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Central Pa. farmers slow to embrace social media

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Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich is assistant business and market manager at Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. A member of the third generation at the family-owned Adams County fruit farm and market, Vranich reaches out to customers via social media, sharing a varied mix of items that includes recipes, product information and behind-the-scene photos.
Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich is assistant business and market manager at Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. A member of the third generation at the family-owned Adams County fruit farm and market, Vranich reaches out to customers via social media, sharing a varied mix of items that includes recipes, product information and behind-the-scene photos. - (Photo / )

At first, the Hollabaugh family resisted.

They heard what the experts in the farming industry were saying, that social media was a business driver, no matter how small or large the operation is. Still, the family's reputation at the Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. farm in Butler Township, Adams County, was at stake. With the often nasty nature of social media commenters, the family wanted to tread lightly on any entrance into the world of Facebook and Twitter.

Three years since it decided to embrace it, the family couldn't be happier and is recognized as a leader in successful social media use within the midstate farming community. The company is part of a new generation of farmers and agribusinesses using social media technology to reach its customers or potential customers.

"We felt like it was important enough that we were interested in giving it a try," said Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich, the farm's assistant business and market manager and one of the family members who works on the business' social media pages.

"We would never go back now," she said. "It's hard to quantify how much it's helped, but I believe social media put us over the edge."

Other farms are starting to reach into social media and mobile technologies to grow their businesses or just to keep up with the trends.

Mark O'Neill, director of media and strategic communications for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said there are more than 63,000 farms in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Census. The bureau, however, does not keep statistics on how many of those farms are using social media.

He does, however, know that dozens have come to the bureau looking for help on starting their social media marketing. The bureau has two employees who handle such requests directly for the technical aspects, and O'Neill said he often helps farmers understand what they should or shouldn't be posting.

"It makes sense, because farmers have the fresh products that people want to see, and the farmers can show them in a relatively quick time frame with social media," he said. "There are a lot of consumers right now very interested in buying local items when they can, and through these social media sites, farmers can build those strong relationships."

Those who are on social media usually aren't sitting down at their computers to do it. The farming community also has started to embrace mobile technology as well, not just social media, to get constant updates on commodity sales such as corn and soy as well as the weather, O'Neill said.

In the social media world, Hollabaugh Bros., a 500-acre, third-generation farm, mostly uses Facebook to reach more than 2,400 fans and also uses Twitter and direct email lists to keep in close contact with the customers of its on-site retail market.

Hollabaugh Vranich said someone from the farm posts on the farm's social media sites almost daily with specific information about the farm, its employees or the events it might be having, but rarely will they post anything about a sales pitch.

"It's the quickest way we have to reach our customers," Hollabaugh Vranich said. "It's very important for us."

The local agribusiness industry is starting to use social media as well. Wenger Feeds in Mount Joy Township started its Facebook page in 2009 and is now all-in on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The company, a poultry and swine feed manufacturer with seven plants in Pennsylvania and Maryland, doesn't use the social media sites to drive traffic to its website and is not all that worried about how much profit comes from posting pictures to its pages.

Cher Rineer, the company's corporate communications coordinator, said Wenger is more concerned with connecting with its customers in methods it otherwise wouldn't have.

"I often liken it to having a Web page back in the late '90s and early 2000s," she said. "People expect you to have (a social media presence) now. If you're not there, you're kind of missing something. We just want to be able to reach people where they are."

Michael Sadowski

Michael Sadowski

Mike Sadowski covers Lebanon County, banking and finance, law and the legal community, and technology. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at michaels@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @MikeCPBJ. Circle Michael Sadowski on .

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