In an advancing world of technology, there is a raft of platforms to launch careers and businesses from. Farmers Guardian blogging guru Emily Ashworth explores how farming businesses can use social media to stand out from the crowd.
There is no escaping today’s vocabulary. You are either talking or reading about the latest hashtags, bloggers, Facebook videos and selfies, and if you are not, you could be seriously missing out on a storm of creative ideas.
Social media has flourished and while it may seem like it has been around forever, it was not until the early 2000s, when sites such as MySpace and LinkedIn became prominent, that the storm swept us all up. It introduced us to a virtual universe, connecting us to almost anybody, anywhere, anytime.
With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest at the forefront, their popularity makes them the go-to platforms to socialise, push personal projects and, of course, thrust a business into the public spotlight.
Anybody can have a digital presence, but it only takes one picture, post or tweet to make people start talking and seriously elevate your status.
Each individual site has its own niche point for attracting visitors, so how do you decide which is best for promoting your business?
Instagram focuses solely on photography and has proved to be hugely influential in the careers of food lovers, fitness coaches and fashion bloggers, whereas Twitter and Facebook are more word and video orientated, collating thousands of shares on some of the content which goes viral.
Two years ago, Joe Wicks, also known as The Body Coach, had four followers and spent hours posting free content. Today, he is the latest Instagram craze after amassing a huge following
Whatever industry you work in, there are certain principles which can be adopted to boost your social media presence.
Take Joe Wicks, otherwise known as The Body Coach, and the latest Instagram craze. His secret to success was posting pretty pictures of food and healthy living along with 15 second videos of how to cook balanced and tasty dishes in 15 minutes. In just three years, after posting reams of content, his hashtag #leanin15 is now viral.
He cut through the noise being made about juice-fasts and low-fat substitutes and his quirky style and tone has led to a total of 928,000 followers on Instagram and more than 132,000 on Twitter – a clear indication of how being yourself, posting creative pictures and believing in yourself is a winning combination.
The point is, if you want to be considered a serious contender in your area, you have to be a major contender on such sites.
They go hand-in-hand, providing you with an audience and a chance to find your voice.
According to social media strategy and advice website blog.hootsuite.com, the key to success is in knowing your audience and being aware of tools available to us which are imperative in boosting business.
They say sites such as Facebook and Twitter enable us to really point content at specific people, as you can now use geotargeting, which lets us hit audiences filtered down by location, gender, interests or age.
Promotion of yourself or your business used to be done by good-old fashioned word of mouth.
Today, it is more about having an online presence and, when checking out a potential employee, contractor or even restaurant, many now search for their digital presence.
Are they smart? Do they update it? What is their look and feel? What are other people saying about them?
The clinching selling point for most, however, is having a unique voice. You need to decide on your target audience, your vision and the core values of what you are trying to achieve and stick to the structure. You cannot give followers a wavering message.
Andrea Loubier, social media expert from GetMailBird.com, says: “Keep users engaged all the time, but do not annoy them. “Give users the inside of what is happening behind the scenes, show them it is just people behind the product and share knowledge and content related to your industry. Establish yourself as an authority.”
"Keep users engaged all the time, but do not annoy them. Establish yourself as an authority" ANDREA LOUBIER
Farming is an industry which often gets lumbered with the taboo of being ‘left behind’ when it comes to aspects such as social media, but it is actually quite the opposite.
Farmers of all ages have taken to the trend, allowing what was once a somewhat isolated occupation to become a closer community which can readily discuss topics or crises.
AgriChat UK, for example, was set up in 2011 as the first UK-based agricultural hashtag to facilitate discussions among farmers on Twitter. Almost a year later, in March 2012, a team was formed to organise and host weekly discussions for the growing community.
Since then, there has been a discussion every week, plus one-off specials for crises, such as bovine TB.
Club Hectare is another example of a support network, and it has recently celebrated its fourth anniversary. Its 410 members exchange farming related news, views and information on Twitter, using the #clubhectare hashtag.
In the dairy sector, #teamdairy urged the public to sign an epetition last January calling for farmers to be paid a minimum price for milk. The campaign received almost 10,000 signatures in 24 hours and emphasised the power social media has in helping steer influence.
Farming Futures is a website dedicated to helping the agricultural sector thrive in a time when farmers are faced with continual challenges. The site features a blog section which discusses the importance of harnessing social media within the industry – the benefits, the connections and how to put it to good use.
Farming Futures summarises this by highlighting three key points. The first is the importance of networking, which decreases isolation and improves direct contact with influential people, globally and locally.
The next is expanding industry knowledge, as being online in bulk can help bring about change in terms of tackling problems. For example, in 2012, #sosdairy, a campaign to focus awareness on the milk price, attracted such a large audience it resulted in fairer pay for farmers.
The final element is linked to consumer engagement. As we are a now a population of online buyers, talking to your customer in this way is of high importance. Buying decisions can be easily influenced by social media and you can gain an understanding of what customers want.
It really is a blog-eat-blog world out there and you have to know your purpose if you are going to succeed. I began my food blog, My Grandma Taught Me How To Cook, in 2013 after documenting my way through my grandmother’s cookbook while travelling.
At first, it was a lot more baking-based, entwined with memories of my family meals at the dinner table, but when I came home the focus changed a little. I became fascinated with our British traditions, local farm produce and past ways of life. Yes, my path altered slightly, but the basis was still the same. I continued to write about memories, my passion for my grandma’s cooking and the importance of family meals, which was not confusing to my followers.
My whole concept is centred on old-fashioned values, so social media was never really on my radar - until it needed to be. I began to research about wonder bloggers who had managed to bag themselves dream jobs because of their sites.
If I was to survive, I needed to be on their level.
Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook: I took to them all and this was another huge learning curve. You have to love what you write enough to be able to go forward and be proud of what you produce, otherwise, how will anyone else enjoy what you do?
Gaining followers by whatever means is a long road and people on social media are unforgiving. If you are not intriguing them, they are not following you. I picked up on trends leaning towards farmers’ markets and how people were coming around to the ‘farm2fork’ ethos, so jumped on this while it was hot. I also looked at trending hashtags and how other bloggers spoke to their followers. You can learn a lot from others, but you must try not to get caught up in how well they are doing.
You have to keep focusing on yourself, your product and your passion and, with time, you will create your own hub with people who want to talk and interact about the same things as you. After three years of hard work, I am now a finalist in the UK Blog Awards.
It is such an achievement for me and feels like my hard work has paid off. The biggest cost you will probably encounter when first starting out is time.
You may already have a job or a family, so fitting something as dedicated as a blog or business start around these factors will be testing. The initial decision as to why you are starting a blog or business will set you on the right path.
Are you doing it for fun, as a serious hobby or as a means to take your future in a different direction? If it is the latter, here is something you will need to take into consideration - how often can you realistically maintain content? You will have to provide regular blog posts, emails and social media updates. Even if these areas are updated twice weekly, at least your audience will expect it.
If you are aiming for your new venture to turn into a career, you may need to think about money for Facebook advertisements and additional marketing tools.These types of ads can range from anything upto a couple of pounds to hundreds.
Work out your budgets and what promotional additions could be beneficial to you. And it may not be the first thing which springs to mind, but having a good computer will be your main base, so think of how much storage you could use, whether you will need editing programmes and how efficient you will have to become.
Jake Freestone: Jake has his own blog and YouTube channel which gets thousands of views.
His passion for educating the public about farming is clear (www.farmerjakef.blogspot.co.uk)
Amanda Owen shares pictures of her life on her 810-hectare (2,000-acre) upland farm she manages with her husband and nine children, near Kirkby Stephen (@AmandaOwen8 on Twitter)
‘Arable Men: It’s in the soil’ has one of the most successful arable Facebook pages out there with almost 27,000 followers, and the aim is to increase awareness of agriculture to the wider public
Camilla and Roly Purzey entered the industry as new entrants and have built up a successful sheep farm, online retail firm and a number of diversification ventures (www.camillaandroly.co.uk)
Farming Selfies: A blog set up by Essex farmer Will Wilson, which collects the latest ‘felfies’ (farming selfies) from around the world, showcasing rural working lives (www.farmingselfie.com)