Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do You Really Need Your Own Website?

Last week, I posted something to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jah38; go ahead and send me a friend request) about Super Bowl ads that showed a company's Facebook page rather than a conventional .com page.  I missed a few, but brands such as Budweiser, Doritos, and Ritz fell into this category.  Why would a company do this?  Those pages are only accessible to the half-billion people with active Facebook accounts.  Here are some of my thoughts and things you need to consider before going down this path yourself.

1. You can bet they did their research!  They determined that members of their target markets were heavy Facebook users.  Don't go down this path unless it makes sense for you.

2. Facebook is a known format. Users know what they're getting from a Facebook page.  Sure, a company can hire web engineers to create new tabs for a business page, but the look and feel is somewhat standardized.  This makes it attractive to consumers.

3. Likes are golden.  With a click of a button, a user can choose to receive updates from these brands in the user's news feed.  Websites don't offer that.  Referring back to a post I wrote last week (Keeping the "Social" in Social Media), Facebook is a leading tool that can facilitate a relationship between a company or brand and the public.  It looks like these brands are moving toward relationships rather than simply telling people stuff.

4. Cost may be lower.  This isn't so important for a huge company that can afford to advertise during the Super Bowl, but it is for most business owners.  Having a basic Facebook page is "free" once you have a computer, internet connection, etc.  However, it takes time to manage the relationship with the public.  Be sure to build in that hidden cost as you think about this strategy.

So, do you need a website?  Probably!  Each of these brands still has a website.  Most small-scale farm and food businesses, however, can probably have a low frills website with some of the more engaging content on Facebook if that's where the customers are.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reward Customers WIth Facebook "Deals" & "Places"

By now, most blog readers surely know all about Facebook, the 800 pound gorilla of Social Media.  But Facebook has some relatively new features that can really help to spread the word about your business.  Places (www.facebook.com/places) has been live for a few months at this point but Deals (www.facebook.com/deals) was just announced.  A business owner with a "bricks & mortar" presence should take note of the opportunities these tools present.

Facebook Places
Places allows a user to "check in" at a given geographic location using any of a variety of "smart phones." (See their website for details on which phones may be used.)  A check in is simply a way of telling their friends and the business that the user is in that place.  For example, I might check in at Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm & Market (http://www.hollabaughbros.com/) next time I am in Biglerville.  If I were to do that, I'd be announcing to all of my Facebook Friends where I am.  I can also add text to tell them what I'm doing, how I like it (or don't like it), and that they really need to buy some Nittany apples.

That check in is then announced to at least some of my Friends. (I may have some that I choose not to share it with and still others who may have hidden my posts from their feeds.)  The post on their feed will show that I've checked in at a location, the text that I included with my check in, and the names of anyone else I may have "tagged" in my check in.  (A tag is simply a way of showing that others were with me when I checked in.)  The location name, which would be "Hollabaugh Bros., Inc." since that's their Facebook name, is clickable.  If a friend clicks on that, they go to a page with a description of the business (if the business has entered that) as well as an interactive map that can be used to get directions to Hollabaugh Brothers.

A business owner or manager can claim a business through a verification process on Facebook.  If you are even thinking about using Places or Deals, you should start that process.  This would allow you to track check ins.

Facebook Deals
Deals adds a lot of value to Places by allowing the business to offer, you guessed it, deals to customers who check in using Places.  I am providing a short summary here.  For all the details, check out Facebook's site including this pdf file that provides an outstanding overview including tips on how to structure a deal and how to manage the process.

You can offer four different types of deals.
  1. Individual Deals - A user is eligible for the deal with one check in.
  2. Loyalty Deals - A user is eligible for the deal with at least 2, but no more than 20, check ins.
  3. Friend Deals - Only users who check in with others are eligible for the deal.
  4. Charity Deals - A check in triggers a contribution to a charity. The business must determine the amount of the contribution and the target charity.
What's In It For A Business?
As I talk to business owners using Facebook, I'm commonly asked how to generate "Likes" on their Pages.  Places is a good way to get word out by allowing people to check in at your business and, in so doing, putting the business's name out to their friends.  Deals helps by providing a stronger incentive to check in.  Like most other Facebook features, Places and Deals are both free of charge.  However, there is a footnote on one of the pages in the pdf file referenced above.  It says: "Note: Deals is in beta and is available to a limited set of businesses. The product, product availability, and pricing are all subject to change in the future."  It may be worth a try whether it's free or not.  Offering a discount or free product (for example) along with what is likely to be a small fee, if any, charged by Facebook might be a great investment for many ag and food businesses.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Surveys of mid-Atlantic consumers conducted by Penn State researchers part 7

Continuing with the PSU consumer research on purchasing behavior, another survey question asked survey respondents about origin of farmers' market produce.

Participants were asked if they purchased fresh produce from farmers' markets. Those that responded ‘yes’(63%) were then asked what percentage of produce grown at the farmers' market they believed was actually grown by the farmers at the market. If they did not believe that 100% of the produce was grown by the farmers at the market (84.6% of participants who shopped at farmers’ markets), they were then asked to indicate where they believed the produce was grown.

Results indicated that approximately 14.4% of participants who shopped at farmers’ markets believed that all of the produce sold at farmers’ markets was actually grown by the farmers at the market. The majority of the participants (53.8%) believed that 50-99% of produce at the market was grown by the market farmers. The majority (67.7%) reported that they believed the produce at the markets were grown within either their state/metro area or the mid-Atlantic region.

press release

As an ag entrepreneur, what is the importance of this data? If you sell at a farmers' market, do you think it is important to advertise the origin of your produce? Why do you think only 14.4% of respondents believe that all of the produce sold at farmers’ markets was actually grown by the farmers at the market?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Make the Most from Your Social Media Presence

How many Facebook fans does your business have?  How many Twitter followers?  25? 500? 1000? Now, what's the quality of your relationship with those fans/followers?

In Jeff's last post he talked a bit about staying engaged in the social media world.  On the heels of that, I thought this article from Dermot McCormack, Executive VP of digital media at MTV, was worth sharing.  Yes, I know, you're probably thinking "but my business is NOTHING like MTV!" or "MTV is a huge corporation, I'm just a small farm."  While that may be true, it is important to note that we often learn from others. The "others" do not need to "look" like us to glean valuable lessons that can be applied to our specific situation or circumstances.

With that in mind, Mr. McCormack offers these 5 tips to strengthen social media presence:
1. Get Organizational Buy-In and Investment.  Make sure that everyone involved in the business recognizes the value to your social media presence and are invested in making that presence a success.  Even if there are only two of you, you should both be on the same page when it comes to social media.

2. Develop an Intelligent and Flexible Organzation Structure.  When a business employs more than one person, we tend to assign people certain areas of responsibility.  While this makes sense for something such as handling finances, when it comes to social media, you wants to share all aspects of the business.  Get someone from each aspect of your business involved - production, maketing, retail, etc.  This ties directly in with the next tip...

3. Diversify Content to Appeal to a Range of Interests.  It can get boring to followers, fans, etc. when you only share information of one sort.  Let's say you raise beef cows and direct market cuts.  Your social media friends want to hear more than just production stats or cooking tips.  Mix it up. Maybe one day you share a family tip on grilling the perfect steak, while the next you share your pick to win the Daytona 500. Just as you discuss a multitude of topics with your friends and family on a daily basis, do the same with your social media followers. 

4. Speak in an Authentic Voice.  Be yourself.  You don't want your messages to sound like they were randomly generated from a computer, but rather from a human.

5. Listen and Take Notes.  Putting information and messages out into the social realm is fantastic, but if you're not listening to feedback to those messages you may be really missing out.  Take time to answer questions, respond to criticism, ask for input.

We try to follow these tips, and it can be difficult at times, but there is a definate payout when it comes to quality interaction.  Quality relationships, whether with customers or the public at large, can determine long-run success.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Keeping the "Social" in Social Media

I met with someone today and had a great conversation about using social media (SM) to promote her business.  She manages promotions for a new retail business and is exploring all sorts of media avenues for advertising and promotion.  She's doing some great stuff and is excited about the prospects for her business.  She also has some wonderful ideas for using SM as part of her promotional portfolio of tools.  The conversation reaffirmed some thoughts in my mind that should be shared.  I want to discuss two thoughts: 1) the discussion about your business is likely to be happening already and 2) SM is about relationships over "just selling" product.

If you think of SM (eg, Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, MySpace, ...) as different means of engaging in a discussion with people (customers, potential customers, critics, etc.) then you are on the right track.  I recently heard Max Spiegel (Twitter @MaxSpiegel) describe SM as walking into a dinner party and mingling.  In that environment, you'll often walk into conversations that have already begun.  In the same way, it's very possible that your business or product(s) are already being discussed online.  You can choose whether to engage in the chat or walk away. 

If the chat's about you, you'll probably want to stay engaged and sway the discussion, respond to positive and negative comments, and otherwise show that you know what you're talking about (build credibility).  As a business owner, this communication will truly be two-way.  You will get to hear from the public in ways that you couldn't before.  It also allows you to respond to them as well as provide promotional messages.  Do keep in mind that SM users usually like to engage, not simply receive updates.  So plan to listen to them and respond as needed. 

As you send and receive messages, you will be developing a relationship with your followers/friends (depending upon which SM service we're discussing).  There is a critical difference between having customers and having relationships.  Though clearly related, many customers want to have a relationship with many types of businesses.  If you have a retail store selling food or other ag-related products, you might be a good candidate for effectively using SM to generate relationships.  Many want to connect with their food source.  However, relationships take time to develop and manage.  If you want to develop relationships, there are a couple things you need to do.

1. Make time to engage.  If you have to, make an appointment with your computer to check your SM accounts for comments/questions or other feedback.  This needs to be done daily.  You also need to provide fresh content frequently.

2. Get a smart phone.  Although definitely not required, they sure help!  Check your accounts from your phone, post updates, pictures, links to other materials, etc.

To be successful, you'll ultimately just need to work SM management into your daily management routine.  We humans invest time in the relationships that matter to us.  From a business perspective, few relationships matter more than the one you have with your customers, collectively or individually.

I'm curious to hear feedback on how you see business owners/managers managing their SM presence.  Let's hear it!

Leading the Way

Sometimes being an entrepreneur means having to tackle the challenges that come with being the first to do something a particular way.  As in the story shared below, this meant taking the time and effort to work with state regulators to demonstrate that a particular processing method, while not in large-scale use, is safe and effective.  Not only did this farmer's efforts help him achieve his goals, but it allowed others to follow his path.

GA dairy farmer helps pave the way for other small-scale operators

Friday, February 4, 2011

Surveys of mid-Atlantic consumers conducted by Penn State researchers part 6

As described in my earlier posts, Penn State researchers asked survey participants from metropolitan mid-Atlantic cities about their product purchasing behavior. In one particular question, participants were asked to review a list of 46 common fruits and vegetables that are readily available at a variety of retail outlets and indicate which of the fruits and vegetables are grown in the mid-Atlantic region.

Results from the survey indicated significant differences for responses to this question between participants who reported being a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and those who reported that they were not CSA members. A greater percentage of participants who belonged to CSAs selected more incorrect responses than did participants who did not belong to CSAs. For example, a greater percentage of CSA members reported that certain fruits and vegetables, such as bananas and grapefruit, are grown in the mid-Atlantic compared to non-CSA members. Additionally, a smaller percentage of CSA members correctly reported that other fruits and vegetables are grown in the mid-Atlantic, such as beans, corn, and apples, compared to non-CSA members.

To read more about this study, click here.

If you are a produce grower or seller in the mid-Atlantic, how do you think these results affect your business? Have you had a significant amount of people asking for produce not grown in the mid-Atlantic? If you are a CSA provider, will you start (or do you currently) education on what produce is mid-Atlantic based?