CLMG) conducted a survey asking its primary audience questions about their Internet usage and preferences. We wanted to learn how ag retailers are using the Internet in 2010 and compare the results to a similar study we conducted in 2008.
Our research revealed a number of interesting findings, but five major trends really stood out. Here is a look at those trends:
1. Mobile Internet use rising steadily. A Morgan Stanley analyst predicts that within the next five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.” While perhaps not at the pace of the general public, smartphone use among ag retailers is up 25% since 2008, according to the CLMG survey. In my September 2010 column, “Web-Enabled Phones: Get Smart,” I listed 10 ways mobile devices are being put to use by the agricultural community. From tracking weather to checking crop prices, a growing number of on-the-go ag retailers are staying connected to the Web via their smartphones.
2. Higher expectations for relevant content. According to our survey, nearly half of the respondents (48%) said they have cancelled a subscription to a newspaper or magazine because they can get the same or related content online. This may suggest expectations for relevant, quality content online have reached the same level that exists for content in print. Of course, relevancy is always going to be subject to each user’s personal experience and what they are looking for. For some, a high-quality article with an infographic that clearly explains and answers his or her question may be perfectly relevant. For another, it may be a video interview of an industry expert addressing a new problem (i.e., soybean sudden death syndrome).
3. Online video consumption continues to climb. The number of U.S. households that are watching online video is growing four times faster than watching TV, according to a recent Nielsen study. The ag retail industry has joined the YouTube era as well, albeit on a smaller scale. More than 80% of our respondents said they have watched video online, up about 5% from 2008. When it comes to online video, interviews relating to technology (64%) was the topic that interested respondents most. It was followed by interviews relating to crop inputs (56%), product/equipment demonstrations (52%), and interviews relating to grower-customers (51%).
4. e-Learning trending upward. Web-based educational programs make use of a number of technologies, including e-mail, chat rooms, two-way interactive video teleconferencing, video streaming and voice-over-Internet. One particular teaching/training application that has struck a chord with ag dealers is the Webinar. According to our survey, more than 67% of respondents said they’ve attended at least one Webinar, up 35% from 2008. The Webinar format allows attendees to learn about topics relevant to their work, without having to spend time and money traveling. In addition, CLMG has even offered Certified Crop Advisers CEUs for attending its Webinars. For more information, visit CropLife.com/webinars.
5. Social media adoption is growing. Nearly half of all Americans are now members of at least one social network (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) — double the proportion of just two years ago, according to SocialMediaToday.com. While social network use is highest among the young, it’s not exclusively their club: two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds and half of those aged 35 to 44 also now have personal profile pages. Results from the CLMG survey indicate social media adoption among ag retailers is up 24% from 2008. But while memberships are up, most dealers have not yet fully immersed themselves in social media. About half (47%) of the respondents classified their level of social media use as “low” to “very low.” Only 5% considered themselves as “very high” users.