A trip to Leavellwood Lodge in rural Greene County could net bass larger than a child, turkey spurs long as a finger and buck racks fit for a hat collection. That trip can be just a mouse click away thanks to social media.
“All of our customers and people who come to the lodge are our Facebook friends,” said Trey Montgomery, owner and operator of Leavellwood Lodge near Eutaw. “We’re relying more on social media than anything else – print, billboards or TV.”
A 2013 study by Pew Research Center shows 71 percent of online adults were actively using Facebook, a free social networking website that connects people and businesses through photos, videos, messages and status updates.
Other popular social media sites include Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest , Google+ and LinkedIn, which offer free access to potential customers.
Montgomery knows the value of Facebook firsthand, recalling when his daughter bagged a turkey with two-inch spurs that went viral on the Internet within hours.
“Mossy Oak shared the photo on its page, and in 12 hours, we had 8,500 likes,” he said, indicating at least 8,500 people saw the photo. “It really opened my eyes to how large, vast and quick social media is.”
While social media can increase a farmer’s bottom line, it’s also an opportunity to share insight about how food is grown.
Leavelle Farms in Tuscaloosa County raises cattle plus 1,000 acres of soybeans, corn, wheat and hay. Its owners, Sally and Clyde Leavelle, promote their U-pick blueberry business on Facebook to increase profits and awareness.
“We started U-pick blackberries 27 years ago, and it was something we felt our three daughters could help with,” Sally said. “The blackberries died out, and we kept on doing the blueberries.”
Sally said she started using Facebook four or five years ago as a way to market her blueberries. The berries, raised on less than an acre, helped pay for her daughters’ college educations.
“We don’t complain about selling blueberries and making money, but the U-pick side is just a small part of the business,” Sally said. “U-pick brings people out to see where their food comes from, and we try to plug that into our conversations when we talk to them.”
Anne Adrian, a Extension specialist at Auburn University, said there isn’t a specific formula for social media successes, but there are things successful farmers have in common.
“From a marketing standpoint, particularly with local, straight-to-consumer products, there’s a really big opportunity to share photos and videos, to share your hours of operation and get people talking about (what you do),” Adrian said. “So the marketing is not just a pitch, it gives an opportunity to engage consumers.”
Adrian said the best users realize what people are looking for, listen to what people want and start conversations about those topics.
Most importantly, Adrian said farmers must be themselves.
“Start talking to (people) as yourself and not necessarily from a page,” she said. “Think of yourself as the CEO of your farm, and when someone has a great time and posts a photo, your response can be as a CEO and not an entity that can’t be identified.”
Federation State Young Farmers Committee Chairman Allie Corcoran said Facebook is the best tool she has for promoting her fruit and vegetable farm, Backyard Orchards, in Barbour County. She recently held an open house for a new barn and country store using Facebook to promote the event.
“Social media is my No. 1 tool to reach customers,” Corcoran said.
While some may be slow to embrace social media, Montgomery said it’s important to realize its benefits.
“I would encourage anybody that’s in business with products or merchandise to sell to jump on social media,” he said. “Next time you stop at an intersection, look at how many people are on their phones. Technology is on the end of their fingertips. People want instant access.”
Montgomery said he believes the ultimate benefit of social media is the advertising dollars that stay in his pocket. n
Visit Facebook.com/AlabamaFarmers to like the Federation’s page and view info graphics on tips, tricks and how to get started with social media.