There’s a new job in communications these days — the influencer. The rise of a range of social media platforms from Facebook to Instagram have, in fact, transformed how people communicate, and how businesses reach consumers. And the influencer is an important part of that communication structure. In agriculture, there’s potential for influencers to reach consumers in new ways, but it helps to better understand how this new world of consumer communication works.
Many companies now hire influencers to promote their brands. Brooke Clay of Rural Gone Urban is a digital strategist and creator of the Rural Influencer Project. She launched this training program because it was difficult for her to find rural and agriculture influencers to match to her client brands.
“When social media was relatively new,” says Clay from her home in Perkins, Okla., “there was a huge upswing of people — whom we would call influencers today — who represented agriculture online. Those same people are not as active online today as they were 10 years ago. I believe one of the primary reasons is because it is time-consuming, and mentally consuming, to create enough content to cultivate a rich community.
“And when you’re creating it just to tell the story of agriculture, it can quickly go down the list of your daily priorities. Especially when you have a family and a full-time job,” she adds.
Financial benefits for an influencer
Clay finds that if influencers are compensated for the time they invest in telling agriculture stories, it becomes higher on their priority scale. “Let’s say you made an extra thousand dollars a year from what you’re already posting on social platforms,” she says. “You could buy new uniforms for the basketball team, or it could pay your mortgage.”
If your goal is to earn money as an influencer, Clay recommends thinking of it as a business. Questions to ask yourself: Should you make it an LLC? What are the expenses and tax write-offs? Should you have an ad network? Use affiliate links?
Social platform users don’t need millions of followers to become paid influencers. “What’s different about influencers is that we’ve cultivated very specific types of communities,” Clay explains. “Maybe it’s someone with a travel account, and he curated an audience who would match to a lifestyle travel brand for paid promotions. He only has 5,000 followers, but every single one of his followers is very interested in travel, tourism and adventures.”
Rural influencers shouldn’t build communities of specifically urban audiences that want to learn about agriculture, either. Clay says rural-to-rural influencers are sought-after by agriculture brands, too. “There’s a place for every type of influencer,” she adds. “It’s very equal opportunity. I think there’s a lot more space for agriculture influencers.”
Influencer as a job
Besides developing a business plan and framework for your influencer side hustle, you need a website. It doesn’t need to be elaborate: A blog or landing site of your first name, last name.com will do.
“Your website domain is the only place on the internet where you can own property,” Clay explains. “You are renting, for free, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But if you own a website, that SEO [search engine optimization] is yours.”
SEO is a tool that aims to enhance how search engines like Google or Bing find your own content. Tuning your website using this approach can help attract people to your site, because your results are found when someone searches for content you write about. And there are free tools online to help you learn to apply SEO to a website.
Clay suggests the website at least hold your biography, picture and links to your social properties. Your website should also contain a media kit — a social media resume — to attract brand sponsors. This resume includes analytics of followership and engagement rates, which are easily tracked through Google Analytics for your website and — for instance — Instagram for Business.
“I work various national brands influencer programs,” Clay says. “When I’m on the media page of an influencer’s website and they don’t have media kit information readily available, I go on to the next person. While an influencer might be the right fit, if they make my job more difficult when sorting through hundreds of potential influencers, I may not hire them.”
Think before you post
It’s easy to say something regretful, and even more so to post it. An agriculture activity that seems completely normal to farmers and ranchers may shock other people with no context of that activity. A consumer reacting in a negative way to something you find normal might cause you to want to react. “I would count to 10 before you post anything on the internet,” Clay cautions. “You can never get it back. Even on a private Facebook group, screenshots last forever.”
Clay values diverse opinions, but she recommends not sharing sarcastic memes or content. This is because someone in a different community from you can misinterpret it, and it might be a person with whom you want to build a relationship.
“Influencers who build robust communities listen twice as hard as they speak,” Clay says. “You don’t want to discount a relationship with someone before it even begins. If, to gain that conversation, you have to limit the amount of memes you share or the number of controversial issues you comment on, it may be better to do that so relationship opportunities exist.”
Social media content must balance empathy with other people’s beliefs with your own personality and transparency to verify its authenticity. Clay’s only account is Rural Gone Urban. She doesn’t have one for personal posts and another for business use.
“There is only one side to me,” Clay says. “I don't have a work-life balance in regard to my social media-facing brand. It’s very gray. So, for me, it doesn’t make sense to alienate followers through insensitivity.”
If you’re selling your farm and ranch products directly to consumers, social media should contain content that interests your customer instead of pushing the products. “Social marketing is more about pushing your story,” Clay explains. “Helping the consumer know who you are as an ag business will sell your product.”
The next installment will look at working with influencers and offer some tips for those who see potential in being an influencer.
Hemken writes from Lander, Wyo.