With consumers increasingly using social media to inform purchasing choices, utilization of these platforms is vital for direct-market farmers. This shift places added strain on farmers, whose operations leave little time for customer-facing aspects of their business outside of their time at farmers markets. A need exists to support farmers in integrating online marketing tools to maximize sales, extending the advantages of relationship marketing that is the crux of selling directly to consumers at farmers markets, in a way that coordinates with their schedules and reflects sensitivity to their unique assets and barriers. MDFMA will use SARE funds to provide five agricultural producers selling through Maryland farmers markets with accessible, customized, and comprehensive training on how to increase their sales and customer base through online marketing. This coaching will include site visits to the farms and the markets at which they sell; identification of the farm’s unique and marketable qualities; assessment of current promotional tools; and establishment of a customized, year-long social media strategy. We will evaluate the impact of the collaborating farmers’ increased and improved online presence on their farmers market sales and identify best practices for replication by other local and regional farmers. MDFMA will release case studies of the participating farms and a “Social Media 101 for Farmers toolkit”, both of which will be promoted through our networks to ensure maximum reach and benefit to other farmers.
Project objectives from proposal:
The project objective is to provide five farmers selling through Maryland farmers markets with the tools and skills to grow their sales and customer base through a greater and more effective online marketing presence. We foresee that this effort will yield increased sales resulting from greater brand recognition and desirability, customer loyalty, and promotion of the aspects of their farm and/or products that make them unique. Other farmers will benefit from the results in multiple ways:
1.DMDFMA’s case study report—to be made public upon completion—will highlight successful strategies, demonstrating to other farmers that investment in social media marketing adds value to their business. Distilling which tactics demonstrated most effective will help other farmers prioritize how they want to invest their limited time and resources.
2.DMDFMA will develop and publicize brief, accessible toolkits for farmers on how to replicate successful practices.
3.DMDFMA will refine its training tools to incorporate only the components that farmers deemed valuable, and will make our coaching services available to farmers throughout the region who sell through Maryland farmers markets.