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How can I use social media to direct-market my farm products during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer: In many cities, large gatherings of people, such as farmers markets, have been banned for the time being, while our country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media can be an effective tool for finding an alternate direct market for your products.

An online presence is an important component of direct marketing. A Pew Research Study found that over 85% of adult Americans use the Internet, and over 78% search for products and product reviews online before purchasing them (Jansen, 2010). It is essential that a farm have a place or site for customers to find more information on the farm. If you don’t want to set up a website, there are website directory listings, which include basic information, pictures and where to find the farm’s products. Directories such as Local Dirt and Local Harvest are both alternatives to farm websites that give customers an opportunity to learn a little more about the farm. Some of these website directories charge a fee to join, and some are donation-based due to their nonprofit status.

Creating a website is a fun and easy way to tell your farm’s story in a compelling manner. You can post pictures or recipes, showcase what products are available, and promote opportunities for visiting the farm or farm events. Personalizing the farm is a way to create a bond with customers, who don’t often get to see where their food is produced. Because there are more and more farms with websites, it is important to also list other keywords to describe your farm products, such as heirloom, organic, or non-GMO so that search engines will display your website when people search for those key terms (Pesch, 2012).

Farms can set up a basic website with a variety of different programs; some of the best ones are listed below. It is important to look at other farm websites and choose a style of website that you can easily manage during the farm season and during the winter. Be sure to look at other farm websites and plan out what parts of the website are the most important for promoting your business and story. It is important to have some pictures to accompany the website, too, although many programs have templates that you can use. Basic components of a website include location and mission statement or description of your farm, what you grow, where you sell your products, and how to contact the farm. Additional information might include farm events, an online store to purchase a CSA share or value-added products, or a blog page. Many website software programs will charge to purchase a domain name or have a monthly fee for using their services.

Finding the time to engage with social media programs can seem like a daunting task. However, engaging with customers through social media is very important. Taking pictures of various farm activities and writing posts to increase your farm’s social media presence can bring economic benefi ts to the farm, as well as build customer or brand loyalty. Many social media applications connect to a smart phone, thus making it relatively easy to take pictures and upload content. ATTRA’s publication Social Media Tools for Farm Product Marketing is an excellent resource for detailed information on different social media programs.

Many farms have a business Facebook page that can be connected to an Instagram account, which allows more people to access information about the farm. These programs allow farms to spread the word about sales and deals and promote different activities, as well as show the customers what is going on at the farm, such as new lambs, fresh eggs, or new fruit trees being planted. If you already have a personal Facebook page, you can sign up for a business page through that account. Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing social media site. Other users can share and follow pictures and videos taken on the farm. This site requires the use of a smart phone to take pictures, upload, and post them on the site.

In addition to using a website to promote the farm, it can also be used to sell farm products. Websites can be used for online marketing of CSA shares, nonperishable products, and value-added products. Online stores can increase customer base and lead to greater economic viability; however, it is important to research shipping costs, packaging, and the additional staff time needed to package and ship the products.

The ATTRA publication Direct Marketing is a good resource to learn more about your options for direct marketing. This publication discusses direct marketing and the benefits and risks associated with selling agricultural products directly to customers. Popular direct marketing strategies covered in this publication include farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and direct sales to restaurants, institutions, and food hubs, as well as agritourism and Internet-based direct marketing. Additionally, the publication contains information on marketing plans, pricing strategies, and creative marketing techniques.

Also check out the Marketing and Business section of the ATTRA website. There, you’ll find a host of useful resources, including publications, videos, and podcasts, on topics related to marketing.

Finally, Cornell Small Farms Program has a recent post, How to Build Market Resilience, which offers some great resources to help you access markets and reach customers.

Jansen, J. 2010. Online Product Research. Pew Research Institute Internet & American Life Project.

Pesch, R. 2012. Online Strategies for Direct Farm Marketers. University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension.