Farm Shops are an important part of the UK’s rural economy. Farm Shops bring in employment to rural areas of Britain, they give a model and structure to a farm looking to diversify, they promote healthy living and support local community. But what makes one Farm Shop more successful than another? Increasingly, it’s because of the social media strategy.
Supermarkets in the UK are an almighty force. According to Statista, supermarkets are forecasted to bring in the total market value of 192.6 billion by 2017. Organic food and drinks are increasing in popularity as people have more choice due to the rise in online shopping. But where does the Farm Shop place within this, and how do they compete?
A Farm Shop is a shop which sells produce from a farm directly to the public and by buying from farm shops directly supports the rural economy (Oxford English Dictionary). A report conducted by the European Commission in 2013 identified that in the UK 70% of British consumers want to buy local. Social media allows Farm Shops to tell their story. It brings in that local connection, a sense of value, an emotional bond between farm and consumer. It may also bring in criticism (and unwarranted attention), so Farm Shops need to capture consumer expectations and use this feedback to adapt and refine the business strategy. A social media strategy can help to manage expectations and as much as possible exceed them.
Farm Shops are businesses often run directly by farmers and their families that want to diversify and develop a profitable, self-sustaining business. Farm Shops are tied to a working farm, so there is a balance required to focus on both business elements, particularly with smaller Farm Shops where the profit margins may be small. So, how do these Farm Shops tap into social media to promote themselves?
In 2017, 59.63% of all Britains are using a form of social network. Social media will continue to grow with an expected coverage of 62.46% by 2022. That’s a rise of over 4% in the next 4 years and an estimated 42 million users. Farm Shops must have a strategy to be visible to their markets on social media otherwise they will have problems competing in an online business environment. There are thousands of services promoting themselves as social media services but what are they actually offering to the rural sector that provides value and support to a locally oriented business? There needs to be a connection between social media services and the rural community as there are a number of business elements that are unique to businesses like Farm Shops.
Every so often a newspaper or magazine will post their Top Farm Shops (and delis) in the UK. Look at these critically as depending on the source and their consumer focus the list may be skewed. How many list London deli’s as their top businesses, neglecting so many excellent Farm Shops that little bit further out of the way than people seem to feel comfortable going to? According to a report by the Food Distribution Reseach Society advises that UK Farm Shops …”must create a unique identity or brand for their operation, build networks, develop knowledge and talent, and build business acumen in order to creatively overcome obstacles and manage diverse operations” (Slocum & Curtis, 2017).
Every Farm Shop needs a social media strategy that works for them that makes them unique and interesting to consumers and builds a loyal customer base. Repeat business is critical for a Farm Shop to grow, and there needs to be a strong connection with a consumer for them to return time and time again, often to a place that is not around the corner but takes time to travel to. A Farm Shop social media strategy needs to address the following:
- Who is the target audience – demographics, interests (look at analytics)
- Where is the audience located? This may not always be where you think
- Who is the competition? Have you studied them?
- What makes your Farm Shop unique? (SWOT Analysis will help with this)
- Are you consistent in your branding and messaging?
- Are your customers online and/or offline?
- What is the customer experience look like?
- How do you drive people from social media to your website?
Virtual Administrator (VA) businesses like Blue Ninja Business Support are providing services to rural businesses to support in developing and implementing social media strategies that are impactful, consistent and on message. VA businesses work with Farm Shops according to their requirements and are able to be proactive and often reactive due to the nature of virtual support. VAs fit into the team dynamics and work in partnership to bring the ideas and plans of the business into action. VAs also cover other skill sets such as website design and updates, customer service feedback, team time management and a variety of other services that will help a rural business to move forward.
Listings of where to find local British Farm Shops
Fabulous Farm Shops – England only