5 ways to network
The term social media may sound like a squishy pile of something, and in truth it can be like a noisy auger that doesn't serve up much quality feed.
What is social media? Basically, it's a set of Internet communications tools that enables you to produce content, rather than just consume it. The tools include anything that lets you have a voice in media, including blogs, forums, social networks, photo sharing, social bookmarking, and texting.
There's a lot of hype connected with the social media trend, but, in truth, the tools of this new communications medium can help grow and enhance your farm business in a lot of practical ways.
- Sell something. A farmer e-mailed me that he had bought and sold more than $1 million worth of farm machinery in the classifieds section on Agriculture.com. Online classifieds give you instant access to thousands of farmers across the country and around the world. The site also has a discussion group where farmers can informally buy and sell machinery items. For free, you can spread the word about your equipment all over the world. It just takes a little common sense to do the deals.
- Troubleshoot A Machinery Problem. One of the most useful Internet services provided to farmers over the years on Agriculture.com has been the Machinery Talk forum, where farmers can meet and troubleshoot equipment problems. There are a number of such discussion groups around the Web. There are countless examples where farmers have helped a colleague solve a problem that nobody else could figure out.
- Promote your business. Many farmers have an ag-related business that could profit from a blog. There are a number of easy-to-use tools, including the one I use, Blogger.com. Successful farmer sites let the public in on the action. One popular ag blogger gives this tip: "If you had a pick-your-own berry farm, for example, you could write about the fieldwork, the varieties, the fun, the family helping, and the weather frustrations. The result is that customers feel like friends and want to spend money with you."
- Build your own news network. Farmer-to-farmer contact can be the best way to understand what's happening with crops, markets, and business trends. An Indiana hog farmer I follow on Twitter, Mike Lewis, says he uses that tool to "make connections with other farmers that you normally only spend time with at conventions or other social events." He adds, "It also gives me some insight on how the crops are doing in other parts of the country." Kansas farmer Mike Buss uses Twitter to follow news and markets.
- Interact with experts. Many farm business advisers and consultants are active in social media and often are glad to impart some of their knowledge in interaction with you. Follow these experts on Twitter, friend them on Facebook, or connect with them on LinkedIn, for example. In my own case, I find leads for stories in these services and have regular contact via e-mail and Twitter with farmer friends (my experts) from Ohio to England.