This is the article I wrote for Queensland Country Life about why food producers should be on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. I’ve convinced my vegetable farmer husband to enter this brave new world (follow him @Farmer_Dick), will I convince you?
Modern-day farming may use the latest technology available in the paddock but many have been slow to embrace the brave new world of social media.
It’s not uncommon to meet growers who prefer fax over email and ask them if they’re on Twitter or Facebook and you may be met with a blank look.
But times are changing and those in the horticulture world have been warned – get on board or be left behind.
Business futurist Morris Miselowski says those working in the fresh food industry have much to benefit from social media.
Not only does it allow for the instant communication of your message without interference or interpretation by a third party, but it also enables growers to have direct contact with the end user.
The industry need only look to the big players to see what the future holds. On August 11 Woolworths launched its free app in the App Store and since then it has been downloaded 400,000 times and is the number one downloaded free App in Australia.
A Woolies spokeswoman says this result far exceeds the company’s expectations.
She says the App was created to provide a better, more efficient shopping experience for end users who can scan products on their shelve and add them to their shopping list, can save their regular shopping list, can access the weekly specials catalogue and can find products.
The App, which was about one year in the making, also provides access to hundreds of recipes and allows users to add the ingredients to their shopping list. Woolworths also uses Facebook to connect with customers, as does Coles, Aldi and Aussie Farmers Direct.
“The whole crux of the Woolworths App is the Smart Shopping List which means you can add items to your list by scanning the barcode, doing an online search or adding things from your weekly catalogue,” says the spokeswoman.
“We have got aisle order. You pick your local Woolies store and the App will put the items on your list into the aisle order which helps customers get in and out of the supermarket a little bit faster.”
Mr Miselowski, who presented at the Produce Marketing Association’s Annual Convention in Brisbane earlier this year, says like it or not, social media is the way of the future.
“As a business futurist I ask, ‘What will the world look like across all industries in the future?’” he says.
“It’s really a question of understanding what your space will look like from all aspects and how it’s going to impact you.
“A few things seem to be fairly self-evident. Growers and end users are going to get closer together. Over the last 100 years or so the chain has been full of middle people but increasingly their work will not be so linear. Everybody is getting into that space, it’s about being accessible.”
Mr Miselowski says Social Media – particularly Twitter and Facebook – is very much about having conversations. The AgChatOz community now has 1400 followers on Twitter and 400 on Facebook. Each Tuesday night between 8 and 10pm AgChatOz hosts a weekly discussion on topical agricultural issues affecting Australia.
Some say it’s preaching to the converted but Mr Miselowski says these forums raise awareness of the issues and build a community. He says provenance is a growing issue in the fresh food industry.
“It’s about where the food came from,” he says.
“It started with the organic conversation but customers are beginning to ask the question, ‘Where is this food coming from and what has happened to it in between?’
“Now it’s a far wider message. People are interested in who grew the food, where they grew it and what they have used on it. Customers can find out what’s in season and growers can find out how their produce is being used.
“In traditional marketing terms it’s about the consumer being knowledgeable. A consumer can walk into a store and make a more involved decision than they have before.”
Mr Miselowski says the joy of social media is that it is cheap to be involved. It simply requires someone with some technological know-how and a keen grasp of the subject to go online and engage.
“Facebook really costs nothing to set it up,” he says.
“You have to maintain it and you can make people aware of who you are and what you do. You can connect with other people who enjoy produce, become friends and have conversations.
“It allows the grower to have first-hand conversations with their end users in real time, that’s never happened before.
“Growers can answer customer’s questions. The average consumer is still fairly ignorant about what to buy and how to buy it.”
Len Mancini’s company Redbelly Citrus is relatively new to the industry but has already gained a strong following through its use of social media.
Mr Mancini – a Sydney based lawyer who farms blood oranges with his brother – says he believes social media has more benefits to country residents than it does to city dwellers.
“I connect with more rural people than I do with city people,” he says.
“It’s really bringing like-minded people together, that’s what Twitter does. It’s being adopted more and more by rural areas, the AgChatOz community is getting quite big. It’s allowed me to connect with the person who puts my food in their mouth. By using it we’re trying to drive demand from the top up and it doesn’t require a big marketing budget.
“I’m not saying that Twitter is going to make or break us but we have had sales because of it.”
How to get involved:
Facebook: Develop a private profile or a Business Page for customers to ‘like’. Post photographs, videos and links to what you’re doing, developing and producing.
Twitter: Have short, real-time conversations with customers and other companies and people interested in agriculture. Allows direct access to some of the industry’s most influential people, including politicians and leading business people.
You Tube: Upload videos of your produce in the paddocks, being packed and being picked to You Tube and give your customers an insight and connection to their food.
Quick Response (QR) Codes: Described as a barcode on steroids. You’ll begin to see more and more of these squiggly barcodes on packaging and advertising. Customers can use their mobile phone to scan the code and be linked a website or to more information about the product and the business. In Japan about 90 per cent of advertising now features a QR Code.
Who to Follow:
Farming and horticultural businesses are slowly making their way into the world of social media. Some of those who you should follow include:
• Aussie Farmers Direct
• Gowinta Farms
• National Farmers Federation
• Queensland Country Life
• Rural Press Club
• Julia Gillard
• Tony Abbott
• Troy Hadrick
• ATGA Hortnetwork
• ABC Rural News
• Perfection Fresh