A couple of weeks ago, my boss, Troy Long, asked me, “What value does social media have for our clients?” Since I work at a company that caters to an agricultural clientele, I wasn’t sure how to answer him.
My gut reaction was to go the way I always do. I believe very passionately that the Internet, with all its flaws, is the solution to just about every problem the world faces today. It brings freedom to nations, medical records to doctors, and information to the most remote locations. It enables businesses to operate much faster and more efficiently, and makes it so much easier for geographically distant people to connect on a deeper level.
Even knowing all that, I still couldn’t think of a solid answer to the question of how agri-businesses could use social media for business growth.
And then, the answer hit me…there is no definitive answer.
I know that sounds strange, and quite contradictory. But like any technology, social media offers value to the user only if it’s used correctly.
Who Uses Social Media?
Statistics don’t lie. It was recently announced that Facebook now has more than 750 million active users worldwide (1). That means 12.5% of the world’s population are active Facebook users. In America (where our clients are located), that number is significantly higher. The latest statistics show that 51% of Americans have Facebook accounts, and a whopping 96% between the ages of 12 and 50 use Facebook. Yes, you read that correctly—96%. No other communication medium is so universally used and accepted as Facebook.
Companies that have embraced Facebook will attest to the honest and productive communication they have with their customers on the social network. People are far more likely to post exactly how they feel online, so you can get a much clearer picture of what your customers actually think about your service and how you can improve. There are risks associated with opening yourself up to the critical nature of Internet users, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.
How about agri-business?
Agri-business has a very interesting and unique use case. Anecdotal evidence (me talking to people) suggests that the percentage of our clients’ customers that are using social media is lower than the national average. This can have a negative impact on perceived future ROI, but it shouldn’t.
When we talk about launching email campaigns for clients, we don’t abandon the plans if only 15% of their customer base is on their email list.
When we set up clients with our Message Center product—which includes text messaging to customer subscriber lists—we don’t cancel those plans if only 100 out of 1000 customers has signed up for the list.
When we customize a video marketing campaign for one of our clients, even though a low percentage of their customers have broadband and the capability to stream video over their internet connection, the thought of abandoning the campaign never enters our mind.
When I design websites, I use newer HTML5 and CSS3 technologies that look awesome on modern browsers, but not on IE8/IE7/IE6 (rounded corners anyone?). I never consider going back to 10-year-old technology for the sake of users who haven’t adopted modern browsers.
Even at 50%, Facebook is one of the most universally adopted communications technologies in America. People are using it more and more, including rural Americans. The Pew Internet Project released a study (3) about the use of social networks by Americans. I read through the 85 page PDF so you didn’t have to and found some pretty interesting statistics.
- The average social network user is getting older. As older Americans are becoming more comfortable with technology, they start to use social networks. It’s not uncommon to see a teenager talking to her grandma, or a 20-something sending pictures to his parents on Facebook.
- The frequency with which people read Facebook is astounding; every day is now NORMAL. Other social networking sites are not far behind.
Your takeaway from all of this
No matter what your industry is, your customers are on Facebook and other social media. They like it, and they use it with increasing frequency. If you choose to ignore that, you do so at your own peril. That said, social media cannot be your only focus. If you make social media part of a well-rounded communication strategy, it will help you strengthen the relationships that you have with your customers and start new ones.
(1)/(2) Pew Internet Project