There’s something rather romantic about farms. At least from an outsider’s perspective. Many of us dream of escaping the hustle and bustle of city life, or the monotony of suburbia, with a desire to “work the farm.” I admit I’ve had those notions at times, and from my front porch in Lancaster, I only have to drive a few miles to leave the city behind and find myself driving past fields.
And believe it or not, social media and farming have a lot in common:
1. It’s not easy, it’s a commitment – When you drive by a farm it looks peaceful and romantic. But I’m sure an insider’s perspective might be different. It may look easy, but farming is a lot of hard work and long hours. It’s a commitment. In the same way, because many of the tools are free and accessible, social media looks easy. Think again.
2. Cultivation is needed – A farmer doesn’t just plant seeds and sit back. The farming process is year round, from prepping the soil, to sowing, cultivating, fertilizing, all the way to the harvest. In the same way, don’t just create a Facebook page and believe that you are doing social media. If you don’t cultivate and work the fields, don’t expect any meaningful harvest.
3. It takes time – Every crop has it’s own growing season, and you never plant seeds and get results overnight. While that cultivation is taking place, it takes time. Too many people jump into social media with the idea of getting the word out overnight. In some rare cases that can happen, but that’s the exception and not the rule. social media is an ongoing process, not a once and done proposition.
4. Don’t forget the intangibles – Not everything is under your control. You might be able to control some variables, but one of the biggest factors in growing a good crop is the weather. Too little rain, too much rain, too much heat, too much cold, hail, etc. All of these can have a major impact on the end result. Some of them you can compensate for, but not all of them. With social media you need to realize that some factors are out of your hands, and you need to expect the unexpected.
5. Keep a watchful eye – Monitoring is very important.Farmers not only keep their eye on the weather, but on the plants, pests, possible diseases, etc. Monitoring your social media program is a rigorous process. Checking in once a week probably won’t cut it.
6. Try a variety of things – Most farmers will grow more than just one thing. And they will rotate their crops. If you do the same thing in the same place over and over again, it might not work. Just because it worked last time doesn’t mean it will work this time. Try different things across different social platforms.
7. Sometimes they just don’t grow! -No matter how hard you try, sometimes the plants just don’t grow. This is because there are so many variables. But the beauty is, while you may experience a loss, you can always start over from scratch. With social media, if what you try doesn’t work, just move on. Don’t spend time wringing your hands and worrying, and certainly don’t make that dangerous leap that if one thing didn’t work, then social media must not work. Learn your lessons and move on.
8. Know your climate – If I tried to grow tropical fruit in my yard, I’d have little or no success. There is nothing wrong with the soil, the water, or the seeds, but the climate just isn’t right. In the same way, with social media, know your audience. Just do your research ahead of time and you’ll be better off.
9. There’s no one right approach – In farming, there is no formula. Different farmers have different approaches. What matters most is the end result: good crops. Just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean it will for another. While we can learn a lot from each other, just mimicking someone else’s social media strategy and methods doesn’t guarantee you success.
10. The process is also important – While I just said that what matters most is the end result, I’m now going to seemingly contradict myself. I also think the process is very important. Some farms use chemicals and artificial means to make sure they get the “best” possible crops. Some of these chemicals fight disease and bugs, while others seek to “enhance” the final product. But then there is the more natural, organic approach. Some might argue, but I believe that in farming, the end result is better when using that organic approach. In social media, and particularly in the area of SEO, there are a lot of little artificial things you can do to get a leg up on the competition. But again, I believe that the more organic and natural approach is best. People will offer you methods of getting “1,000 followers on Twitter overnight!” but is that really what’s important? The organic approach might take a bit longer, and the yield might not be as large, but in addition to good results, we need to be doing things the “right” way.
11. Do you know what you’re doing? – I’m not a farmer. Give me an acre of land and some seeds and I will fail. I know nothing about farming. A smart farmer would never turn his crops over to me. To whom are you entrusting your social media and marketing program? Too often I hear of businesses turning their social media over to “my teenage nephew” or someone similar because “they do that Facebook thing.” If your business and brand are important to you (and I’m assuming they are), think long and hard about who you want handling your social media. That might mean finding the right person in-house or perhaps hiring someone from outside to help you out.
12. You need to keep up with technology – Farming may be as old as the planet, but times change. New technologies come on the scene that can enhance the process. Social Media is also ever-changing. If you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind. If you threw all your eggs in the MySpace basket, you’re in for a rude awakening. Platforms change and that can dictate how we conduct our business.
I’m sure there are plenty more analogies I could make but these are the important ones that stand out. In some ways, the key to social media is to view it not as a technology or software interface, but as a living, breathing organism. It’s about people and communities.
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