A Mississippi Extension Service project shows rural businesses how to use social media to build markets for their products and services. Two examples provide some simple lessons for turning “likes” into something more tangible.
It’s good to have friends. It’s nice to be liked.
But for businesses, the name of the social-media game is to turn “likes” into clicks and clicks into customer sales. That’s especially true for rural businesses that are seeking to expand their customer base beyond a limited local market.
A Mississippi Extension Service program called “Mississippi Bricks to Clicks” is helping small businesses and community groups use applications like Facebook to raise brand awareness and create customers, both in the community and beyond.
Rural broadband access, though still lower than urban access, is improving. Another important challenge is for for local businesses and community groups to leverage their use of broadband to bring in new dollars.
The first step is creating an online brand through a website, blog or social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or some combination. The crucial second step is to connect with potential customers and engage with them to increase the likelihood of sales. On Facebook, when a potential customer wants to learn more about a business or community page, she simply clicks on a “like” button for that page. Now she becomes a fan of the page and will receive updated information when it is posted.
But often the gap between creating an online presence and creating sales can be significant, especially for a small business owner who has limited time to learn how to use online tools. Simply put, it takes more than “liking” a Facebook business page to create sales. It takes engagement with potential customers, too. Time to learn is costly for small business owners, but so is not using these online tools. If rural business owners and their communities cannot take advantage of using these types of online tools, then the economic value of having access to broadband in rural America may go largely unrealized..
Reaching Rural Places
In Mississippi, the Extension Service used some of its funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus package) to establish the entrepreneurship program called Mississippi Bricks to Clicks (B2C).
The B2C program is for all types of businesses – agriculture, retail, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, universities and colleges and others. The program has been developed and implemented in Mississippi for the past two years. Through hands-on learning, we’ve been teaching entrepreneurs and communities how to use Facebook to market businesses and events with a goal of increasing revenues.
Marketing Rural with Facebook
How can the use of Facebook contribute to regional economic development? Here are two examples of how Facebook page likes can translate into tangible economic growth for farms and rural economies.
The MG Farms’ Facebook page represents a family-owned livestock operation in Woodville, Mississippi. Owners of MG wanted to use advertisements within Facebook to market its livestock sale on February 21, 2015. We reviewed previous sales data with MG farm owners and then built an advertisement campaign that geographically targeted potential buyers in nearby states. We used a budget of $735 and conducted two campaigns. The first was a 12-day campaign conducted in November 2014 that cost $237.18. It gained the page an additional 960 likes and was seen by, or reached, 20,232 users. The average cost per page “like” equaled 25 cents.
The second campaign built on the first and was conducted on February 16-20 just before the sale. It cost $491.19, gathered 1,015 page likes, reached 36,679 with an average cost per like of 48 cents. Through these two advertisements, the MG Facebook page grew by 1,975 likes at an average cost per like of only $0.37. For less than the price of a stamp, the MG Facebook page was now connected to targeted buyers for the February 21 sale and other future sales.
The Woodville/Wilkinson County Main Street Association’s Woodville Deer and Wildlife Festival Facebook page (WDWF) was promoted using Facebook paid advertisements in 2013 and 2014. When we began with this page in 2013, it had 1,160 page likes. By October 12, 2014, we had grown the page to over 9,000 likes. The community invested $1,500 for its campaigns in 2013 and 2014.
The 2014 main attraction was PigMan (www.PigManTV.com). Advertisements were developed to showcase PigMan and other attractions at the festival in Woodville, Mississippi, on October 12, 2014. Several campaigns targeted people living within 150 miles of Woodville who were interested in festivals and hunting. One of the most successful campaigns targeted mobile-device users with these same demographic factors. For this mobile campaign, we spent $315 from September 12-October 11, 2014, and gathered an additional 1,212 page likes, reached 29,503 people with an average cost per like of $0.26. Figure 3 shows an example performance report for this campaign found within Facebook’s advertisement manager, something we reviewed daily when conducting campaigns. Again, for less than the cost of a stamp, we were able to add a fan to the WDWF page who was likely to attend the 2014 and future festivals.
Rural Economic Value
So how did these campaigns contribute to the bottom line?
Facebook marketing has both short and long-term results. In the short run, brand awareness is the main goal of building up a Facebook page such as MG Farms. In a brief time, the MG Farms page grew by almost 2,000 likes, which provided a solid base of fans that the owners of MG Farms could then engage. But brand awareness doesn’t usually result in more sales immediately. As fans become more engaged with an enterprise through interactions that start with a Facebook page like, the next result can be increased sales, followed by repeat sales, or customer loyalty. In the long run, MG Farms can build on its brand awareness on Facebook to reach more potential buyers, which would bode well for increasing attendance at their next sales event, which in turn, bodes well for increasing sales.
The economic value for the Woodville Deer and Wildlife Festival event is similar to that of MG Farms. Like the MG Farms owners, the organizers of the festival wanted to increase attendance . Increased attendance would then translate into more dollars spent locally on food, entertainment and other products or services.
To assess some of these economic value possibilities, we surveyed attendees on the day of the WDWF event on October 12, 2014. We found that of the 218 attendees randomly surveyed, almost 53 percent said they observed the Facebook marketing efforts we provided on the WDWF Facebook page. In addition, anecdotal data collected by organizers of the event suggests that the Facebook marketing campaign contributed to an increase in attendance from the previous year of approximately 20 percent. Increased attendance bodes well for capturing economic value locally as new dollars brought into the town of Woodville can stimulate the local economy.
To those who want to use Facebook to market their farmers’ market, family farm or rural tourism event, we share several lessons learned that may help.
Realizing the Value of Rural Broadband
Without broadband, we could not have worked with these clients to implement any Facebook advertisements to promote MG Farms or the Woodville festival. But broadband access alone is not enough. The next step – using broadband to capture economic value – is equally important.
For More Information
The Mississippi Bricks to Clicks Extension Entrepreneurship Program can be found at http://www.msbrickstoclicks.com. Or Dr. James arnes ([email protected]), assistant Extension professor at Mississippi State, for more information.
Co-author Dr. Kalyn Coatney ([email protected]) is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University.