I have long been a skeptic regarding social media and I admit that part of that skepticism comes as a result of my education background in Computer Science. When you add in the fact that many desire to make money via social media, I get even more uneasy. Top that with the fact that many otherwise decent people seem to think they can comport themselves like monsters via electronic communications methods and there you have it - a summary of most of what makes me uneasy with so-called social media.
And yet, our farm has been posting regularly on Facebook for many years and on Twitter for several months now. If I feel as I profess, why do I even bother?
That's a great question with a much more complex answer than you might think! Are you ready to go on a ride with me? You might pick up some insights as to how social media works for a small business or farm like ours and you will certainly get some ideas as to how silly some of it is as well. I promise, I'll do my best to keep it lively!
How Do You Reach People?
This is not a new question to small businesses. Marketing has been a complex problem since the time Grog the Caveman opened up his "Used Stone Wheel Lot." When I was growing up, the options to a small, local-sales business (or farm) would be local radio, local newspaper, the phone book, posters and signs, bulk mailing, phone or door-to-door soliciting, guest presentations and sponsoring local events. Oh... and let's not forget word of mouth.
Unfortunately for small businesses, the phone book is gone and most local newspapers and radios have closed up shop. My apologies, of course, to the local radio stations and newspapers that still exist - but a small business has to have enough of a budget to use those resources and you must admit that their reach has declined, making it difficult to put that down as an expense line item. What has been moving in and trying to take their places are a myriad of online options. Some are specialized for a certain kind of product and others, like Facebook and Twitter, cater to those who want to get a message out there... somewhere... sort of.
For example, we had a listing for several years with Local Harvest. Over that period, we had a total of five contacts for a total of two CSA shares as a result of our listings there. We have an account on Iowa MarketMaker as well. In fact, we were one of the first farms to list (three contacts total and no sales). We've continued to put our names out there in the Cedar Valley's Buy Fresh Buy Local and maybe get a contact or two per year from that which may or may not pan out. Part of the issue? People have to know to go to these places first before they can (possibly) find our farm. The advertising venue needs to advertise...
In other words, if the Genuine Faux Farm wants to reach people, it has to find a venue that reaches people. The problem with that? How do you keep track of what venue is currently attracting people and then move to that venue to reach potential customers?
Well, in some ways, we gave up on that pursuit and simply went where there were people who were already our customers so we could stay in touch with them. The theory is certainly not all bad as it is really just a version of the word-of-mouth approach. Keep the people who already know you and support you informed. If you need to reach more people to increase sales, you tell the people you already know - and hopefully it works out. In fact, the returns are usually higher for word of mouth than any other marketing approach we have tried over the years.
This is still a difficult proposition however. You can never be quite sure that email is getting where it is supposed to go. And, if it does, is it being read? Generally speaking if 1/4 of those you send an email too actually OPEN it up, you are said to be doing quite well. Huh. And, those are the people who said they wanted to hear from you!
The Silliness That Is Social Media Metrics
Here you go people! If you do not maintain a page for a small business or an organization, you are going to get a glimpse into the 'tools' that Facebook provides to 'help' you grow interest in your business.
(Quick caveat - this is not a tutorial and I am NOT going into all of the details. We're just going to have some fun with it - ok?)
First up - the "LIKE." Our farm page has over 700 'likes' on Facebook. I know other comparable farms that have much more than that and others that have less. I'll just point out one thing about a 'like.' It can come from anyone from anywhere. If you sell product around Tripoli, IA and have 700 likes, then that would be something if all 700 come from the Tripoli area. According to our metrics, we have more people who 'like' us that live in Canada than those that identify as being from Tripoli. Oops.
Now, don't get me wrong - I appreciate remaining in contact with these people in Canada. But, if my page is intended to help my business do better and I don't sell to Ontario....
Here is what set this whole blog post rolling:
Note the "Get More Likes, Comments and Shares - This post is performing BETTER than 95% of other posts on your page...."
Facebook wants me to pay them money to help get more people to see this post because it is already doing well... ok, it is doing "better than 95% of my posts." At the bottom you can see 94 people "reached" and 25 "engagements." In general, a "reach" is when someone has this post scroll by on their screen. An "engagement" is anything from clicking the "like" button to taking the link to the blog or putting in a comment. Please note that I suspect they will count one person three times if they do all three of those things, but I haven't worked to confirm that - 'cuz it's not that important to me.
Hooray! 94 people scrolled my little post from the bottom to the top of their screen faster than a banner tied to a rocket. Oh.. and maybe 7 to 10 of them slowed down enough to visit the blog or hit the like button... and just maybe someone even typed a comment. Shares count as an engagement too - but the 2 shares you see on this post are mine. I shared them to my own Facebook page and the CSA Group page. So, I count for two of those engagements... Yay me!
Here is a post that the post above is doing "BETTER" than.
See! There are only 230 people reached and 63 engagements. THAT'S less than.... uh. no. It's not. Hmmm.
Ok, let's try another:
There. See, only 2240 people reached. That's.... um... no.
We actually had the 'boost this post because it's doing better than 95%" on the top two posts shown in the figure above. I am trying to figure out where the 95% of my posts are that did less well than the two most recent posts.... hmmmm.
Ok. So, I get a little annoyed with 'squishy' numbers in the first place. The definition given by social media sites for their metrics are a bit imprecise to begin with because they don't want to 'give away' how they measure things. What it really means is they don't really want people like me to hold them accountable if they fail to measure something properly. That, and, well... they want to feed their clients some numbers so they think they are getting a return of some kind for their investment in time, effort and (maybe) money. Look at the chart below:
Ah.... This metric is "ESTIMATED." I wonder how accurate their estimate is? Who knows? They estimated a number of somethings that have a definition that can be interpreted more than one way. But, if you put it in a chart, then it looks official. Yes sir! We have an official estimate of people "reached" which is sort of like an ineffective subliminal message in most cases. Unless, of course, Facebook changes its mind on the definition of what it means to 'reach' someone.
Facebook: "We're guessing that fifty people thought they might see something you posted somewhere, so we counted that and made a nice chart. If you gave us some money, we'll make a nicer chart that has better numbers. We take all major credit cards and Paypal!"
Heh. Well, that helps me a great deal you know. Because now I can tell you that people generally see our posts at some point from 6 AM to 8:30PM during the week.... Doesn't matter which day of the week. What? What's wrong with you people? Our Facebook posts are more important than sleep, don't you know that?
These two charts also are begging that I ask a couple of questions! Fun!
1. How does Facebook measure a user's presence on their site? The top bar chart essentially says about 600+ of our 700+ "followers" are online each day. I guess that's not too hard to figure as they track log-ins. The bottom chart indicates that during typical North American waking hours, about 300 of our followers are logged into Facebook at any given time.
2. What I really want to know is how many of THESE people are treated to our posts on their timelines since they are "our fans." After all, if 600 of our most loyal fans are online each and every day, you would think they should each be given the privilege to scroll our post past their faces at light speed as they exercise the thumb muscles on their tiny screens. But, we've already noticed that our reach typically lands at 150... about 25%. Hey, that number sounds familiar, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah. Email open rates....
3. You know - what if Yo-Yo Ma visits our page - will that count as 3 visits? I am curious! After all, I like Yo-Yo Ma.
I Can Learn A Few Things - I Guess
For example, if you look at the Total Reach Chart or the table showing the numbers for recent posts, you will find that most posts land in a fairly common area. Most posts we put out will scroll by on a screen between 140 and 200 times. We'll get between 20 and 50 'engagements' which probably means an average of 10 to 25 people slow down enough to scan the picture or text and click a like and maybe visit the blog or comment.
And you know what? I am cool with that. Why? Because I feel like it is a way of staying connected - even if it is not quite what social media companies want you to feel it is.
Our post that actually did so well was a comment regarding getting chicks from the US Postal Service. That's currently a hot topic, so people ran with it. Did they visit our blog? Actually, they did not. You would think that this blog post would have more visits than any other recent blog post. In reality, it sits at number 10 for the past 30 days - decent, but not all that spectacular.
"Reach" and "Engagement" numbers should never be construed to also be reflected by meaningful "action" from the perspective of the farm.
Is it possible that the short little blip of text with the photo of cute turklets will actually inspire someone to meaningful action - like contacting legislators to keep our necessary postal services running? The post did get a number of 'shares' that give me some hope. But, it is more likely that people saw something that they already agreed with (or at least they interpreted it that way) and it was paired with a cute baby animal or two. .... Awwww cute! LIKE! Oh heck, really cute! SHARE! Bye. I need to find some cute kitten videos now.
One More Takeaway
This next piece of information says more, in my opinion, about social media companies than it does what I put out there. If I share a post that features a photo, it gets more attention than one that has a link (even if that includes a photo in the link text). I get around that often by featuring a photo and hope interested people see the link to the blog in the text.
What does this say? Well, social media companies don't really want you leaving their site - especially if you are being driven somewhere with a post that is not PAYING them money to promote the post.
There you have it. A glimpse into the wild and wacky world of my mind and how it sees social media and the metrics they feed us in an effort to get us to give them money so more people can scroll our posts from the bottom to top of their screens. Maybe we'll even get a like or two. If only I could exchange those likes for some meaningful actions. Then I might be cut social media a bit of slack.
But not much.