USDA Grant; Farmers, ranchers learning to better utilize internet's potential
The Texas landscape is lined with small, two-lane highways like small blood vessels branching off of veins and arteries, connecting virtually every town in the state to another. They're called Farm-to-Market roads, and back in the day they were the main thoroughfares allowing farmers and ranchers to bring their goods to the market to sell.
Today, however, goods and services tend to move faster on the information superhighway than they do the back roads of the state, and it is that method of commerce two Texas Tech University professors are promoting to help those in the agricultural industries improve their business.
Thanks to a grant from the USDA's Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program, Erica Irlbeck, an assistant professor of agricultural communications, and Courtney Meyers, an associate professor in Tech's Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, developed a series of seminars called, "Beyond the Farm Gate."
Beyond the Farm Gate was designed to help teach those in agriculture-related businesses how to best utilize the Internet, from creating websites to promotion on social media platforms to helping those businesses grow and prosper. "We've seen the agricultural industry take ahold of this and use social media as a way to communicate the message of agriculture," Irlbeck said.
Irlbeck and Meyers held one of their seminars last month, drawing interest from those who run companies that support farmers and ranchers, to those looking to promote their small farms, to communications professionals looking for better ways to expand their company's reach.
Irlbeck concentrated on the social media aspect, discussing everything from which platforms would work best for certain business to how best to keep those platforms fresh as well as what attracts viewers the most. She showed those in attendance the best way to not only attract followers but to keep them coming back and having them spread the word, whether it's on other social media platforms or simply by word of mouth.
Above all, she stressed that planning is the key and that social media strategies need to be planned and executed with the same attention to detail as traditional marketing campaigns. She stressed that everyone involved in the company should be involved with the social media aspect, and that proper planning helps avoid mishaps that could lead to new planning or unforeseen adjustments to the current plan.
"With social media you can see that it's only getting bigger and bigger and being used more and more to promote the agricultural industry for smaller business," Irlbeck said.
Meyers spent the second half of the seminar discussing websites, and the electronic tool's usefulness in promoting businesses and the best ways farmers and ranchers can use them. Her lecture covered everything from website benefits to principles of design and functionality, content management and promotion of the site on social media. "Consumers today are very interested in where there food comes from," she said, "and farmers and ranchers can leverage these online tools to answer questions, address concerns, and provide their perspective of the industry."
Written by George Watson
CONTACT: Steven Fraze, Chair, Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2816 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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