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July 8, 2010

How un-marketing builds web community

May 25, 2010

One of the strongest dynamics in our social media experiment on The Farm is the tug-of-war between the “social” and the “selling” goals at the heart of marketing on the web. How do we balance the passion of our farmers and their community with that of John, the accountant? Sustainability, remember,  must put food on the tables of people who work the farms that preserve the planet.

Social networks sprout from feel-good intentions to educate and advocate. We make new “friends” and amass “fans” who rally around our “cause.” If you’re lucky enough to run a business inspired by a legitimate cause, this all falls into place naturally and readily. In fact, it can fall into place so well, your community can take on a very active social life of its own. At times, if your experience goes back far enough, it can even harken the nostalgic enthusiasm that brought us together at town hall meetings that took place in actual town halls and political passions that packed us into store-front campaign offices. In other words, we easily can get carried away and forget the not-necessarily-feel-good half of the job: selling the product.

The Un-marketing of goods

The good news is the fix is easy. That’s because social media is the un-marketing of goods and services. Done right, social media marketing doesn’t actually sell products (or services); it sells ideas, causes, knowledge. The currency is customer loyalty. You can take it from there.

In marketing, you gain. In un-marketing, you give. In marketing, you generate leads. In un-marketing you generate resources. In marketing, you connect people to your product. In un-marketing you connect people to people. Un-marketing focuses on supporting your customers’ need to benefit a common good. (Even if that good is clean laundry or kicky handbags.) You contribute knowledge and leadership that move the cause forward. You contribute a collaboration platform where relationships develop so that customers can engage with your business to help you become a better change agent. You listen, they listen. You react, they react. You invest in them, they invest in you. By empowering them with brand promise of wisdom, guidance, and advocacy, they empower you with the exponential power of brand buzz.

Un-market like you market: talk to needs

Long before social media co-opted content by relabeling “information” and then convinced everyone it was something new, we here in the communications business still knew that words worked best when they came from the customer’s point of view. When they explored customers’ needs and demonstrated your organization had purpose and not just profit on its mind. Communications, content, inputs – it’s all the same. But in social media, the organization; the products, the services are collectively once-removed from the customer. In a good way. In social media, the needs you meet are less self-oriented, more global. And when you go global, by default, you have community. You have people communing in social networks, rallying around the cause that brought you there in the first place.

So how do we un-market the farm? What are the global needs of pastured chicken and egg shoppers?

1. Soul Food Farm’s customers first and foremost want wholesome inputs. They care about honest food, the local sources that can ensure that honesty, and the farmers who can bring it to them.

2. They also care about animal rights, restored soil, clean air, pure water, community well-being, nurtured children, healthier have-nots, and, well, haves for that matter.

3. These terms happen to be most of the keywords that we optimize in our communications.

3. On Twitter, we use these searches to find and follow other sustainable farms, writers, blogs, websites, organizations and associations that also advocate for sustainable farming and (fill in one of our key words.) We unearth layer upon layer of influential thought leaders, groups, organizations, associations all supporting these causes. We glean  their resources and knowledge and share the love.

4. As agents of change, we help expand our social network by amassing other businesses that can empower our causes. So we direct our followers and fans to those businesses, who by thriving on the viral attention bring longevity to their support.

4. We post tweets that link to all of the different kinds of sites mentioned above and the resources they offer and/or recommend.

5. Every few days, we also post something about the farm, its products, and/or the community supported ag. (CSA) program. We mix it up to remind the community that, hey, after all, we are still selling chickens and eggs.

5. We “like” like-minded pages on Facebook. Interestingly, we found that our Facebook fans engage most with posts about food values, healthy and creative cooking, followed by farm events and then by food politics. We post and contribute proportionately to these pages, directing their fans to helpful resources and sometimes back to us.

6. The Farm hosts tours and cooking workshops as another way to become a resource rather than simply a sales force. We use the web community to spread the word as well as to offer educational resources or inspiration that comes out of these events.

7. A few weeks ago, the farm hosted a series of talks, farm visits, and school assemblies with Carole Morison, a celebrity chicken farmer who converted from industrial chicken farming (bad) to local food systems advocacy (good). We currently are in the middle of packaging video and photos to share with fans, friends, and other sponsors with whom we worked that week.

8. These will help us initiate a living archive of resources, again to demonstrate the farm’s expertise and online community stewardship. We will create a YouTube channel where we will expand our social network to include conscientious folks who tend to gravitate more towards visual communications. Don’t forget, YouTube is also a social network. It’s not just for posting and viewing, but there we aim to be just as engaged as we are on Twitter and Facebook.

9. Ditto for a photo sharing site and a bookmarking site. Those are in progress.

10. The Farm has a blog that serves a four-fold purpose: Farm “shingle,” Farm news source, CSA communications, and e-commerce. It is not an issues or industry news source, and we’ve determined at this point in time, it doesn’t need to be. There’s plenty of that out there, and our public networks are showing signs of tangible rewards. To gain critical mass for Farm outreach, as mentioned in a previous post, the small town paper is alive and well as one of the most trusted sources of news and information.

Mother Knows Best – Digital advice from a farmer’s mom

May 9, 2010

I met Alexis’ mom about a month ago. She attended an event we organized for Food, Inc.’s industrial chicken farming whistle-blower Carole Morison at Camino Restaurant in Oakland. The minute I walked up to her 4-foot-8 frame, fashionably attired in a skirt, wrap, and large designer sunglasses, she said in her 7-foot exotic Peruvian accent, “You do The Social Coop, but you don’t add something new to it in a long time.” I don’t think I’ve ever met a client’s mom, but that was not nearly as novel as learning someone unobligated by blood, friendship, or business reads this blog.

Breaking the silence with a confession that Soul Food Farm’s social media took over all of my spare time (and a lot of that time in between that some people refer to as the work day), and therein lies today’s post. If you’re not careful, disciplined, and quick, social media is not a job; it becomes your life. The advantage of doing social media communications for Soul Food Farm is the same as the disadvantage – there’s so much going on. Besides being part of the sustainable food advocacy movement, Soul Food Farm sells pastured chicken and eggs to some of the country’s (some say the world’s) most renowned, mindful sustainable food leaders:  Chez Panisse’ Alice Waters who needs no introduction, for one, talked Alexis into raising chickens for the restaurant and then allowed CNN to ask her why. Rock star chef Daniel Patterson of Coi and Il Cane Rosso fame chose Soul Food Farm’s chickens for a high profile dinner to raise funds for the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation awards dinner. In print he called them the best chickens in the country.  And farm friend, author Michael Pollan who worked with Carole on the Oscar nominated documentary, works with Alexis on advocacy programs. And then there was CNN and the New York Times Magazine. And then there was Carole, who came out for a week of panels, farm visits, and school talks. Just a sampling of what we have to work into our social media menu for the farm.

On a daily basis, besides turning a community’s taste buds to pastured chicken & eggs and the farm’s CSA, we are obligated by the promise of social networking to do more. Social media marketing comes with an understanding that you get to hock your wares, but only in the broader context of the greater good – education, conversation, community, advocacy. When your client’s origins sprouted organically from these interests (i.e. NOT for social publicity – to wit: the farm’s modem has to be shaken to achieve a connection), social media marketing works its best for you. But imagine the key words for an organization like this: sustainability, farming, organic, food, cooking. A tall order that needs some slicing and dicing to target and build a meaningful community. Then imagine the network: advocacy/legislation, farming interests/education, restaurants/recipes/events, to name a few participants.  And then imagine the media: a blog of course. And then all the blogs that follow all of your network’s participants. Press releases for events, new products and the links/video/photos required for online posting. Staying up to date on links to legislation. Video of farm tours and cooking classes, of panel discussions and workshops. Photos, slide-shows, podcasts, newsletters and email campaigns. . . you know it all. It’s all possible and appropriate for the different layers that make up a socially conscious farm. How to manage it all without becoming a social media monk? A few ideas to start:

  1. Identify priorities with your client. Assess them on a monthly basis, using analytics and other measurement to refine and adjust.
  2. Adjust. When something doesn’t seem to be working, change it. If you aren’t getting a lot of action on YouTube, try something else. Maybe your audience will interact with a Flickr page more. Try it and see. How to tell? Most social media platforms offer analytics tools. But you can tell pretty quickly. For example, our board member Deb Walsh pointed out that most of the comments we get on Facebook are for food related issues, not political issues. She suggests ramping up the food postings to get even better interaction than we are. (And we are getting high scores here!)
  3. Start with two or three social media tools. Facebook, Twitter are the most common and allow you to schedule postings, which helps you manage your time. YouTube is the most common video interface, and video is key to social learning. Finally, don’t forget email. It’s still the most successful social media tool, and lots of tools are available to create email campaigns. Don’t over do it, but don’t under use it either.
  4. Use RSS feeds. Lordy, lordy, do not try this without RSS feeds. They will keep you up to date on the influential blogs, news sites, twitter feeds, etc. that are relevant to your issues. Check it several times a day. I used to use Google, but am experimenting with a feedly skin to make it more magazine like, which works well for me but not for everyone. Finding the right feeds takes time and practice. Start small, don’t be inpatient. Add only the ones you know will give you the right tools and information to help influence your audience.
  5. Create a street team. Social networking is a magnet for issues activists to express their opinions and participate. Get your online street team to post comments, share postings, and draw from other networks. Also, assign a few “blogs-to-watch” to them, including news blogs, and have them report on activities, flag postings that you might want to have the client comment on.

How’s that Alexis’ Mom? Thanks for the kick in the pants. Happy Mother’s Day.

To create buzz, whisper softly and carry a big secret

March 17, 2010

Human nature attracts listeners to the whisper. We all love a secret. When the din of social media gets too loud, instead of thumping the chest and roaring, cast your news into a whisper and listen to the buzz begin. I’m so glad Rebel Brown created this video to explain just this strategy we have planned for an upcoming event at Soul Food Farm. Listen, learn, and stay tuned for our secret.

Phoenix Rising: The Power of a Whisper

Posted using ShareThis

How not to qualify – top 10 social media worst practices

March 11, 2010

The blessings of working with a wholesome food grower near an urban foodie mecca at head of the sustainable agriculture movement are abundant, and at the moment there are more opportunities than we can keep up with. New and amazing opportunities show up almost daily: CNN just stopped by to interview Alexis for their Rebuilding America series. Carole Morison, the whistle-blower in Food, Inc. who took on an industrial chicken farming Goliath, is coming to the Bay Area for a tour of talks, tours, and panels organized by the farm. Alexis started cooking classes at the farm. She’s giving tours. She talked to urban farmers and homesteaders about raising backyard chickens. She released a new product. Will help teach butchering workshops. And so on. . . So many opportunities, so much content.

So much beyond content to be done to build community. But when it comes to what is in place so far for content:

To date, we’ve established Facebook and assembled 291 fans. Our Twitter feed has earned 126 followers. (One direct lead to a new account for Soul Food Farm!) I’ve attempted some discussions on FB with limited success so far, but I know there’s a sweet spot for that and we’ll get there. Twitter lists, recently started, should increase visibility. We’ve done a press release for the availability of confit, which appeared in blogs and will appear in San Francisco Magazine in May. With all that’s going on, it feels like we should have more in place. But establishing the right social media requires assessing what’s working; what’s not. It’s still a little early, but we’re planning more press releases, reciprocal blog commenting, Twitter lists, a YouTube channel (we’ll cover Alexis’  talks on raising chickens, one on how to cut up the chicken), and a newsletter to drive traffic, offer resources, and build the farm’s email database.  Keeping in mind that Alexis’ priority is to increase CSA membership specifically and business in general, we’re in the process of assessing how we’re doing so far. Recently, Brian passed on this Slideshare presentation, and happily, we’re doing well enough to not qualify for the top 10 of these:

The press release persists; long live the local paper

February 24, 2010

I opened up “The New York Times Magazine” on November 24th and saw my friend Alexis and her husband in an article about the community support that helped revive their farm after an arson fire nearly destroyed it. My immediate thought was to check out her blog, Facebook and Twitter outreach to see how she had leveraged the big press hit. Because, well, “The Times” is great, but what’s it doing for her business locally? That’s when I realized while the blog was informative and effective, its readership was limited to people who already knew it was there. A great communications tool for her 150-member community supported agriculture program and people who checked in when she was written up in food and sustainable agriculture blogs/websites – and “The New York Times Magazine.” Facebook and Twitter weren’t in play, and Alexis, her CSA manager and blogkeeper, Bonnie agreed it was time to take things viral.

So, when I first talked to Alexis about introducing social media to her business, she said, “Oh good, can you send a press release to local papers?” I flinched a bit because I was really excited to get the social media program started and not as enthused about the old-school methods. A flinch was all, though, because Alexis’ enthusiasm actually echoes the precise dynamics that are keeping local newspapers afloat, and in many cases thriving. Maybe large newspapers can’t compete with the global reach of online publishing, but online news sites can’t hold a candle to the kind of vital information that small communities and rural dwellers depend upon. In fact, they are two separate creatures.

“In many ways, (small town) newspapers will probably survive and, in some cases, flourish longer than some of the much larger newspapers,” said USC journalism professor Bryce Nelson. “They operate on a very lean budget, don’t devote a lot of money to editorial product, and they’re better able to withstand economic downturns.”

More important to local business, however, it’s the “hyperlocal issues that affect local people” which claims promise success to local papers and why local business must take heed.

In the pervasive panic over the imploding print news industry, much has been studied and reported (mostly by market research firms affiliated with media outlets) on the decline in reader/viewership of print and radio specifically and news in general. I couldn’t find but a smattering of studies in local newspaper readership, so I chose this Wisconsin newspaper study to give a general impression. In this study, 77 percent of people in this middle-America state read a local community newspaper. That is, 77 percent of the 83 percent that said they read a newspaper each week. Sounds a little high to me, but let’s look at the study’s other finding more relevant to this post:  When it came to local shopping, the study showed that Wisconsinites turn to their local newspapers first for purchasing information:  47 percent purchased from a newspaper advertisement. The Internet (19 percent), television (15 percent) and radio (6 percent) lagged behind. Again, this likely reflects the general population.

Social media is going to make Soul Food Farm a more active participant in local niche advocacy issues, including sustainable farming, agriculture, the whole and organic food movements, humane treatment of animals raised for food, urban homesteading, and health/nutrition. And it will bring a lot of business to this inauspicious little farm that sells some of the most coveted pastured poultry and eggs in the Bay Area. However, if any business were to maintain its allegiance to the local newspaper, a sustainable farm can’t argue its value. After all, any transaction beyond the reach of most local papers’ readerships is where a sustainable business stops being sustainable. Which means local news rules. To that end, we bring you the latest:

Brighter days seen at Vacaville farm after fire
The Vacaville Reporter, February 21st, 2010

How Chickens Tweet: Caution for Massive Micro-Media

February 15, 2010

Ah Twitter. So easy, so simple, so little. So not to be taken lightly.

The first few discussions about the Twitter potential for Soul Food Farm underscore just the magnitude the tiny, 140-character micro blogger can wield among social media platforms. It also served as an important reminder how essentially “social” the planning process must be.

If you live and/or work (eat, breathe, sleep) social media marketing, your creative juices would whip up into a froth over the opportunity to connect consumers with an undeniably wholesome food they would practically taste as the savory words “pastured chicken” pass their lips. . . whose hearts would swell knowing their meals support pro-social, green-earth values. And chickens? How cute. How fun. How tempting for a b-2-c campaign that combines the best of the Web’s visuals, promotion, up-with-people values. Palpable isn’t it? Brian, Deb, and I immediately thought Soul Food Farm’s Twitter presence could combine a smart, gutsy-but-chic hen attitude with an iconic avatar visual. Our “hen about town” would make occasional cheeky comments about calling her posts “Tweets” instead of clucks and would dispense folksy charm farm news, inside scoops, commentary on farm and foodie blogs, intelligence on the virtues of whole, sustainable farming and food.

I proposed the idea to Soul Food Farm owner and chicken farmer, Alexis. A “gutsy-but-chic” woman with attitude herself. She respectfully considered the idea overnight. She respectfully declined it the next morning. Understandably. Sustainable farming on a small local farm demands a delicate balance between business and advocacy. As a relative newcomer to the business whose products happen to be highly regarded by highly respected chefs, restaurateurs, and meat purveyors, Alexis felt our Twitter idea might appear too commercial and gimmicky – possibly compromising her position and their support. She didn’t say as much, but sometimes you just “get” these things after a good night’s sleep.

So we initiated Soul Food Farm’s twitter platform with some fairly straightforward posts about the farm, the blog, the new Facebook page, a few news items, ideas about chicken food pairing and recipes. Bonnie Powell, who is Soul Food Farm’s CSA manager, blogger, a writer and sustainable farming advocate sent us an urgent email: she wasn’t convinced the strategy was right. From her perspective, Soul Food Farm’s social media strategy needed a tone that honored the community’s tremendous support of Soul Food Farm. Bonnie didn’t squash the idea, but she cautioned it doesn’t feel authentic to the Soul Food Farm ‘voice.’ “Let’s check it out,” she advised. She sent an email asking for feedback from three other people who know Soul Food Farm and who employ social media to advocate for sustainable farming and food. She asked them, could the Twitter posts potentially confuse fans of Soul Food Farm, as it is not clear who is doing the tweeting? Could we experience a backlash against what might appear to be an inauthentic feel of the posts?

Smart woman: she worked alongside many of the people who helped Soul Food Farm recover from a devastating fire and whose patronage originates as much from that shared struggle as from the goodness of pastured chicken. Here’s the feedback we received from her contacts (makes for a long long post, but just too insightful to cut):

“I think you’re right to proceed with caution, but I don’t think it’s as fraught as you think.

I find that unless I am told otherwise, I always presume the person tweeting is the principal “face” of the farm/shop, the person who I know. And then I’m always a little amused (at myself) when I find out it’s not that person — especially when I have a personal relationship with the person I thought was tweeting. So there’s that: Even cynics like me make leaps that aren’t necessarily intended.

But I also understand it’s not really a reasonable expectation: I don’t think that Sam Mogannam writes every word of BiRite’s tweets, any more than he writes the website or press releases or the cute signs in the store. (Maybe he does, but I don’t really expect it.) If the Twitter account is @SoulFoodFarm — and not @FarmerAlexis or @AlexisSoulFood — there’s some built-in transparency; you’ve set the expectation that it’s someone (or multiple someones) connected with the farm but not necessarily Alexis or Eric. Nobody thinks that Alexis is writing the blog, right? Some farmers do write (Andy/Mariquita, Nigel/Eatwell, etc), but I think in the case of SFF it’s clear that Alexis doesn’t. And people don’t mind that.

Greg Massa (@massaorganics) and Steve Sando (@ranchogordo) are probably the only two food people I follow who manage their corporate twitter accounts like personal accounts. It’s great for them because they are both such public, animated people, and their personalities are a big part of their brand. And they’re also both clearly in their element — at least in Steve’s case, he’s been living his life online for as long as I’ve known him. It would be weird if he ‘farmed out’ his twitter or his blog, because he is so naturally gifted at social networking. I suspect Greg is similarly inclined, tweeting from his tractor and all. 🙂

If you want to make it crystal clear, you could periodically tweet things like: “Alexis and Eric are going to be moving the chicken houses today; 400 new peepers arrive Monday!” or “Alexis reports hens are almost back to spring laying levels: CSA members can order 2 doz eggs per drop after 3/12” — tweets that occasionally make it clear that it’s not Alexis who is tweeting. I don’t think you have to spell out WHO is tweeting, so long as you aren’t actively pretending to be Alexis.

From another advisor:
In terms of backlash, I think the big thing to be conscious of the fact that it really has to feel like it’s coming from the heart of the farm, not from a PR factory; it’s easier when your PR person is also a friend. I like the stuff you’ve tweeted so far, but maybe a little more day-to-day “hey, here’s what’s happening on the farm” and a little less “here’s what you can buy from us” would be nice.

I monitor both of Soul Food’s social streams: FB and twitter – and haven’t noticed anything out of sync with my (albeit distant) perception of the farm. In general, though, there should occasionally be some direct communications – if you get a direct message on twitter, for example, that should be in the voice of the farmer. That creates the authenticity that is the hallmark of good social media practice. It’s also okay to have a “team” that communicates for the Farm. Perhaps on the web site there’s some verbiage about who does what. Nothing fancy but in the spirit of full disclosure.

And another. . .
“Probably the best solution is to put both bios on the SoulFoodFarm Twitter page so when/if people click through they can see that there are two different people sending out tweets. Also consider the fact that a percentage of Tweets are lost to the twitterdom anyway; they slide by in the massive stream of tweets on most users lists.  If a user has a twitter client that makes separate lists of followers then maybe it might be more apparent, but i don’t think it’s too big of a deal.

As far as I’m concerned, tweeting is like blogging, the more tweets you send out the more traffic (or followers) you garner, which in the end, is the name of the game.

Moral of the story: Much of the advise we knew in different contexts; it was helpful and refreshing to hear it in this new one. In general, don’t underestimate the risks of Twitter. Be authentic. Be transparent. Be open.  In the first two weeks, Soul Food Farm’s Facebook page gathered 160 fans and 53 Twitter followers. We have work to do to, but it’s coming along great with the help of a village.