Recently, I saw a great news story about an Australian farmer who used social media to increase her lamb flock from 30 to 400. I happen to be Facebook friends with Sally Ruljancich, and have a presentation coming up at the New England Meat Conference where I’ll be talking to farmers about how to use social media. I messaged her asking if she had some tips I could share, and she graciously sent me an entire post on her top 10 tips, which I hope will help other farmers better connect directly with eager buyers.
Here’s Sally’s Story:
I didn’t have a farming dream…but the man, Colin, I met and fell in love with did, so I hitched my star to his wagon and within one year of meeting, we were making plans to move to the farm which he purchased six months before meeting me. There was no house, no driveway, few usable fences, no shedding, no animals of our own, only two dams and no electricity. I had a small inheritance which we used to build a house, then we borrowed against that and started fencing, put in another dam, bought a tractor, furnished the house, planted trees. Our wedding presents were money to buy our first flock of sheep, money towards a shed! Family have often been there to support us, especially financially at the beginning, with us paying back when we could. I also was able to take my city-based job with me to the farm, and started telecommuting, which helps enormously. So we started farming. We had our first son, then our second, all the while continuing to sell our lamb and then cattle, into the saleyards.
One day, when we were faced with a terrible price for our lambs at the market, we thought, “There’s got to be another way”, and within 24 hours we sold all our lambs direct to city customers, Colin and Sally’s Organic Lamb and Beef had a Facebook page and another 24 hours after that, it had 100s of Likes. We were on our way. For me, this made farming “make sense”. Although I had been farming with Colin and building fences and hosting farm days planting trees with friends, selling meat to our community, to a group of conscientious omnivores, this made sense. This completed the circle, the cycle.
We’ve been selling direct now since 2013, but it wasn’t until 1 January 2017 (at 8:41am precisely) that we released our first CSA shares to the public. By 7:28pm that same day, we had sold them all. Every. Single. One. It was amazing, and affirmation that there is a growing group of people who WANT to more meaningfully engage with their food supply. We should have been offering CSAs two years earlier.
The most rewarding aspect of farming, for us, is being able to feed a community of people who respect the hard work that it takes for a piece of healthy animal protein to get to their plate. Respecting us as farmers, who in turn, respect the soil health and the lives of the animals are tantamount to, and often an antithesis to, our current convenience-driven, package-heavy, industrial food system. When customers send in proud pictures of their meals, or finally conquer the fear they have of cooking a lamb shank for the first time, that’s exciting, and very very rewarding. And sausages. We make darn good sausages.
Top 10 Tips for selling your farm product on Facebook and Instagram
- Start early: Even if you’re not quite ready to sell, start social media engagement regardless. Take your growing audience on the farming and paddock-to-plate journey with you, as they will be cheering you on from the sidelines as you lead up to your first sale. Everybody loves an inspirational story, so start talking to your audience about why you are farming, how you are farming, and build excitement and momentum around “the launch”. It is a LOT of effort initially, building your following, finding the right tones for your posts, following up on enquiries, interacting and getting to know the audience. It tends to come more naturally to me now, but there is no less effort in maintaining an engaged online community. Start early!
2. Post regularly. But never multiple posts in a flurry as Facebook and Instagram algorithms are attuned to working out who is selling a product and will reduce your online “reach” to your audience. Once a day is optimum, and you can schedule posts to allow you to manage your online work.
3. There’s a time and a place for everything. Some posts work better at different times of the day and on different days of the week. If you want people to make a financial decision, like purchasing meat, make it during a time when you think the person making that decision will be in a position to think, and act quickly. For example, the majority of the domestic food decisions are still resting with the female of the household (not always, but that has certainly been my experience, it is changing slowly). Posting about a meat sale at 3:30pm is not going to have the desired effect as most people in those situations are dealing with kids, thinking about dinner, not with their spouses discussing future domestic commitments. 7pm onwards on a weekday or 8am-10am on a weekend are ideal.
4. Funneling to a mailing list. As you start to gather your audience and “Likers”, make sure that each post contains a link to your mailing list. Facebook and Instagram are fickle, just having Likers isn’t enough, as your page will get lost in the feed, so making sure that you have their email address, means that you can communicate through a mailing list. Entice them to join the mailing list by letting them know that mailing listers get a 24 hour jumpstart on all meat orders being announced. Exclusivity and scarcity are big drivers for engagement and purchasing.
5. Golden time – the Big Post. The night before a public holiday and the second night of a holiday period offer HUGE social media engagement opportunities. Use them. People are scrolling through their newsfeeds for longer and are more than likely to engage as they have more time. This is a good opportunity to do a “Boost” or paid post. Make sure that in your paid post that you include your mailing list to optimise that funnelling and that you ask people to tag others and to share the post…this makes the algorithms go crazy, with the combination of “organic” and “paid” reach working together.
6. People want to know you. Never underestimate the power of an image of a small child on a big fence, is what I most often tell people. People want to engage with farmers who feed them, or who they admire, so let them. Share your own, and therefore unique, farming and family journey with them. Posting pictures of your daily habits on the farm, including your family, will go a long way to connecting your audience to the experience.
7. Always thank them. People like that Colin and Sally’s Organic Lamb and Beef is a small-scale family farm, that we started “from scratch”, that we are transparent in our farming practices and vocal in our support of other farmers. People write to us and say, “We love what you’re doing”, or “I want to be able to support you more”, even if they will never be a customer of ours. ALWAYS thank them. Almost a decade of working in the philanthropic sector has taught me that your audience should be stewarded like a donor; thanked often and in multiple ways. This mutual gratitude and respect furthers and deepens your engagement. And engagement breeds engagement, both in terms of Facebook algorithms and more general concrete ways.
8. Have your customers promote you! When we have a meat dropoff, every customer receives an A4 piece of paper, reminding them to ask questions about how to use cuts of meat if they are unsure, to share their mealtime successes and “tag” Colin and Sally’s on Instagram and Facebook. We then always share that post, giving every customer their own “15 minutes”. They love it and they feel as if they are helping spread the word. Champion your customers and let them know that they have made a wonderful decision to support your family farm. Never be shy is asking them to share their good experiences; this is the best way of finding new customers. Word-of-mouth always wins.
9. Be transparent. Authentic wins every time. Many farming enterprises are tempted to “farm out” their social media to consultants and companies who will do all the content and marketing for you. Whilst this may seem like a great idea, you will lose authenticity, which is a big drawcard of what you are selling. You may be selling meat, but you are actually selling an experience.
10. Be collaborative. Join forces with other producers for a multi-producer food hub (we do, and it is great for emerging farmers, and allows me to help them in a more concrete way), share each other’s success on social media. Remember, they are not the competition, the supermarket is the competition, the more people purchasing from small producers, ANY small producers, grows this market. Befriend those other small producers and farmers both on Facebook and in real life, get collaborative and pool your talents for online engagement.
Farmers supporting farmers. There needs to be more and better collaboration between likeminded farming folk and I’m going to be talking more about this in 2017. In this instance, @hand_to_ground_alex and @hand_to_ground_emily are coming in on as many of our regular dropoffs as they would like during their chicken seasons. I’m a bit of an old hand at this gig now, and it’s time for Colin and myself to pass on what we’ve learnt about selling direct, social media strategies and to share our contacts. We’re growing a stronger community of amazing producers and wonderful customers every year – 2017 is going to be the year when collaborating becomes second nature. Customers have access to a wider range of products, producers can learn from each other and the farmers who have been in the game a while, can and should, be reaching out to our younger cohort – that’s how you grow a movement – collaboration, kindness, transparency, knowledge-sharing. And you get champagne. #southgippsland #colinandsallys #farmersunite