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Socially cool, seriously business. Get a plan.

February 12, 2010

In our first few posts, we laid the groundwork for The Social Coop experiment, introduced the subject – Soul Food Farm — and presented our advisory team. I’d like a way to get this WordPress template to index post titles in the archives, making it easy for the droves of visitors to search by topic; I’ll dig around for that. Stay tuned. . .Ok, let’s head into the Coop.

From the get-go, social media just looks cool. It’s quick, it’s casual, young people are there. It makes the business of communications less business-y. When email first leached out of the software developer’s lab into the business scene, the ee cummings style of programming languages came with it. In those last days of DOS, the barriers of communications were instantly more porous, tempting business folks to loosen up their written tone along with their Friday dress code. We started corresponding more; for better or worse, email empowered people to “speak” up and more often. Email took the term “connected” from peripherals to people. In this way, email was the earliest form of social media and remains the most prevalent. It made business more social and marketing communications more fun. And thus was born its first glitch. By the same token that the cool factor makes social media a more entertaining job function, it can distract that job like an ADHD attack in a game arcade. Now more than ever, you gotta have goals.

I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley launching start-ups back when AOL became the first killer app of the Internet. As director of account services for a small public relations agency, I assessed many prospective clients who made a beeline from Sand Hill Road to our door, pockets stuffed with seed funding. Surprisingly, many of them came without business plans. What would my boss and mentor, Winnie Shows, say? “No plan? No PR.” She wasn’t being a PR snob; she learned the hard way that a commitment to strategy promises measurable success, and quantifying success means more business. Paradoxically, it’s usually the small businesses bootstrapping their mousetrap-to-market plans that are more willing to risk cutting corners. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them, so here’s some free and well-seasoned advice about marketing/communications (social or otherwise): It’s a serious investment; and if you’re serious about doing business with something that by its nature defies organization/control/discipline, don’t overlook social media strategy. Just don’t.

Luckily, social media offers many more tools and techniques to measure success than traditional public relations ever did (analytics will come into The Coop shortly). So, if you’re interested in demonstrating to investors (that includes your mom), your social media ROI, make a plan. Know your target audiences. Learn their online and offline behaviors. And because social media fosters advocacy as much as sales, you’ll need to know more than their buying patterns in this space. Most of all, in your plan, include specific goals and make them measurable. That’s our aim for the Soul Food Farm experiment – demonstrate how social media can support increased pastured egg and chicken profits. Soul Food Farm has a business plan. And like a lot of small businesses, Alexis continues to work it. But we did make two things clear when we started: 1) She wants to increase profit (business goal), and to do that, she 2) needs to increase the membership of the community supported agriculture program, add more merchant accounts and sell more to existing merchants, and launch new “products,” like a cooking school (marketing goals). That alone helped us develop social media communications goals:

  • Increase awareness for the health, quality, and sustainable-earth virtues of pastured chickens and eggs
  • Reinforce the convenience, cost, and community-sustaining benefits of CSA membership
  • Establish Soul Food Farm as an expert advocate for the humane treatment of pastured chickens and for organic, whole foods
  • Build Alexis’ profile as an expert pastured chicken/egg farmer who supports local restaurants and merchants with like values

You’ll notice there aren’t any benchmark percentages and numbers involved. We’ll talk about that and present them when we get to those analytics.

Next post: How now Facebook and Twitter?


Meet The Coop’s advisory board

February 7, 2010

Social media marketing combines communications strategies with new tools and techniques that make online communities fertile places to engage people with products and services for a better way of doing business together. It’s not where you go to sell, it’s where you join a group with common interests and goals. In other words, they aren’t your father’s customers; you’re their advocate and they are yours. To make this experiment (and any social media strategy) work, I’ve invited into The Coop a few people who really know this stuff.

Whom I’ve recruited so far:

Right brain partner and marketing maven, Deb Walsh

For marketing wisdom: Deb Walsh, my business partner at Left/Right Strategies, specializes in social media marketing promotions. We worked  together at Creamer Dickson Basford in Providence, RI, in the mid-80s, which put me on hand to help at her wedding. You can see by this photo why she’s the right brain and I’m the left, though it’s clear at the time we didn’t quite have that act together.

Communicators in crime

To balance social with media, truly: Brian Fuller is a veteran journalist from the business and trade press. He is a pioneer in online publishing and social media, having introduced some of the earliest concepts as editor-in-chief at EETimes. He started his career with United Press International when I was a lowly corporate communications director in health care. He is now director of communications and community at Numetrics and maintains one of the electronics’ industry’s most influential blogs.  We were on opposite sides of the media tracks for half our lives until we arrived at this switching station called social media. We’ve been married 25 years this July.

Home Grown Social Media Implementation: Suz Sachs Lipman is the best example of successful, home-grown social media expertise I’ve seen. She is founder of and contributer to SlowFamilyOnline blog where she writes about farming, nature, sustainable food, seasons, crafts, fun activities, and vintage design. Suz has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor, social media enthusiast, community builder, and scout troop leader. Her syndicated parenting column, “Bay Area Moms”, ran for five years. She is currently the Social Media Director for the Children and Nature Network, an international movement dedicated to connecting children with nature. She enjoys hiking, gardening, antiquing, food canning, and making natural, whimsical soaps with her teenage daughter for their mother/daughter company.

Other obvious advisors include:

Bonnie Powell, journalist, blogger, sustainable farming advocate, and director of Soul Food Farm’s community supported agriculture program. Bonnie’s writes Soul Food Farm’s. Bonnie founded the Ethicurean blog and has given talks on social media strategies for farmers. She is our third eye; the essential perspective of the sustainable farm audience.

Alexis Koefoed, farmer and owner of Soul Food Farm is, of course, our primary source. She steers us through the life, times, and business trials of farming. She’s the one who wears the muddy boots.

Coop Minder’s Child

February 5, 2010
Heidi and Alexis

Heidi and Alexis at the Prather Meat Co. Stand, Marin Farmers Market

Every day since the last post, Alexis and I have been noodling news, calendaring events, meeting at the Farmer’s Market, and addressing a few PR surprises discussed later in this post. Needless to say, The Social Coop quickly turned into, well, The Coop minder’s child.  There’s so much to write about, but, caution: there’s a word limit. That’s the first thing: my rule for word limit is 400 words give or take, though a challenging topic might require a little more, a quick update could take less. The rest is best left to links (like the one I just used for “word limit”), which are what one of my advisors calls “journalists’ porn.” Second announcement: I’ll be blogging more frequently than promised, though recent progress probably raises lots of skepticism. Because there are so many teaching moments in this experiment, it’s just not possible to put them all in a 400-word weekly post. Third: This IS a teaching blog. People facing a new social media adventure get to witness the flotsam, fluidity, and sometimes frenzy of the process, which, by the way, is normal. Repeat: normal. In the old days, PR – mostly media relations – was a linear process. When I was doing high tech PR at a small shop in Silicon Valley back in the 90s, we nailed high-efficiency systems that worked in lock-step the same in all campaigns. We could; it was the process. In social media communications, it all sort of clusters around your to-do list and has to be managed with Medusa-like skill. And it’s different for every business. The idea here is to get comfortable with the process, do what you can, stay flexible, and don’t compare your social media to others.

Two Words About WordPress: In my first post, I talked a little about how important it is to learn WordPress. I took the easy way out initially by using a simple, flexible template. I’ll build out as I need to. See? Flexible. I picked this template because it allowed me to place “Recent Comments” at the top right. This experiment aims to bring in suggestions, ideas, criticisms, and questions from all levels of social media expertise, so I wanted others’ input to be quick and easy to access. They also offer a template that works a lot like Twitter, which would give an even better sense of community contribution, but I didn’t want to limit comments to 140 characters. So all this gets back to “it’s different for everyone.” My unique goals dictated the template choice. Another great way to use WordPress without having to master a thing is key word searches. If you’re stumped about what key words will boost your traffic, log into WordPress, search for a blog that you know relates to your topic. Look at the tag cloud on the right. Voila! Key words.

More about planning (with a few doozies about Twitter), press releases, and other blogging strategies in the post after next. Starting Sunday night, you can come back to The Coop to meet the advisory board. As for that PR surprise? I was dining at Chez Panisse at the end of last month to experience Chef Jerome’s menu featuring all fresh Soul Food Farm products. Alexis walked in unexpectedly, looking too glamorous to be a farmer, and whispered in my ear: “CNN left me a voice mail today. Call me.” Social media, what? Once in PR, always in PR, and little can get our hearts fluttering like those three letters.

P.S. I broke the word count rule. See? Flow.

What’s all this about chickens?

January 24, 2010

I met Alexis Koefoed in 2005 at Havens Wine Cellars in Napa. She was on her way out; it was time to start that farm she’d been planning. I was on my way in, to implement a new marketing position. She was about to step into her boots to surround herself with thousands of chickens. I was about to bring Web 2.0 to the winery.  At the time, I knew Alexis was strong, driven, and exquisitely undaunted by a challenge. Her Soul Food Farm is a testament to all of that, but moreso, it speaks of a desire to lead people  back to the land (while I was parading them into e-commerce.)

Alexis at home on farmAlexis already had started the Solano chapter of Slow Food. She’d planted hundreds of olive trees on the 55-acre farm she bought with her husband several years earlier. So, when she introduced egg farming to Soul Food Farm, it was as much a place to express her passion for sustainable, organic farming as it was to provide wholesome food to her community. She started selling at farmer’s markets then restaurants. Soon, Alice Waters suggested she do the same good work with chickens.

Quick on the heels of recovering from a fire and then a flood that set them back a bit at the farm, Alexis takes on new challenges this year. It’s time to build membership in her community service agriculture program, to start a cooking school, and teach others about pastured farming practices and raising chickens in urban settings. It looked like a good time to get back together and introduce her to social media marketing. I mean, this business is local, it’s sustainable – it’s nothing if not about “community.”  My goal: take a fresh start like Soul Food Farm with limited marketing history and see what social media can do. Perfect conditions for a laboratory style experiment. We have hypothesis, technique, and analysis procedures. We have controls: no previous marketing to influence results once we get started.

Let’s roll up the pant cuffs and get to work.

To market, to market: Can social media cultivate followers for a pastured egg and chicken farm?

December 22, 2009

This blog, if you missed the tagline, works as a living lab to test the ever-evolving promise of social media marketing on a small pastured chicken and egg farm in Solano County, California. It will examine and report through respectfully frequent posts on the trials and tribulations of building online community & marketing communications from, um, scratch. (With promises to restrain the chicken puns.)

The inaugural post for The Social Coop currently is being drafted while we learn the ins and outs of WordPress. I’m a graduate of Godaddy and blogger, which are the quick and easy “everyman” routes to blogging. Godaddy hands-down tops the charts in personalized customer service, combining both online and phone support experiences; I was eternally grateful for their friendly, unhurried hand-holding while I learned online publishing. And blogger belts out the first few bars of your blog in minutes. But WordPress is the defacto standard of web content management among social media marketers. After watching one of our advisers pull his hair out while learning and implementing WordPress a year ago, it was with great trepidation that we took on the challenge, but he promised it had become less cumbersome and complex. Reassuring, since we didn’t have much choice.

Ah! An inaugural post just posting about posting. And so it begins, the self-perpetuating meta-analytical mining of social media opportunity. Next: The Social Coop experiment and tagging.