Tuesday, September 28th, 2010
By Nancy Allen
Paying attention to social media
  LONDON - Business owners should pay attention to online social media because people use it to spread the word about businesses.
That was the message from Rob Leeds and Julie Fox who gave a presentation about understanding social media trends during last week's Farm Science Review in London.
Leeds has an agri-tourism business in Delaware County offering a family friendly experience that includes hand-picked pumpkins and gourds, a zip line, small animals to pet and feed, hayrides and other activities. Fox works for OSU Extension advancing community tourism.
"Social media enables farmers to tell their story and allows others to tell their experience of your farm," Fox said. "This enables farmers to tap into that and influence what others are saying about you."
Social media forums like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have become a common place for people to converse and share information on all sorts of topics. People trust friends and family to give honest opinions about products and services, so social media can be a good tool for all types of business, Leeds and Fox said.
It also can alert a business to negative comments or experiences.
Leeds gave an example of how social media helped Royal Caribbean cruise line. Shortly after the earthquake in Haiti, the cruise line was criticized in the media for continuing excursions to the island despite the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people.
"But their customers defended them on places like Facebook and Twitter," Leeds said. "They talked about how the ships employed 1,600 people from the island and were bringing food, water and medicine for victims each time they came ... Royal Caribbean didn't need to do a thing."
Tapping into online forums and blogs can be a powerful tool for business, Fox said. The industry of local food buying can benefit because sales often result from having a trusting relationship with the person you are buying from, she said.
Ways businesses can stay abreast of what's being said about them in social media include signing on to Google alerts. A business enters key words such as the farm's name and Google alerts will send an e-mail with a link to any article that contains those words.
"This gives you a chance to correspond with people who are putting comments out there and perhaps correct or smooth over a bad experience," Leeds said.
Don't be afraid to ask customers for suggestions, ideas and feedback so you can seek new growth based on those comments, Leeds said. But know that interacting with customers in such a way takes time.
Business owners also shouldn't be afraid to interject their personality into a business, Fox said.
A guy with an agri-tourism business that had pig races decided to add a winery. Some of the wine names included redneck red and red pecker. Needless to say, this man had a bit of an ornery streak, Fox said, and he let it show.
Leeds said he had his agri-tourism business' website linked to YouTube video of a man filming his descent down a zip line at the farm. The video attracted a lot of attention and new visitors. It also made Leeds decide to tear down a small building on the farm that was unattractive, pay more attention to employee attire and paint the name of his business on top of a barn roof.
Fox encouraged business owners to get started with social media.
"Whether you know it or not, you are already out there," he said. "There are people talking about you."
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