Among the massive equipment 41-year-old Donny Lassiter relies on to run his Creeksville, North Carolina, farm, one of his most trusted tools fits in the palm of his hand. Lassiter carries his smartphone with him almost everywhere he goes, whether he’s driving the tractor in his cotton field or sitting on the couch reading the day’s news.
“I need my phone with me to keep track of the business of the day and to multitask,” he says. Besides his Excel spreadsheets and weather and news apps, two social media apps — Twitter and Snapchat — command his attention several times a day.
Lassiter is not alone. A vast majority of growers use tools such as Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram daily, not only to stay connected with friends and family, but also to obtain general news and information that can help them improve their farming operations.
As the number of Syngenta growers and resellers who rely on social media climbs, so, too, do the opportunities for meaningful dialogue. To make the most of these information-sharing platforms, Wendell Calhoun, communications manager at Syngenta, offers users valuable advice: Keep it immediate, keep it current and keep it relevant.
Farming From Your Fingertips
“During planting and harvesting season, spare time just doesn’t exist—and that goes for both growers and resellers,” Calhoun says. “They are intensely busy and oftentimes find it difficult to physically connect with one another during these times.”
Likewise, resellers work tirelessly to provide their growers with products and information needed to ensure a successful crop. “Customer service is a top priority for resellers, so effectively communicating with multiple growers about locally relevant matters during busy times can be challenging,” Calhoun adds.
For many of those growers and resellers, social media is a key solution. “When you have your phone, tablet or internet access in your cab, as most growers do, you can get immediate information,” Calhoun says. “We use it to help educate growers on local best practices and as a channel for us to better understand their challenges and to answer their questions in real time.”
Lassiter likes Twitter because it’s direct and to the point. “Not too much information, not a lot of filler,” he says. Because tweets must be kept to 280 or fewer characters, messages have to be concise. “Say a retailer walks across a peanut field and snaps a photo of a disease he’s seeing. Then he posts it to Twitter with a note about what to watch out for,” Lassiter says. “I’ll see it as soon as I update my Twitter feed.”
Emily Daniels, global digital engagement manager at Syngenta, says the company’s guidelines for global and local social media sharing are based on being open and engaging directly. “Direct communication is refreshing and keeps the conversation current,” she says. “We see people reaching out to ask questions about products or get application advice or contact information for local teams. It’s our aim to help immediately in real time.”
Connecting With Growers
When considering the best platforms for communicating with growers and resellers, Calhoun says Syngenta balances a knowledge of the social media tools that are available with an awareness of the tools that are actually being used. “We have to challenge ourselves to separate what is cool from what is useful.”
While research shows most growers feel more comfortable using traditional social media platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, Calhoun says Syngenta always has an eye to the future. After examining rising trends, like voice technology and augmented reality, the company typically launches pilot programs to learn more about growers’ preferred channels.
As the appetite for a particular channel grows, Syngenta grows its footprint there. “At the same time, we haven’t walked away from print, radio or TV,” Calhoun says. “Growers are not walking away from any particular medium, but they are adopting new ones.”
Whether growers consume information via Facebook, YouTube or magazine articles, engaging content matters just as much as the platform itself, says Caryn Caratelli, senior vice president at G&S Business Communications, the agency partner that assists Syngenta with its marketing strategy.
Through one of its virtual reality pilots, for example, growers unable to attend a Syngenta Grow More Experience field day event were virtually transported to an Illinois field to see how a Syngenta herbicide protected against an invasive weed.
“That’s a telling story that gives customers a full view of product performance, which helps them make informed decisions,” Caratelli says.
How can resellers best communicate with their customers? How can growers best connect with their followers? Caratelli offers a one-word answer: variety. “Use a content mix that includes relevant photos, illustrations, videos, live videos and text-only content, like the quick messages we send on Twitter,” she advises.
“At the end of the day, people are excited to share their own photos and videos with other people,” says Daniels, who loves it when a grower posts a message alongside a selfie in real time. “It can be something as simple as, ‘Hey, just getting started today,’ accompanied by a beautiful photo of his or her field. When we use social media correctly, it’s not about us telling our story. It’s about growers and resellers telling theirs.”