New social media is like the old..sort of

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The power of a well-told story is timeless, but traditional methods for passing wisdom from one generation to the next must make room for social media, marketing consultant Bill Baker says.

Baker told a “strategic storytelling” workshop in Grande Prairie, social media mechanisms such as Twitter and Facebook are excellent new communication tools.

“Farmers have always taken it upon themselves to talk about their work, the spirit behind it and the food that results from it,” Baker said. “That genuine human behaviour has not changed. What has changed — through social media tools — is their ability to communicate with more people, across greater distances and a heck of a lot faster.”

The art of a good story is in the telling, and for it to be effective the story has to be true and believed by the teller. It’s a form of branding, said Baker. “Who more than the farmer feels a responsibility to the land?” he asked. “I think the strong motivation that has to be behind this type of life’s work can be evoked to the consumer in a good story.”

Whether at the farm gate or farmers’ market, branding is a concept a savvy agribusiness must embrace, Baker said.

Baker, who operates a marketing consultancy in Vancouver, was brought in by Alberta Tourism to deliver a series of workshops across the province last month.

He noted the popularity of farmers’ markets in the Lower Mainland has exploded. “Traffic has increased ten-fold in the past four years,” he said. “Consumers want to know where their food came from, the face behind it, and they will pay for that because its value is clear to them.”

Sharing your story face to face or online, through a blog or a newsletter provides a valuable connection to your customer. “Use your blog to spark dialogue on your site but don’t try and control that dialogue,” he said. “Over time you can build equity in your story for increased financial value and brand value.”

Baker points to Ontario crop farmer Wayne Black who made CBC News after he began Tweeting about farming. An increasing number of Canadian farmers are finding that Twitter or Facebook can be used to bridge the gap between farm and table, and connect with Canadians wanting to know more about their food’s origins. “We’re able to explain what we do on our farm,” Black has said. He’s answered questions on pesticide use and invited a consumer to his field. Other agribusinesses use Twitter to talk about the farm business’s latest products or whether the cows are out to pasture. Like Black, they answer questions on pretty much anything.

When it comes to introducing new products or services, Twitter et al. can prove beneficial for small businesses, said Baker. Farmers across Canada are sending off a Tweet about their day, whether it be the time the cows are down with milking or whether the weather is right for seeding. They say their followers’ list is growing consistently. Savvy farmers, said Baker, know that social media is more than just a way to connect with customers.

Twitter, Facebook and Linked-in, to name a few, are key business tools that can be used for networking with other farmers, for marketing efforts and following market prices. Organizations like the Alberta Canola Producers Commission use Twitter to let farmers know about upcoming events or the newest barley disease. The commission estimated last year about 250 of Alberta’s 13,000 canola growers use Twitter, up from about 25 just a few months prior.

Social media, says Baker, is one way to bridge an ever-widening gap between the hard-working people who produce our food and the people who buy and consume it. “As more and more of us move to the cities, having some connection to the people behind the food we eat is becoming increasingly important to us,” he said.

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