Social media isn’t as great as you might think

10/28/2011 09:56:00 AM
Garland Jaeger

 

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, thanks to the generosity of the Pack Family Career Pathways Program. 
The experience was invaluable to say the least, and undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness how truly vast the produce industry is. 
I was particularly taken aback with the international representation at the conference, a reminder that globalization is indeed occurring and the necessity of communicating with our consumers is as pressing as ever. 
With the industry’s international scope in mind, social media was more than just a buzz phrase heard throughout the workshops and conversations that took place at the conference. 
It was quite the contrary. 
The importance and prevalence of social media appeared to be somewhat of a focus for the Fresh Summit. 
While I agree it is certainly important for organizations to participate in this new marketing frenzy (I have a Facebook and a Twitter account just like the rest of them), I don’t know if giving these digital tools ample credit is as justifiable as we’d like it to be.
I am the first to admit I am no industry veteran, and I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. 
But the fact is, I seriously doubt a substantial amount of consumers are using social media in order to acquire information about the produce industry. 
Naturally, this new digital phenomenon is largely associated with younger generations. 
I am in grad school and as a 25-year-old who is often surrounded by college students in addition to spending a good amount of time with peers who are my own age, I don’t know anyone who is spending much of their social media time doing anything other than checking in on their social life, with occasional deviations to other sites that are of interest. 
“Other sites” could undoubtedly include the Facebook and Twitter pages of many produce companies, industry organizations and the like. 
However, I fear we are jumping onto a new bandwagon of thinking simply because we’d like an answer to our problem. 
Although it seems nearly everyone has a Facebook page and tunes into Twitter updates, that doesn’t mean changing consumer behavior is any easier now. 
It is essentially just another method for getting our message in front of them.
We repeatedly discuss today’s consumer, the shopper who is on the go who doesn’t have enough time to cook, and is most likely to speed through the grocery aisles grabbing products that exude convenience. 
Microwaveable veggies anyone? 
Isn’t it logical to assume the same is true for social media? 
Presumably, the average person today doesn’t have time to surf the Web to find the best deal on raspberries this week or to read which local farmer’s produce will be at the market. 
As for the not-so-average Americans who are doing their grocery shopping research? Hey, the more the merrier! 
But at this point it doesn’t seem prudent to deem social media as the answer to the underlying problem our industry continues to face: People simply aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables.
It is my sincere hope the innovative nature of today’s produce industry will eventually be the catalyst to drive this trend in reverse. 
I think many would agree we are well on our way. 
Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and one of the guest speakers featured during the Fresh Summit, gave an inspirational account of the USDA’s successful MyPlate campaign geared toward educating Americans on healthy food portions including, “Making half your plate fruits and vegetables.” 
Initiatives such as these, combined with social media outlets, just might be the ticket to progress, and I wholeheartedly agree we need to pursue all social media avenues available. 
Nevertheless, I humbly submit that in the meantime we continue to collaborate industrywide in an effort to think outside the box, striving for fresh and novel techniques to effectively communicate with our consumers.
Garland Jaeger is a graduate student in agribusiness at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and attended Fresh Summit 2011 in Atlanta as part of the Pack Family Career Pathways Program. Before graduate school, she worked in sales for Francis Produce Co., Greenville, S.C.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.


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Craig    
California  |  October, 28, 2011 at 12:33 PM

I agree with you Kathleen. My wife is 43 she does all the shopping. She does not have a Facebook or Twitter account, nor do I think she would be researching produce on them. Bottom line, eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising is going to keep you healthy.

Wendy McManus    
Orlando, FL  |  October, 28, 2011 at 12:50 PM

While social media is no magic bullet for increasing produce consumption, it will continue to grow in importance for produce marketers. The online discussion isn't necessarily about produce, it's about food. There's a whole segment of our society that's more interested than ever in selecting, preparing and eating excellent food. Their motives may be for better health, closer families or social opportunities, but they are talking about food and they're doing it online. When we as produce marketers can join that conversation, we move beyond selling and into relationship-building. We have the opportunity to provide solutions IF we are listening and plugged into these social channels. I consider social media to be so much more than Facebook and Twitter. Food blogs written by moms, foodies, dieters or convenience-seekers are exploding in popularity. These are also part of the social media conversation and a tremendous opportunity for produce marketers. In the final analysis, a multi-layered approach to marketing will be the key to success. Social media will undoubtedly be an important layer.

Carolyn O'Donnell    
Watsonville, CA  |  October, 31, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Social media is an important part of the mix. Moms talk to moms, and they take advice from moms they trust. Social media allows moms to build their information network of trusted sources. While they may not be researching produce, they are talking to each other about how to raise healthy families, and fresh produce is a key part of that conversation. And, having a conversation is the point of social media. Facebook, Twitter and commenting on news articles and blog posts are all ways to not only pass along information, but to discuss the information, too. Produce organizations can answer questions, and provide a live human response, rather than just an FAQ section of a website. The more we can communicate with consumers as human beings, and less like "target audiences," the better for all.

Tom Farmar    
Kansas City, MO  |  October, 31, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I agree with Garland. While I imagine over time Social Media will take a bigger role in promoting consumption of fruits and veggies, I personally don't see it happening yet. I have a business that delivers fresh whole fruit to workplaces as a health alternative to traditional snacks. We have a Facebook page, Twitter acct, etc. that get virtually no traffic. We have spent considerable time and some money trying to promote them with little to show for it. Pretty much confirms my theory that it is hard enough to get someone to eat an apple much less read about one. Tom Farmar Fruit to Wellness

Jazmin    
California  |  October, 31, 2011 at 07:01 PM

Social media IS great and IS becoming more and more effective than the traditional marketing methods for ALL industries. I agree with the author that people probably won't be using it to find a good deal on raspberries, but if you goal is to promote healthy eating for all Americans, using social media is the way to go. There is a really great book that I want to recommend to those of you that aren't believers, it's called Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Darhmesh Shah. It's a really easy read and i found it very useful. Also, thanks Wendy for your comment! Food blogs are great!

Fernando    
Nogales Az  |  November, 02, 2011 at 05:06 AM

Social media is relatively new, there will be a time not too far away from now, where consumers will interact through some sort of media and gossip about which retailer has the best produce at any given moment. PLU marketing will become active in near future. My 7yr. old will probably only know what an 8 track is only if I put an effort to show it to him. He is weary about music and sports through YT mostly. Can't stop the inevitable.

Brent    
Houston  |  November, 17, 2011 at 07:16 AM

Have you checked out Produce Universe it is forcing the produce industry to be social media interactive by using facebook, craigslist and twitter type integration to buy, sell and promote items.

Mike Chirveno    
Kansas City MO  |  November, 20, 2011 at 11:19 PM

Social media are not primarily acquisition channels and the companies that participate hoping to immediately create increases in sales volume will be disappointed. Social media instead allow companies to recapture the ground they've lost in customer interaction. They also provide an opportunity for customers to provide referrals - the best source for new business. Social media are very good at doing what they do well, but those who try to make social media into a one size fits all solution will find it's like hammering a nail with a shoe - you can do it, but it's not very effective.

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