At Confreda Farms in Hope, R.I., they have photo opportunity stations set up throughout "Scary Acres," a Halloween corn maze and haunted hayride operation. Let's take a closer look at how this social media marketing tactic works and the potential benefits.
Armed with smartphones, customers have in the palms of their hands the ability to take relatively high-quality photos and video, coupled with the ability to instantly post those images and clips on social media for all their friends, family and other connections to see - and they do.
You can't go anywhere these days without seeing people holding up a phone and snapping pictures of their companions or shooting a "selfie," a self-portrait taken at arm's length using the front-facing camera lens on their phone. These shots can appear on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter within seconds.
Those smartphone-wielding photographers are often looking for something fun or goofy, or something that identifies where they are, to include in the photo. If you have an agritourism operation, you've likely seen customers pose with farm animals, a pile of pumpkins or a scarecrow.
Now, you could simply hope that these folks say something about where they are and what they're doing, or you could use some of the strategies below to ensure that everyone who sees the photos will know they were taken at your farm.
1 Like Confreda Farms, create spots around the farm for photo opportunities. Provide a backdrop with props that are picturesque (flowers, colorful produce, antique farm implements or a scenic vista), fun (animals or scarecrows) or silly (character cut-out boards that have holes where people can put their faces).
2 Make sure that signage with your farm name is visible in any and all spots where customers are likely to take pictures.
3 Set up a check-in location on Facebook that your customers can use when they post a status update, photo or video. It's simple to do with a Facebook account and a smartphone or tablet that has GPS capability. Just log on to Facebook and tap on "Check In." You'll see a list of nearby businesses, etc. Click on "Edit" and type in your business name. Then scroll all the way to the bottom of the list, where you'll see "Add Business Name." Click on that; then you can add information like your website, phone number and a category for your business. After you're done, your business will be on the list for all other users who check in from your geographic location.
4 Suggest Twitter hashtags for your customers to use when they tweet about your farm. These are words (sometimes multiple words strung together as one) preceded by a number sign that are included as part of a tweet. Hashtags allow Twitter users to find tweets on topics they're interested in. Use them yourself when you tweet. You could even include hashtags on the signage around your farm so customers' friends will see them in photos and, with any luck, use them in their own tweets.
Social media is essentially word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. When customers tell others about you today, they're not just telling one person at a time; they may be telling tens, hundreds or even thousands of their friends.
The old adage that a picture paints a thousand words takes on new meaning in the social media age. A picture posted by a customer to Facebook can paint a thousand words to a thousand people. Regardless of what the customer types for a message, the picture will tell all their friends or followers: "Look at me ... I'm at this great place, having fun and enjoying tasty food. You should be here too."
If it works, get ready - they'll be there soon.
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 at http://farmmarketing.blogspot.com.