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Digital Media Use Continues to Grow Among Farmers

“How did we farm without these?” my uncle asked me as he placed his cell phone in the console of the SUV we had just climbed into. My uncle, dad and I were heading out from the main farm headquarters to his swine-breeding operation about 70 miles away.

Ever the family smarty pants, I replied, “CBs — we had CB radios in all the tractors and trucks back then.”

That conversation occurred probably 10 years ago already (the older I get the more the years run together). And oh my, how times — and farmers’ use of digital media — have changed.

The truth is, the agri-marketing landscape continues to evolve as new media and technology are introduced and become more widely accepted. Today we have more options than ever to effectively engage farmers and ranchers, and they have more options for getting the information they need to help run and manage their operations. What’s more, the newest generation returning to the farm is extremely comfortable with digital technology. That makes understanding how, when and why farmers and ranchers use various digital media channels essential for agri-marketers wanting to deliver the right content at the right time to the right person using the right channel.

Digital media have quickly gained ground

My uncle isn’t the only producer who has found the cell phone to be invaluable to his farm work. According to the 2017 Farm Journal Media mobile research survey, nearly all farmers — 94 percent — are using a cell phone or smartphone. That’s a 16 percent jump from 2016 and an 80 percent increase since 2009, the first year the survey was conducted. At that time, only 14 percent of surveyed producers reported using cell phones.

The vast majority (83 percent) of mobile-phone-owning farmers say they always take their phone with them when doing farm work, while another 14 percent report they sometimes have their phone with them. Their cell phones are used often, too, given that 86 percent of those surveyed say they use their phone multiple times every day. Phone calls are by far and away the most popular and common reason farmers give for using their phones. However, texting, sending and receiving emails, checking social media and monitoring the weather are also commonplace activities.

A 2016 media channel survey conducted for Connectiv’s Agri Media Council shows smartphone use by farmers has increased across all age groups since 2014. However, smartphone use is highly correlated with age, with 99 percent of surveyed producers less than 35 years old using this mobile technology. The leading uses of smartphones are texting and emailing, and 36 percent of those queried use their smartphones to visit agricultural websites. But among producers who are less than 35 years old, 90 percent of them use their smartphones to visit ag-related websites.

Producers send texts and access mobile websites fairly consistently between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to Meredith Agrimedia’s 2015 Farmers’ Use of Media Survey. In contrast, use of desktop or full websites, social media sites and e-newsletters peaks around dinner time, about 6 p.m.

So what does this mean for marketers looking to reach today’s farmers? Mobile digital media must be considered in marketing and communications efforts. Your brand’s email campaign must be as easily read on a smartphone or tablet as it is on a desktop computer. And probably more importantly, your company and brand websites must provide an optimal user experience — including easy reading and simple-to-use navigation with minimal resizing, panning and scrolling — across a wide range of devices.

Overall information consumption has increased

Increased digital media use hasn’t occurred at the expense of traditional agricultural media outlets such as ag magazines, newspapers and farm radio. Several agri-marketing surveys show farmers and ranchers are consuming more information in general and are using a variety of traditional, digital and face-to-face channels.

Younger producers and larger operations use more digital media

Younger farmers (45 years and under) and those with larger operations are more likely than other producer groups to use digital media, including desktop or full websites, mobile websites and social media platforms. And producers with high-revenue-generating operations ($1 million plus in gross receipts) are much more likely to find digital channels important compared to smaller operations.

Make no mistake: Traditional print media are still essential for younger producers and larger operations. In fact, use of ag magazines and newspapers is consistently high across all age groups. But digital media offer the opportunity to communicate more quickly and in more places. And when you factor in the relationships between age, revenue and technology — coupled with the finding that traditional media can drive farmers to digital channels — it’s clear that agri-marketers will need to continue using an integrated media strategy to effectively reach and engage farmers and ranchers across all age groups and operation sizes.

Farmers and ranchers use social media too

Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform used by producers, according to the 2015 Meredith Agrimedia study and a 2016 Farm Futures survey. Other frequently used social media channels include YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Farmers use these channels the same way many of us do. Facebook and LinkedIn are most frequently used to connect with family, friends and colleagues, while YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest are most used for entertainment. About 46 percent of farmers use Facebook for personal reasons, and of those, 56 percent are 35 years old or younger.

But farmers are also tapping into social media — specifically YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — for general news and information about products and services that can help them improve their farming operations. In the 2015 Meredith Agrimedia study, 51 percent of surveyed producers reported using YouTube to watch news, music and educational programs. But they’re also watching product demos from ag companies or retailers and ag news videos. And according to the Farm Futures survey, while only 9 percent of producers use Facebook for farm business reasons, that percentage jumps to 21 percent for the 35-and-under crowd.

Timing determines the effects of different media on buying decisions

Agri-marketers need to look at when farmers and ranchers are using various media channels as much as how they’re using them. Traditional print, in-person and digital communications all play a role in producers’ buying-decision process. But at what stage are they going online for information versus looking at traditional ag publications or visiting their local retailer?

When it comes to buying decisions, producers are most likely to turn to their retailer and/or ag magazines and newspapers, but digital media are becoming more influential, especially among younger producers and those with larger operations. Numerous information sources are used at the very early stage of the buying-decision process, with agricultural magazines being the clear leader — even more than ag dealers and retailers. Full websites and ag e-newsletters contribute as much as ag radio and TV programs to the information-gathering stage.

As producers narrow their choices of products or services, ag retailers and dealers have a greater influence on the buying process. Ag magazines, newspapers and custom publications as well as websites continue to be used by farmers and ranchers during the evaluation and comparison stage. But at the point of decision, farmers and ranchers overwhelmingly rely on information provided by their ag retailers and dealers.

So what does it all mean?

Ultimately, a successful integrated marketing effort will entail a mix of media, both traditional and digital. And because producers are consuming more of all types of media, marketing messages that break through the noisy marketplace as well as audience segmentation will be key. If your brand needs help reaching today’s tech-savvy farmers and ranchers, we’re happy to share our knowledge and expertise.

Darlene Hanenburg is a senior Technical and Content Writer