After writing my last column on why social media is a must for ag retailers, I heard from several readers who appreciated the article and agreed wholeheartedly with that notion. Social media is no longer an afterthought was the general sentiment expressed in the e-mails and story comments that I received.
In fact, one retailer even said her operation now employs two full-time social media people. “It’s crazy how social media has grown just in the past three years,” she said. I couldn’t agree more. Social media use among ag retailers has trended significantly upward from 2013 to 2016, based on surveys conducted by the CropLife Media Group in those years.
When asked to offer their general thoughts on using social media for work purposes in the 2016 survey, respondents offered some very telling responses. Here’s just a sampling of the pro-social media comments from retailers:
“Social media is becoming a bigger part of our business every day.”
“I feel social media is a great way to stay in front of the farmer.”
“I think its use will grow, especially as more of the younger generation takes over leadership roles.”
“I like to use social media to give us a positive image in the community and connect with our tech savvy customers.”
“We need to acknowledge that every employee can be our social media pipeline to the customer — plan for it, train for it, enable it, and measure it.”
That last comment really resonated with me. If you create a social media strategy — including planning, training, and measuring — you’re more likely to have success in the long run. The results of our 2016 survey suggests that many of you already are. Here are several key trends that stood out:
- Increased perceived value. There is not a more reliable indicator of acceptance than perception. Simply, if you don’t perceive something has value, you won’t accept it. For years, the majority of ag retailers were not accepting of social media, but that has shifted to a minority in 2016. According to our survey, more than 60% of respondents said they find value in using social media for work purposes, which is up 15% from 2013. From creating brand awareness, to increasing digital exposure, social media offers retailers a lot of value.
- Increased usage frequency. As more ag retailers find the value in social media, the frequency of its usage has also risen. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) are using social media one to six hours per week for work purposes, which is up 7% from 2013. In addition, 39% of retailers said they are using it “more frequently” than last year.
- Facebook, LinkedIn top favorite’s list. Social network preferences varied across the board in 2013, with no clear cut choice among retailers. In 2016, that is no longer the case. Facebook (42%) and LinkedIn (41%) have become the most popular social media platforms. They were followed by YouTube (31%) and Twitter (26%). About 29% of retailers said they don’t use any social networks, compared to 46% who said they didn’t in 2013.
- Social media policies more common. In general, social media policies in the workplace are gaining attention as an increasing number of employees share, post, tweet, like, and comment about everything and anything. The same is true in ag retail, as 43% of respondents said their company has a formal policy on the use of social media, up 14% from 2013.
- Smartphones the dominant driver. From texting the boss about a job status, to taking images of a crop’s pest problems, smartphones are widely used for navigating numerous important business activities. So it’s not surprising that they are also the preferred device used for social media. Nearly half of ag retailers (46%) use their smartphones to access social media for work purposes. Meanwhile, 39% of respondents use their desktop or laptop computer to access social media, while 15% use a tablet.
- Customers using it more than ever. One of the biggest reasons why retailers say they don’t use social media is because their customers aren’t using it. That trend has slowly shifted in the other direction. On average, retailers said 32% of their grower-customers use social media, up 8% from 2013.
- Customer service the primary purpose. With more of their customers on board, ag retailers are using social media as a tool to serve them. According to our survey, “agronomic tips/education/advice” (68%) is the most typical type of post made by respondents. It was followed by “market information” (46%) and “company/employee news” (44%).