One of the most frequent questions I receive from agribusiness CEOs lately is ‘should our company be investing in social media?’
And usually, after reviewing their proposed content, their strategy -or lack thereof- and checking up on their audience engagement, I almost always respond with, “definitely not, you shouldn’t be on social media at all!”
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A HUGE BUSINESS TOOL
All businesses, whether they be agricultural or not, should not be on social media until they get the fundamentals of online marketing in place. They are often investing considerable time, money and resources, but getting very little return. In 2017, social media has really proven itself as a reputable, cost-effective and results-driven medium that works on a precise blend of scientific data, creativity and personal instinct to fuel product consideration and hopefully purchase. However, more often than not these channels are utilised in the same way personal pages would be, without any strategic thought whatsoever, and with lots of personal, low quality content instead.
Now, there’s a logical answer for this: most agricultural businesses sell their products and services – whether it be fertilisers, finance, or even machinery – through rural merchandising channels, but they often sell through an ‘insider’ network of word-of-mouth recommendations, local knowledge or immediate availability.
In reality, there are some important rules to social media and online marketing that many businesses are just unaware of, and they all start with having a clear objective. By the way, having your competitors or customers on social media does NOT qualify as a ‘Clear Objective’ or a reason for you to be on social too!
WHAT’S THE ULTIMATE SOCIAL MEDIA GOAL FOR YOUR BRAND?
Everyone’s first instinct is to say Sales!, but unless the aforementioned retail process is changed, and products and services are sold direct to farmers, and e-commerce is fully integrated into social platforms, there will always be barriers to conversion.
I believe that, in most instances, the most easily achievable goals are networking, conversation and engagement. In other words, the development of a meaningful relationship that generates trust, consideration and shares. Furthermore, the correct integration of social with all Out Of Home material strengthens the message and aids with brand recall, front of mind and eventually purchase. Likewise, poor management of social media, including bad community management, poor online persona, and incorrectly dealing with queries and complaints harms a brand and can negatively affect how a customer sees the brand offline.
Recent research by RadiumOne suggests that users who share brand content on their personal social media page are then almost 10 times more likely to make a purchase, particularly when content is shared through Dark Social (WhatsApp, email, Facebook inbox, Instagram DMs etc) where an estimated 75% of all social content is now distributed.
Social media is our modern day ‘bush telegraph’, and we all know a personal referral is the best recommendation you can get, no matter what generation you are from. It’s authentic and it demonstrates intent, plus it’s a lot more interesting and relevant than another puff piece testimonial in the local paper.
My experience with a diverse portfolio of clients doing social ‘properly’ demonstrates that only if businesses reach these goals of engagement and conversation, will farmers and customers alike be driven in-store and online by their friends, colleagues, agronomists and family to purchase. This, in my book, is far more powerful and meaningful than a sales spiel from a Merchandise Manager.
THE TOP THREE WAYS YOU’RE PROBABLY DOING THIS WRONG
This brings me to the next point: there are many good reasons to invest in social, but there are also many ways in which businesses are wasting their money.
Number 1: By not setting the right goals, or not setting goals at all. Have a short, a medium and a long term ‘Success Plan’ that outlines clearly what you’d like to see and when. Don’t be scared to set KPIs and to aim high.
Number 2: By not aligning your digital strategy to your offline efforts, and not integrating your social media plan with your Out Of Home products. Everything your brand does should have a cohesive tone of voice, look & feel and business objective, down to the smallest flier or 15-second radio ad.
Number 3: By not understanding the value of social media as a business tool. You don’t have to be a behemoth Fortune 500 company or have a best-selling product (yet!) to be able to carve a niche on social media. More importantly, you are a business. Treat your social media content as such!
SOCIAL MEDIA SALES?
I touched on this earlier, but I’ll expand some more now: the sales process is probably the key reason why I advise businesses not to be on social, unless the business or their retail partner do it properly. If you want to make money directly from social media, then become a PR consultancy or, if you’re really brave, change your channel to market and go direct.
The other way to make money from social media, and probably the biggest tip I give CEOs, is this: resource your team appropriately, invest money in building an online audience, and then fuel these relationships with meaningful online content. Only this way you will be able to have a solid online brand standing, and a powerful strategy to get your future customers off social media!
The best social media strategies have to ‘inspire’ customers, help them ‘decide’ and then take them away from social media into e-commerce websites, email databases and retail stores to buy your products.