Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Showing personality through social media is important for farmers markets

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 04/11/2013 9:09 AM

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WAITE PARK, Minn. — Karla Pankow and Elizabeth Millard aren't shy about promoting the USDA certified organic vegetables on their Northfield farm they've named Bossy Acres.

Most of their customer contacts are made through social media. Although they have strong promotional backgrounds — Pankow worked in sales and marketing and Millard is a freelance writer — they note that farmers can make those same connections with consumers.

They talked about their efforts at the recent Minnesota Farmers Market Association's spring conference in Waite Park.

They met in Africa working with food projects. They got their hands dirty, worked a few farm internships and started their own operation in 2011.

"Now we are living the dream," Pankow said.

It's important to make customer connections.

"Show your personality," she said. "Show your other side. These farmers have stories and lives. Show that other side and connect with your community."

Millard told the group to tell stories through new media. Anything that is in the news media can be promoted through social media.

"You need to think like a journalist," Millard added. "Know the stories behind every vendor and promote that."

She told the group to send out e-mails to editors and journalists. Target publications that connect with customers and connect with reporters.

"Journalists love to be fed stories," she said. "As journalists, we need people to feed us story ideas."

Create an experience at the farmers market that can be viewed on YouTube or through a video on Facebook. It could be a cooking demonstration, book signing, a special feature on a vendor, Millard said. Promote a vegetable and tag it with cooking demos. When they did that at a farmers market, it increased the sale of beets.

Health screenings, winter markets, theme days, bake-offs and master gardener tables arel special events that can be highlighted through social media.

"You don't have to be everything to everyone, but find something that works for you and do it well," Pankow said. "Just don't show up one week and then in another two weeks finally put something in your Facebook page about the event. The key to success is to be personable. Show the personality of your market, be professional and find your voice."

Be an active listener and hear the comments people make about the market and the vendors.

In the off-season, put the links in place. A tweetdeck helps manage twitter acclamations. Hootsuite categorizes them. Once they are in place, they can be used during the busy season.

Farmers markets can build and grow their offerings to better serve customers through information garnered in the 2012 Minnesota Grown consumer survey. The research was paid in part through a USDA Federal State Marketing Improvement Program funding.

Fifty-seven markets were surveyed with 1,121 responses.

The average age of customers at farmers markets was 49; berry markets, 50; orchards, 47; and Christmas tree farms, 45, according to the market results.

Most customers at the market came by themselves or with a spouse. Christmas tree farms garnered the greater response for family activities with 68 percent of those surveyed taking in the event. Apple orchards were next with 49 percent.

The quality of products and the cleanliness of vendor spaces ranked highest when respondents considered the factors they used for choosing vendors with similar products.

Most customers choose a market to buy local and support family farms, they said. The survey showed that 88 percent said the quality of products at the farmers market was much better or somewhat better than their normal store and 89 percent said the atmosphere was also better.

More than 40 percent of respondents purchasing items at the farmers market said they were also spending money at nearby businesses. On average, those people spent just over 32 percent at other businesses.