Handle social media with care: expert

GLENLEA, Man. — Farm businesses have practical difficulties using leading social media tools, including having bad internet access.

But they also run risks of social media becoming unsociable to them if they don’t use it right, local experts told farmers and agriculture people at a workshop.

“You put up a Facebook page and ignore it or don’t respond to people, it’s useless, and it can be actually harmful to you,” said University of Manitoba researcher Christine Van Winkle.

Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have become dominant forms of communication in the few years since being invented, and many businesses and industries believe they need to be active in social media to reach customers .

Many farms have websites, thousands of farmers have Facebook accounts and many use Twitter, but experts from food processing and tourism warned farmers not to expect too much from social media.

“It places huge demands, especially on those smaller organizations,” said Van Winkle, suggesting farm businesses and organizations that use websites and social media manage those accounts every day.

Lorenda Madill of Manitoba Tourism said social media offer a great way to communicate with the public and customers but need to be thought out.

“What are you doing to engage with the customer,” said Madill.

“It’s a fine line. You don’t want to annoy them by constantly posting stuff that’s not of interest to them. It has to be thought about strategically.”

Manitoba Agriculture business development specialist Jeff Fidyk, an expert in retail food packaging, said social media offer an important medium for business operators and the public to interact, but they can backfire.

He recently explored a major food processor’s online presence and found it clogged with attacks on the company and denunciations of its products.

“They’re just getting the tar kicked out of them,” said Fidyk.

“They have probably tried to reply to this, but then they get beaten up even more.”

The experts say embracing social media and doing well can reap rewards, but commitment is key.

Interlake farmer Kim Streker noted her area still has poor internet access in many places, and farmers can’t use some of the tools they hear about.

“There is a lack of infrastructure, especially in my region in the Interlake, so that we can use this stuff,” she said.

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