By Monica Burchett
Social media seems to be the buzzword these days—and agriculture is catching on to its benefits. One popular form of social media is blogging.
Ethan Book started his blog, The Beginning Farmer, almost 3½ years ago to serve as a collection site for his ideas and the information he was researching and reading. Today, he uses his blog as a direct marketing tool for his Stoneyfield Farm, a 40-acre cattle, hog and poultry farm outside Knoxville, Iowa.
"It's morphed into a connection with our consumers to see what's going on or what's available as far as taking hogs or cattle to the locker," Book says.
As in Book's case, the purpose of many farm-related blogs is promotion—it allows all types of farmers to roll out the welcome mat to consumers near and far.
"If you want someone to come visit the farm or if you are trying to establish a following for what you have going on day to day, a blog is a good resource," says Christa Hartsook, program coordinator for the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University. "Any time a farmer or producer comes in for advice or suggestions, we're going to talk about the use of social media."
With promotion in mind, George and Brenda Joseph started a blog to provide daily updates on what's going on at Steep Hill Farm, a pick-your-own- blueberry farm in Fayette, Maine.
"It's good because sometimes we have more pickers than blueberries and it provides a way for them to get online and check what we have," Brenda says. "We've been quite surprised at the number of people who come to the farm and say they've followed the blog or say they read our blog every morning with their cup of coffee."
Hartsook encourages any type of producer to consider a blog as a tool for gathering information, as well as a way to reap promotional benefits.
"Farmers can benefit by using blogs to research new ideas and to check on market trends, pricing information or issues that are happening in whatever market they are in," Hartsook says. Book agrees that it's beneficial to hear what other farmers are doing.
"I've heard what cattle people are doing in Missouri, Colorado or Idaho, and it gives me ideas of what I can do here," he says.
Search engines help.
Book and the Josephs agree that having a presence on the Web helps point new consumers in their direction. Daily blogs can hold several key words that show up in search-engine queries, directing additional traffic to a site.
"I get hundreds of hits a day from search engines," Book says. "I might blog about fencing materials or questions concerning my Farmall 450 tractor. The more you write, the more it shows up on search engines. Some of those visitors stick around and become regular readers, contributors or customers."
Once you've established a following—which, keep in mind, won't happen overnight—
Book suggests making consistent updates, whether it is once a week or seven days a week. That allows readers to return on a regular basis and continues to draw them in with new information.
Have visual appeal.
Once readers have stumbled across your blog, the visual aspect, especially photos, is often what draws them in further and keeps them coming back.
"The key for blogging, to me, is photos," Book says. "It's great to have information no matter what, but the thing that really connects people is pictures. People are always visual."
The Josephs hope "pictures will help attract visitors or tourists and we certainly hope a picture of some yummy blueberry pancakes would entice anyone to the farm," Brenda says. "Our blog is a great way to develop our farm in terms of marketability and maximizing the small business aspect—and pictures help that," she adds.
Starting a blog—and maintaining it—can be done with the help of a number of hosting sites, many of which are free. Book uses www.blogger.com
to host his blog. Other free sites include www.blogspot.com, www.wordpress.com