Greg Cross, president and CEO of Cross Creative Marketing, touts the benefits of social media during a Farmers Market Boot Camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau office in Indianapolis.
Greg Cross, president and CEO of Cross Creative Marketing, touts the benefits of social media during a Farmers Market Boot Camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau office in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Social media can be a great tool for producers or coordinators of farmers markets.

With all the social media websites that are out there, from Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr to Yelp, figuring out how to cater the available tools to one’s business may seem daunting, let alone providing frequent content about news on the farm, however.

“Social media is not an endpoint, but a tool to be used right there with you in your farmers market,” said Greg Cross, president and CEO of Cross Creative Marketing, who spoke at a Farmers Market Boot Camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau.

The heartbeat of social media is blogging, he stressed.

If possible, farmers should have their farm blog on their website where they can post newsletters and add social media buttons to encourage users to visit and learn about all aspects of their business.

“A blog allows you to take all the content related to your farm or farmers market and make it go viral,” Cross explained. “As you get to know your audience, you can share with them the things you grow and offer, from fruits and vegetables to produce and recipes.”

More and more, farmers will need to be thinking about gearing their content toward search engines, such as Google, he said.

“You want to raise the eyebrows of Google so they will find that content,” he said. “If you drive traffic to your website, you can make more connections and sales. Writing about your business can give you a better understanding of your business and help you establish yourself as a real voice and authority.”

Twitter, a social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read messages known as tweets, can be a great way for farmers to attract attention while leveraging their brand both personally and professionally, as well as drive traffic to their website, Cross said.

Through Facebook, they can add friends and send them messages and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves.

Facebook users also can create and “Like” a business page, which Google will pick up in its search engine, Cross said.

Debbie Beasley of Beasley’s Orchard in Danville is one producer whose Facebook page has helped her family farm develop an online community of customers.

By working with her computer-savvy daughter and enthusiastic cousin, she recently connected with a flower designer, Rue de Fleurs, to market custom floral centerpieces, as well as the farm’s award-winning apples and apple cider, tomatoes, pears, cabbage, turnips, onions and other vegetables.

As the 2013 winners of the Indiana State Cider Contest, Beasley’s Orchard shared its award from the Indiana Horticultural Society on Facebook, where it was shared more than 1,700 times, Beasley said.

“Probably 12 people came within an hour to our farm to sit by the fireplace and have a cup of hot cider,” she added.

“Social media has been great for us in turning our business into people. We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you’re happy as a customer and encourage people to interact with your business.”

Farmers and farmers markets can customize their Twitter and Facebook accounts to competitively brand and market their products using unique phrases and taglines, such as “Our farmers market offers the ripest, reddest tomatoes” or “Best blueberry pies.”

Users can link to their blogs or websites from their Twitter and Facebook accounts, too.

“Twitter has emerged into a premiere way to keep a pulse and monitor what is happening in the world,” Cross said. “In the Twitter community, the influence is about providing attention and value to others.”

As growers get accustomed to all the social media tools available, they can tweak the way they share information with the public, from shortening their URL to using rapid sharing sites to provide more up-to-date information than what may exist on their website.

“Think about your particular market. Some farmers markets have as many as 60 vendors,” Cross said. “People don’t always want to read long articles on the website, but rather newsworthy lists, tips, stories and juicy tidbits about your farm or farm products.”

The Indy Winter Farmers Market, housed at City Market in downtown Indianapolis, is a prominent social media player when it comes to connecting people to the daily agricultural products available at the market each November through April.

“We’ve tried to keep our website simple — the most important things are being able to link to your social media tools,” said Molly Trueblood, manager of the Indy Winter Farmers Market.

“We’ve used Facebook since we opened the market, and we try to post at least once a day,” she said. “It really does increase interaction between your producers and customers. We’re partnering with Growing Places Indy to reach out to people who think in other ways. We have a lot of dedicated customers, but we want new people and a strategic method to grow that.”

Trueblood said one of the market coordinators began using Instagram to take photos and share them on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

“As a farmers market and organization, we will have more followers than people we follow,” she said.

“We send out a weekly newsletter on our website, where we keep a vendor list to inform people of who is selling at the markets and which products are available. We also feature a volunteer, vendor or sponsor every year to feature a producer or certain aspect of the market.”

Though it may seem contrary to running a business, farmers using social media should not be afraid to provide free information about their agricultural enterprise.

“I give away information all the time in teaching people to blog,” Cross said. “In the green thumb world, people want to know whether to plant their plants inside and how to plant. It can be a great avenue to tell a story or be a guide for someone less experienced in agriculture.”

Curating, or publishing other people’s content on your own website, also can be a fruitful option in the social media world, as long as users credit the information to the creator.

Farmers and farmers markets may even want to create a brick and mortar sign letting guests know they use social media to drive visitors to the websites even when they are not at their computer.

Growers also now have Google Plus, which offers additional options and social media for farmers markets and business owners, though it will take more education to shift them away from Twitter and Facebook to the Google-based application.