Food and agriculture author and speaker Michele Payn says a strong online presence provides economic and social benefits for businesses.

Why having an effective website and strong social media connections are important to business success.

These days, having a strong online presence for your company could be compared to a house having great curb appeal.

It can be the first thing that snags the interest of prospective buyers, but the value of a great website and solid social media connections goes beyond that.

Shaun Haney is the owner of the Haney Farms, a seed business in Picture Butte, Alta., and is also the founder of realagriculture.com, a website dedicated to exploring issues that impact Canadian agriculture. Having a strong online presence has been key to the growth of his business, Haney says. He warns it’s a strategy that seed companies ignore at their peril.

“At this point, if you do not have an online presence, you really need to question what your marketing strategy,” Haney says. “For a seed company, whatever social channel you’re choosing — whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or whatever — it’s about having a close connection with the audience that you’re trying to market products. Whether that’s a neighbour or somebody across the country, its critical to be able to have those digital relationships.”

Like any successful relationship, it’s important that this connection is not one-sided. Haney cites interactivity as the key to a good online strategy, because it enables businesses to directly engage potential customers by addressing questions or concerns about their products or services.

“People are looking for much more of an interactive process when they’re doing their research online now,” Haney says. “The information has to flow both ways.”

Noted U.S. food and agriculture author and speaker Michele Payn maintains farm-related businesses benefit economically and socially from a strong online presence.

“Seed businesses and agribusinesses need to engage online and through social media to monitor their brand management, increase their footprint and participate in agricultural advocacy efforts,” she says. “Like a good sales rep, having a solid social media presence extends your reach and grows relationships, offering economic benefits. It allows you to have your voice in the online conversation about genetics and farming. Companies who serve the greater cause of agriculture versus only marketing for their own brand will have a much stronger following, offering social benefits.”

The Penwest Seeds team: Jeff Arnold, Tanya Park, Larry Penner, Clinton Rivers and Ejvind Poulsen. In the cab is Marianne Penner. Photo: Tim Arnold.

Payn notes that a variety of strategies are available to develop an online presence, and says different companies employ different social media channels.

“For example, Latham Seeds has a blog that includes farmers blogging. Dow AgroSciences targets early adopter farmers on Twitter for advisory groups. Farmers like @TheFarmersLife share drone footage of their fields on Facebook. SaskCanola created a video to tell the farming story on YouTube,” she says. “There is no singular right way to develop a social media presence; you have to know your purpose and target audience, then use the tools to connect those worlds.”

Haney uses Facebook and Twitter because it’s the kind of content that matches his business objectives.

“You just have to choose a platform that you have content for,” Haney says, noting that there needs to be a purpose behind a company’s social media. “Have some guidelines and give your team some context of what you’re trying to accomplish,” he says.

One way seed companies can actively engage audiences is to use blogs and other online platforms to tell stories about their people and their products — a strategy known as content marketing.

“Content marketing is an important marketing tool for seed companies or people of any industry,” Haney says. “If you can weave content into your sales process, then I think that also makes you a more effective marketer.”

As Payn points out, it’s also important not to overlook the importance of having an eye-catching and engaging website. “I liken it to a spoke and wheel hub; the different spokes help support each other and drive traffic to the hub,” says Payn. “Studies show that websites are still where growers go to find information — so you have to start with a clean website.”

Larry Penner, owner of PenWest Seeds based in Three Hills, Alta, recently revamped his company website and is reaping the rewards.

“The old site lacked professionalism,” Penner says. “When customers from different parts of the country look at your website, it’s important to have one that looks professional and appears like you’re in business for the long term.”

Penner also uses Facebook and Twitter. “Definitely there is a benefit — we can see it,” he says. “You try to keep people engaged; that’s the whole idea.”

Penner believes the key to engaging customers is lending a personal touch. “If you’re just flogging your products all the time, people tend to tune you out,” he says. “They want to see more than just product information; they want to see a personal side.”


Where on the Web

A good resource for seed companies looking to develop or strengthen their online presence is the Social Media Marketing Guide, published by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry in 2015. A PDF of the guide can be downloaded at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex15561/$file/846-2.pdf

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