The evolution and growth of social media use among ag retailers since 2010 has been nothing less than astonishing. In just six years, their collective mindset has taken a 180-degree turn, going from “social media is a waste of time” to “social media is an untapped resource.”
Social Media Usage surveys conducted by the CropLife Media Group during this span support this monumental shift. In 2010, few retailers (20%) said they were using social media for work purposes. In 2013, nearly half of retailers (45%) were embracing social media for business. And in January 2016, 60% of retailers said they found value in using social media.
Exactly what has caused this change in thinking is uncertain. Perhaps the next generation of retailers and growers has positively impacted the social media culture in the workplace. Or maybe it’s the stark realization that social media is far more than just an online popularity contest. That it can become an integral part of a marketing strategy.
“Social media is one of the cheapest and most underutilized forms of communication,” said one respondent from the 2016 survey. “It is the future of telling agriculture’s story, and we as an industry are not making it a large enough focus.”
While social media has come a long way in the eyes of retailers, it still has a long way to go for full adoption. A significant number of retailers (40%) say they still don’t find value in it. In addition to “it’s a waste of time,” other common reasons for not using social media include “not sure how to use it,” “there’s no perceived value,” and “not sure my customers are using it.”
To help convince the non-adopters to rethink their stance on social media, I offer the following reasons why it makes good business sense to give it a go:
- Creates brand awareness. For many ag retailers, creating brand awareness is the No. 1 objective of their social media marketing efforts. When used properly, social media can help to humanize a company’s brand by meeting their grower-customers where they are. This can transform a brand from a stale, corporate name to a living, breathing entity. The goal is to encourage as much positive conversation about your brand as possible. In doing so, you’ll create brand ambassadors who will help spread your message even further.
- Builds customer relationships. Savvy ag retailers are also leveraging social media to help build relationships with their grower-customers. By listening to what your customers are saying, whether it’s a question, concern, or problem, and then engaging with them by responding, you can turn social media into a legitimate customer service tool that supplements in-person meetings, e-mails, and phone calls. Customers are then actively involved and paying attention at each interaction.
- Cultivates a loyal community. All ag retailers want loyal customers, but building that community can be challenging. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer retailers the opportunity to build a long-term following. Perhaps the biggest key to social media success is having a policy that includes quick, accurate, and informative engagement with followers in real time. This, more than anything else, will go a long way to cultivating a loyal community.
- Increases digital exposure. Social media sites are more than just additional ways for ag retailers to communicate with their customers and the broader ag community. They can have a significant impact on your overall Web presence. When someone searches for Southern States Cooperative on Google, for example, the results should show the coop’s Website, its Facebook page, its LinkedIn page, and hopefully much more. If done right, your social media sites can dominate search engine results for all of your keywords.
- Enhances company trustworthiness. Social media is a proactive tool when it comes to increasing your company’s trustworthiness. By closely communicating with the ag community on a social media level, retailers become a trusted source of information. They can use social media to distribute valuable content, transforming a farmer’s negative experience into a positive outcome for your business, and in the process, build more trust.
- Expands potential sales. Social media can be a smart sales tool, but only if your grower-customers and prospects are using it. That’s a big assumption, but one our recent survey indicates is trending in that direction. Retailers said about 33% of their customers are using social media – up 8% from 2013. And if more and more of your customers are on board, then why not use social media’s instant access to their feedback to help jump-start your sales. Prospects are more likely to become customers if you respond to their specific requirements in a prompt and personal manner.