August 15, 2014

Farmers using social media to grow their business

Social media can help you grow your business, deliver advice from international experts, even provide practical ways to help fix your tractor – but how do you know where to start? Digital strategist Tim Gentle explains how to develop a strategy for making the most of online opportunities.

Social media can help you grow your business. Here’s some simple steps to help you make the most of social media.

Tim Gentle grew up on a dairy farm so, when he started working as a web designer and digital strategist, he was well aware of the challenges farmers face.

Now, as Captain of Design Experts, Tim helps farmers make the most of online opportunities including social media via smartphones, email or Skype. He’s also delivered a program of free workshops known as Digital Strategy 101 specifically for rural Australians. “One of the most important benefits of social media is communication,” he says. “As well as staying in touch with your customers, you can exchange ideas and get expert advice from specialists in real time in another state or another country.”

You can also access practical help. “Social media can effectively beam an expert into your paddock,” Tim says. “For example, say your tractor breaks down. Rather than waiting hours for a mechanic, you could connect with one by using Google Hangouts, Skype or FaceTime on your smartphone. Turn on the camera and they could help fix the problem remotely.”

And, as Tim points out, social media is about giving as well as taking. “Sharing your own knowledge can work to the greater good of agriculture,” he says. “Even when you don’t have the intention of getting anything in return, you’ll often benefit in unexpected ways.”

Develop a strategy

An effective social media strategy aligns with your business goals. “Start by asking yourself where you want your business to be in 12 months’ time and how social media can help you get there,” says Tim. “For example, if you want to increase sales, social media can help build awareness. If you want to introduce a new service, it can drive traffic to your website. If you want to attract skilled employees, social media can help you to search out people with suitable qualifications and then interview them remotely. And it’s important to remember that social media isn’t only about business. By connecting people it can help farmers to feel less isolated.”

Choose the right channels

When it comes to popular social media channels the main ones are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and blogs. So how do you know which ones will work best for you?

“I recommend asking five or six of your customers what social media tools they use,” says Tim. “This will help you make informed decisions rather than stabbing in the dark. Then I’d suggest focusing on one channel and doing that really well rather than spreading yourself too thin.”

You should also find out what sort of content they’d like you to provide. “There’s no point posting weekly videos of your lambs on your Facebook page if what people really want is downloadable fact sheets or details of the jobs you’ll have available in the picking season.”

Measure your results

Every strategy should be measurable as well as practical.

“A simple way to keep track of results is to ask everyone who contacts you how and where they first heard about you,” says Tim. “You can also access relevant statistics online using inbuilt analytical tools.”

The volume of information available online can seem overwhelming, but it’s easy to control the amount that comes through.

“You can be very specific,” says Tim. “I use my Twitter account to provide a daily newsfeed of everything I’m interested in, almost like an executive summary of what I might like to read. You could focus on a particular subject, like tomatoes or grain prices.”

Twitter uses hashtags to sort tweets into specific topics. “For example, #agchatoz filters out discussions around agriculture in Australia,” says Tim. “It has a huge following.”

The more focused you are, the less time you’ll need to invest. Tim’s suggestion is to allocate two to four hours a week. “Farmers of all ages can see that the social media train has left the station,” he says. “If you don’t jump on, you’ll be left behind.”

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