by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Branding may sound like a difficult job for savvy social media whizzes. But Dahlia Dill, owner of Chandler Pond Farm in Wheelock, VT, believes that any farmer can develop effective branding with just a few ideas. She presented “Social Media Tips & Tricks” as part of the New England Women in Livestock Virtual Winter Conference recently.

Dill has farmed with her husband Mark and his parents, Chuck and Lisa Dill, since 2016.

“Since the beginning of our journey, we knew that direct marketing was going to be a pivotable part of our business,” Dill said. “We have history in dairy; we thought that was cool. Our families were involved a long time. We both realized it’s an unstable market and has been for a long time because you don’t have any control over your price and market in general. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

That’s why Chandler Pond shifted to selling directly to consumers. To accomplish this, Dill learned all she can about direct marketing and found she really enjoys it.

“I think that marketing in general can be a daunting, intimidating thing for people,” she said. She added that many farmers view what they do as a lifestyle and as part of carrying on their family heritage. Pushing it as a commercial product does not feel authentic; however, she believes that effective marketing is the only way to make a sustainable living at farming.

Her farm raises grass-fed beef and U-pick strawberries and blueberries. The Dills also operate a seasonal farm stand and off-season pick-up and delivery.

“One of the most important things is bringing people into it,” Dill said. “Customers really want to see what goes into your food. If there’s no story behind it, it has no further meaning than feeding you. When someone buys from a local business, it has that much more of a personal meaning to them.”

Most consumers reach for their smartphones when they want to find something to buy. To reach them, farms must tap into social media. Dill said that 70% of American adults use Facebook and 75% use it daily. Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and blogging represent other platforms for helping a farm attract customers.

Although paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram can be helpful, she said the organic reach of using the platforms’ free aspects “can be super effective and oftentimes as much as you need for a business like ours without delving into paid advertising.”

Social media is just the beginning of tapping into new customers. Dill said it should funnel customers to the farm website, engage them to sign up for the farm email list and, if they have not purchased already, lead people to buy.

“The website is where your specific information about the farm lives,” Dill said. Once on the farm website, people should see organized tabs or a layout that’s easy to read and find the farm’s contact information, hours, products, pricing, history and mission.

“It shouldn’t use a lot of lingo,” Dill said. “At that point, you may get lucky and they’ll make a purchase. Or they may want to keep in touch but they’re not ready to make a purchase.” If that’s the case, the site should offer an appeal to collect the person’s email address so they can receive more information.

It may be tempting to use your existing personal social media account, but Dill said that’s a mistake. “When you get started, you have to have a business account for your business,” she said. “You should not try to promote your business using your personal account. You can share there, but Facebook doesn’t like you using a personal account as a business account and they can kick you off.”

A business account offers business analytics, no limits on followers and a better image. And social media should include plenty of good photos.

“This is the basis of all social media,” Dill said. “People want to see with their eyes what’s going on. You can accomplish this with just your cell phone camera.” (Take photos with the camera app on the phone, not through the social media’s platform, as you will get clearer photos.)

Photo editing on your phone can improve images significantly.

“You have to show your face,” she said. “It’s not something that you can get away with not doing. If someone goes to your feed and sees cows, eggs and your field, those are visually appealing, but they want to see the people behind it. They want to know who they’re interacting with.”

Photos should have captions. Usually, just the first several words will appear with the photo, so those words need to grab readers’ attention. Captions do not have to be particularly deep or funny, though either of these approaches is fine.

“People love to read about the thoughts going through your head when you’re carrying out your daily life farming,” Dill said. “Why did today remind you about why you farm? Something like that people want to engage with. Ask questions to encourage engagement. People like to offer their opinion.”

Using hashtags (#) can also help farmers using social media by organizing their own content, keeping content specific to their farm and brand and increasing visibility. Dill said Instagram is the most effective platform for using hashtags. Using about eight to 10 per post is appropriate. They should be placed at the end of the post or in the comments.

For example, a post about your dairy goats could include the farm name (#DairyGoatHill) along with a few industry and product related hashtags, such as #dairygoats, #goatcheese, #goatlife, #farmsteadcheese and #saycheese.

“By posting consistently, you stay top of mind for customers,” Dill said. “It also helps the algorithm. It decides how and when your posts will be shown to people.”

Neglecting content may make some people believe your farm has gone out of business. Although posts do not need to reflect something happening today, it should be up to date. For instance, posting a summertime photo in February seems out of touch unless it’s paired with a caption about looking forward to warmer days.

For even better engagement, film 15- to 30-second videos. Walk around the farm and show what’s happening during the season, how you perform farm tasks or pan across a peaceful pasture of grazing animals.

When you post is almost as important as what you post. Dill said the highest traffic times on social media are Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. “If you can post during that timeframe, that’s when you’ll get the most engagement,” Dill said.

Analytics can also help you know who you’re reaching through social media. “A lot of people get obsessed with followers and the number of people who like your page,” Dill said. “That is a vanity metric. It does not mean those followers are paying customers and engaging in your content and engaging with your business. You could have a million followers but if only 10 buy from you, it’s not important. What you should be interested in is engagement.”

Knowing who is buying is also important because that can help you shape your future marketing.

“You might have an idea that you’re selling to men within your surrounding towns but if you check your audience, you may find 76% are women and between the ages of 25 and 34,” Dill said.

She also stressed the importance of answering all messages and comments as quickly as possible to maintain engagement.

Dill encouraged farmers to cross-promote other businesses, not just for goodwill but also because it will likely become reciprocal.

“If you bought a coffee at the local coffee shop before chores, post a picture of the coffee and tag the coffee shop,” Dill said. “If they’re local, they likely have customers you could have. People like to see what other people are doing and that’s a great opportunity to boost other businesses and get that feedback for yourselves.”

Farmers should encourage buyers to post pictures of the meals they made with their goods and tag the farm. “Then their friends and family will see it and it’s a great way to get your name out there,” Dill said. “Entertain people and inspire them and educate them … Use the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your posts should be good, value-added stuff like lifestyle, you doing chores, showing people the new calves or something fun going on that they can engage in. Only 20% or less should be direct sales pushes.”

The biggest hurdle to farmers using social media is believing that their lives aren’t interesting. The truth is the opposite.

“People don’t know about these things and are super intrigued by them, even if you live in a rural area,” Dill said. “People who don’t have businesses similar to yours have no idea what’s going on. When they see it, they get so enthralled. It’s a super easy way to get them hooked.

“Your story is worth telling, even if you think you don’t have a magical story on the way you came to be a farmer or start your business.”