Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Friends. Tweets. Connections. Smartphones. Tablets. Page Ranking.

Most of these are new and strange terms that are part of social media marketing. As a farm equipment dealer, is social media marketing important to your business? Or is it irrelevant and a passing fad?

In this column we’ll look at two recent surveys that can help you understand the issues and answer these questions. The first survey is about use of social media by farmers. The second is about perception and use by dealers and retailers of ag products.

Last summer, Fastline, (www.fastline.com) which provides information, media and tools to buy and sell farm equipment conducted a study of social media use by farmers. One important finding was that larger farmers (over 1,000 acres) use smartphones and tablets differently than smaller farmers. For example, over 60% of larger farmers use a smartphone and 93% of them use it while they are operating their tractors, combines or sprayers. Ownership and use by smaller farmers is far lower (45% own a smartphone and 62% use it while operating a machine).

The second survey was done by CropLife Media Group which focuses on publications and media related to dealers for crop input, including precision farming. Their 2013 Ag Retail Social Media survey asked questions about social media use by dealers. Our headline comes from one of their respondents who said, “It’s a colossal waste of time and resources.” Another said, “Social media is a poor excuse for good face-to-face contact with customers.”

While many retailers admit is has a place, 46% are firmly against it or negative about social media in their business. This is huge.

Whether they liked it or not, most admit it has a place but they are unsure how to use it. Let’s look at both surveys and try to bridge the gap between farmer use and dealer use of social media.

Important for Larger Farms

Fastline’s survey found different patterns of use among larger, 1,000-plus acre farmers and smaller operations. We’ll concentrate on larger farms and look at how they actually use their smartphones while working.

Functions used on smartphones while operating farm equipment (1,000-plus acre farmers):

  • Talking on Phone — 97%
  • Checking Weather — 95%
  • Email — 83%
  • Equipment Research — 63%
  • Other Farm Service Research — 43%
  • General Interest ‘Surfing’ — 41%
  • Crop Science Research — 39%
  • Facebook — 32%
  • GPS Guidance — 27%
  • Other Social Media — 14%
  • Animal Science Research — 11%
  • Twitter — 9%
  • Games — 9%

I find it surprising that two-thirds of the 60% of farmers who have a smartphone, use it to check email. Regarding tablets, two thirds of large ag households own and use it for business.

Even more surprising is that one-third of big ag smartphone users are checking Facebook, while another 14% checking other social media — including 9% who tweet.

So large farmers are in contact by email or social media, even when they are out working. In their homes, the survey says that 97% use the Internet for farm or ranch-related research, business and/or communication.

Farmers are plugged in and engaged.

Ag Retailers & Social Media

In his summary of the CropLife survey findings, Matt Hopkins said, “Despite some uncertainty and negativity directed toward social media, the majority of retailers are using it for business to some degree. In fact, 55% are using it 1-6 hours per week for work purposes.

“But how is social media impacting the way retailers work? Here are five key findings that have emerged from the study that help answer this question:

1. Slow to adopt social media. Ag retailers have been slow to use social media. Social media adoption was at approximately the same level (54%) in 2013 as it was last year. Meanwhile, technologies such as webinars (79%) and mobile apps (64%) have been firmly embraced by retailers. Furthermore, 62% said they are using social media for work purposes “about the same amount” as last year. The biggest reason ag retailers do not use social media more for work is “My grower-customers do not use social media” (41%), followed by “Do not have enough time to use it” (38%) and “Already communicate enough with my grower-customers” (34%).

2. Social network preferences vary. Wikipedia currently lists 200 major active social networking websites. With so many to choose from, it’s not surprising ag retailers’ preferences vary across the board. Overall, retailers favor Facebook (31%). It was closely followed by LinkedIn (30%), YouTube (28%) and Twitter (26%). Of those four main sites, management likes to use LinkedIn (41%), while sales/marketing (46%) prefer Twitter, according to the survey.

3. Formal social media policies not catching on. While the explosion of social media has made it a hot topic in the business world, it doesn’t mean organizations are quick to create social media policies. Most ag retailers (71%) don’t have a formal policy regarding employee use of social networking sites. On the flip side, businesses that have policies in place often cite reasons such as “protecting their company’s reputation” and “don’t want to create productivity killing distractions.”

4. Retailers recognize value in social media. A growing number of retailers (45%) are finding value in using social media to interact with customers. “It is becoming more and more important to engage in social media,” said one retailer. “You have to be where your customers are.” Other notable comments included, “powerful marketing tool,” “a great way to distribute valuable information,” “excellent for sharing agriculture’s story from our perspective” and “another employee recruiting tool.”

5. Service tops the list of social media conversations. If successful retailers recognize the power that comes from being the farmer’s “trusted adviser,” then they’ll likely recognize the potential that social media has in fulfilling that moniker. That’s why it’s not surprising that “agronomic tips/education/advice” (60%) was the most typical kind of social media post by retailers. As one retailer said: “It’s part of serving the customer.” Other notable posts included, “market information” (42%) and “weather updates” (39%).

So there appears to be a wide gap between many ag retailers perceptions of social media and the actual use by farmers. My suggestion is to engage as a dealership — use social media to communicate with a key part of your customer base. Individually, get on LinkedIn — the “Facebook for professionals.”

In the last 3 months, I’ve had 3 dealer principals who earlier said they discounted the impact of social media, tell me they’ve since made it part of their marketing and find great value in it.


Fastline - www.fastline.com, For survey, register at http://www.fastline.com/v100/survey-registration.aspx

CropLife - www.croplife.com, For Matt Hopkins summary, http://www.croplife.com/editorial/matt-hopkins/social-media-trends-shaping-ag-retail/

George Russell can be contacted at GRussell@CurrieManagement.com.