Facebook for Your Farm
From how we get our news, to the way we keep in touch with family and friends, Facebook has transformed many of our habits since its start nearly 15 years ago. For farmers, the social media platform gives an opportunity to offer a glimpse into their operations, and lives, like never before.
Brian Scott is a grain farmer in northwest Indiana. While farming with his father and grandfather, he shares their experiences on Facebook and other social media platforms. Since launching his Facebook page, The Farmer’s Life, in February 2011, Scott has attracted nearly 60,000 followers.
More recently, California rice farmer Matthew Sligar started his page Rice Farming TV. Sligar has worked to build up his presence on YouTube where he regularly shares vlogs from his family’s rice farm and international travels. While YouTube is the priority for Sligar, he’s had success connecting with people from all walks of life on Facebook.
Both farmers enjoy interacting with people they may not otherwise meet through their respective pages. “You don't have to be in the same town, you don't have to be in the same country. You can be anywhere in the world and connect with someone,” says Sligar.
For Scott, along with his blog, Facebook is a place to share about his day to day work. “You can post something longer with a little more detail generally than you would on Twitter, or Instagram, or Snapchat,” he explains.
But, just because it’s a possibility doesn’t mean Facebook posts have to be detailed every time, Scott continues. “I tell a lot of people, whatever your post doesn't have to be the most detailed end all, be all, post of all time. People that are interested in learning about farming will be surprised to find out the small little things, mundane stuff we do every day. It's very interesting to somebody who's got no experience with it.”
While part of the motivation to create a farming related Facebook page is to inform and educate people less directly connected to agriculture, it is important to keep posts personal and engaging.
“I think everybody starts out, ‘I'm just going to educate the world about farming.’ And you can't,” Scott says. “You'll find out quickly you can't just go out there and lecture. You can, but your only followers will end up being people that think exactly like you, which for most of us doing this, that is not the point. You really have to try to have a conversation with people. I do things like show my kids, or show if we're going to a baseball game or stuff like that. It's not all just science and facts about running the farm.”
The men, in part, credit their success with Facebook to knowing how the platform distributes content to people’s news feed. Posts with engaging components like photos or video usually reach more people than those with just text.
“There are things Facebook doesn't like,” Scott explains. “You need to post everything basically native to Facebook. If you put something on YouTube, don't share that YouTube link on Facebook or nobody will see it. Facebook basically just buries it. So, post the video to Facebook itself if you want to be seen.”
Sligar has a different solution to appeasing Facebook’s preferences. “Facebook really is pushing their users to go live, to just press the record button on their phone and stream right to Facebook. People are connected in this immediate sense, so Facebook really values that,” he says. “Anytime you go live Facebook may send a notification to anyone who is following you, ‘This person is going live at this very moment so tune in.’ That's a very powerful thing.”
“One strategy I use is to still upload a link to my YouTube channel on Facebook. Yes, I'm sending people away from Facebook to my YouTube channel. I know Facebook doesn't like that. However, afterwards I’ll go live on Facebook and make an announcement saying, "Hey guys I just shared a link to my YouTube channel on Facebook scroll down below to check out the link." This way I'm creating a piece of content that Facebook really likes and it's referencing another post that Facebook didn't like so much. It's still hopefully sending people to where I want them to go and I'm playing by Facebook's rules,” Sligar explains.
Learning to keep up with Facebook’s algorithm can be overwhelming at first. “There's a learning curve,” says Sligar. “There's just so much you can do with Facebook which is what makes it great. But at the same time as a beginner it can make it intimidating. Just like anything, the more time you spend with it and work with it, the easier it's going to get.”
In addition to posting on their own pages, Scott and Sligar have joined groups. Groups are pages where several people with a common interest gather to share and discuss relevant content.
Through participation in agriculture related group pages like Farm Hats, Scott has developed close friendships with farmers outside of Indiana. Five of them are so close now they have a group text message where they talk nearly every day. Had it not been for the Facebook group, the five farmers may have never met.
Groups help Sligar find people who may be interested in the topics he covers in his videos. “If I do a video that's about a tractor I can go out and I can see if there's a group of people on Facebook who use or like or are interested in the same type of tractor. I can join that group and I can share my video with that group and I'm not just sharing a video about a tractor with a general audience, just kind of a shot in the dark. I'm sharing it with people who I know have interest in this same tractor and that's going to help me get a boost in views and support.”
No matter how you choose to use Facebook to share your farm story, both Scott and Sligar advise, just get started. “You might be overwhelmed or intimidated or disenfranchised after putting in some energy and not seeing a lot of return or engagement. But just stick with it because farmers out there are interested in how other farmers farm. Consumers are interested in how their food is farmed,” Sligar encourages fellow producers. “The only thing which is preventing these people from receiving the content is you not creating it. So create the content and share it whether it's just a simple photo or a short few sentences telling everyone what you're doing and why. It will receive an audience and the audience will grow over time. The feedback you get from your audience will make all the energy that you're putting into it worth it.”