Farming Magazine - December, 2012

COLUMNS

Farm Marketing: The Off-Season is the Perfect Time for Social Media

By Diane Baedeker Petit


Photo courtesy of raymortim/morguefile.
Now that the growing season is over and the holidays are approaching, if your products are seasonal and you don't sell holiday products, you may think you're done marketing until spring. However, you're never really done marketing.

It's always a good idea to stay in touch with your customers during the off-season. You can, for example, do occasional mailings during the winter to keep up your farm's visibility until spring rolls around. However, that would be an additional expense at a time when cash flow is tight. In the age of social media, you now have the means to keep the channels of communication with your customers open year-round at no additional expense.

If you use Facebook, Twitter or blogs, among other venues, you have the ability to convey marketing information and messages to your customers every day, every hour, even every minute, if you're so inclined. The conundrum is that in the spring, summer and fall you have plenty of news and information to share, but you don't have the time to post it. In the winter, you have more time, but there's less - or maybe nothing - to say, or so you think.

It's not as much of a dilemma as you might imagine. There are ways to take advantage of the extra time you might have now to extend your marketing into the off-season and make your prime marketing time more effective.

First of all, you can use this time to plan a schedule of topics for social media posts throughout the coming year. If you're like me, just coming up with topics to write about in articles, updates, tweets and blog posts is at least half of the effort. If you know ahead of time what you want to write about, the writing is much easier.

Having a set schedule of topics would also allow you to write some of the more routine updates ahead of time and possibly assign the writing to others on your staff. Then all you have to do is copy and paste when you're ready to post. When the growing season starts up, you can supplement the preplanned content with fresh information.

If you don't have time to do the copying and pasting during the business day, there are tools available that let you prepare and schedule updates and tweets to post automatically.

Facebook allows status updates on organization pages to be scheduled for a future date and time. Just type in the post, then click on the little clock icon at the bottom of the status update box to select the date and time you'd like it to appear on your Timeline.

You can pick a date and time that makes sense relative to the content, or pick a day and time when your friends are most likely to be online.

When it comes to Twitter, there are a number of websites that allow you to schedule your tweets. These include ,FutureTweets.com and . I've only used Twuffer, but it seemed to work well. After you set up an account, you log in and type in future tweets, then select the date and time you want it to be tweeted. This lets you schedule a day's, month's or year's worth of tweets. Then you can sit back (that is, focus on your farming operation) and watch your marketing messages take wing.

So what can you write about in the off-season?

You could keep customers updated on what goes on at the farm during the winter. You may not be selling products, but you're certainly not idle. Why not let customers know what you do in the cold months to get ready for the next growing season?

If you've extended your season by growing in a high tunnel or greenhouse, you'll want to get the word out that you're still in business when folks assume that you're done for the season.

Since this is when you're planning next season's crops, and since social media communication is two-way, why not get customers involved? Ask them what they liked last season and what they'd like to see you offer next season. You'll gain valuable information that will help you meet customer demand, and you'll build anticipation for your products.

The author, a freelance writer, is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of communications at the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture. Read past marketing columns by this author online at http://farmmarketing.blogspot.com.