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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.

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