Facebook ‘Farming ‘ for Rural Organizations
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.
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 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.
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.
- Barnes, J. and K. Coatney. 2015. “Progress on Broadband Adoption in Rural America“, Choices 30(1).
- Barnes, J. 2014. “Social Media Marketing: Facebook”, National eCommerce Extension Initiative, eBiz: Tips for Marketing Your Business, Southern Rural Development Center. .
- Barnes, J., and K. Coatney. 2014. “Regional Economic Development and the Marketing of Rural Tourism Events Using Facebook: The Woodville Deer and Wildlife Case”, Department of Agricultural Economics, Mississippi State University Extension Service Publication-2855. Available online: http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2855.pdf.
- Pew Internet and American Life Project. 2013. Home Broadband Adoption. Available online:http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/08/26/home-broadband-2013/.
For More Information
The Mississippi Bricks to Clicks Extension Entrepreneurship Program can be found at http://www.msbrickstoclicks.com. Or Dr. James arnes (email@example.com), assistant Extension professor at Mississippi State, for more information.
Co-author Dr. Kalyn Coatney (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University.