Using social media to enhance connections with buyers and the public

Sarah Calcutt

Sarah Calcutt, owner of fresh produce marketing specialist Partners in Produce, discusses why the UK fresh produce industry needs to start “banging that drum” and crank up its social media activity a gear

We could be making so much more “noise” in fresh produce than we are already. Topfruit growers, for instance, work in beautiful countryside and have amazing stories to tell. Take the chocolate-box picture of a frost-covered orchard on a winter’s morning. This is arguably a vision worth sharing – particularly because supermarkets are keen to promote provenance. But, right now, hardly anyone is doing that. Yet if more growers put themselves “out there” and utilised social media they could better connect with fresh produce buyers, journalists, chefs, food stylists, the foodservice industry and consumers. They could really help to educate people on how our food is grown. Growers and suppliers really need to start better engaging with social media and sharing their valuable knowledge.

Why is social media so important?

The Internet, including social media, is the most influential way of helping consumers to make purchasing decisions. And so my personal opinion is that the industry cannot afford to ignore it. It’s the number one online activity and, thanks to tools such as Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram; it’s the platform we use to communicate and collaborate with one another.

Two thirds of the global Internet population visit social networks and the statistics for websites such as Twitter, for instance, demonstrate social media’s phenomenal ability to reach a huge audience. This particular online tool, which allows us to write 140 character-long messages (Tweets), has more than 300 million live accounts and there are 6,000 Tweets created per second globally. This equates to 500m Tweets a day. Around 50% of its users log in at least once a month and [the other] 50% log in every day. Also, some 34% of marketers have generated leads from this site whilst 20% have won new business. And interestingly, 40% of people don’t Tweet on Twitter but instead use it as an information resource.

At the same time, during just 20 minutes on Facebook, 1m links are shared and more than 1.3m photographs are tagged. With these statistics in mind, having a social media strategy can help producers to “ENGAGE”:

Extend their networking reach.

Nurture new and existing business relationships.

Gain credibility by showing expertise.

Accelerate their marketing.

Gauge what their customers are saying about their business, and

Effectively use the relevant social networks.

Start “banging that drum”

Those fresh produce brands that currently do have social media campaigns, such as Pink Lady and Cameo apples, have already achieved far-reaching interest. Westlands Nurseries’ @WestlandsWow account on Twitter, for example, has 3,000+ followers. Suppliers who are considering “putting themselves out there” and garnering a similar amount of attention should therefore:

  • embrace a chosen suite of social media platforms;

  • set their strategy, possibly enlisting the help of an expert who can help get them started on social media, construct a plan that suits their business, and start “banging that drum”;

  • build a network of strategically-targeted groups;

  • consider that online networking is the same as offline networking;

  • take advice, and get support, from social media experts, and;

  • establish a brand for their product.

Measuring the impact of social media

Twitter is great for answering questions, communicating with customers, and sharing knowledge, whilst Facebook pages are ideal for sharing top tips such as promotions in stores and the launch of new lines and competitions for consumers. Facebook is also a great way of answering people’s queries such as: “Where do you buy it?” and “Who grows it?” or “Which retailers are supporting it?” And the beauty of using Facebook is that it’s more personal because your information is next to people’s personal information – pictures of their friend’s baby or their brother’s dog.

Once they’ve established a social media presence, growers and suppliers should start to measure the impact of this online activity, such as through a monthly review of progress and engagement. This can then help them to better target their message. For instance, 75% of the people who follow the Cameo apples campaign on Facebook are women, as are 57% of its followers on Twitter. Yet only 38% of visitors to the Cameo website are women – noteworthy information when planning future online activity.

Don’t be afraid to be an industry voice

Having a social media strategy isn’t time consuming, yet it does pay dividends. Given that producers are experts in their field, the Internet provides an easy opportunity to be an industry voice – such as to engage with the political and environmental agenda.

They can provide images, stories and inspiration to journalists and engage directly with their marketing desks and the PR departments of their retailers. So when they wake up to a picturesque frosty morning, producers should send this postcard-worthy image to their marketing desks.

Suppliers really need to promote their businesses in this way and share their knowledge. They should also work together and have a strong message that they stick to and – in doing this – they will help to improve the wider British fresh produce industry.



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