University of Maryland Extension

Digital marketing tools

Ginger S. Myers, Extension Specialist, Marketing, University of Maryland Extension and Kim Rush Lynch, Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension

Urban Ag home | Table of contents

As mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. Working with a website developer to create your website is well worth the investment, however there are some low cost options on the market including user-friendly website builders such as Sitebuilder, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and WordPress. Your website will be a home base for all of your marketing information including promotional tools such as social media links, e-newsletters, YouTube videos, and even podcasts.


There are several important factors to consider when creating a dynamic website. Remember that you only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention. Your website should have a clean, professional look and include your branding elements. A good website delivers your story and drives the viewer to jump on your “call to action.” Here are ten questions to consider when building an effective website:

  1. Does your domain name convey your farm business image?
  2. Do your pages have a clean look with an appropriate amount of “whitespace” or are they cluttered?
  3. Do you have your social media icons and newsletter sign-up button at the top of your homepage so it’s easy for visitors to connect with you?
  4. Is your navigation bar simple and easy to navigate? Does it appeal to your target audience, and is it effective in directing visitors to what they need?
  5. Are you using concise, clear language for the average reader who may not know much about farming or your product?
  6. Have you created compelling content that is written in small paragraphs with large, easy to read fonts and includes appropriate images?
  7. Do you have a clear call to action?
  8. Does your site reflect your branding, story, and personality?
  9. Is your site mobile friendly?
  10. Have you set up analytics on your website to track usership?

Before you publish any of your materials, including your website, be sure to run it by a few friends, family members, and business savvy professionals including your local agricultural marketing or business development specialist. Sometimes what we think is obvious is as clear as mud to others. In addition, search for your business name or the title of any website, blog, newsletter, or podcast you are considering in Google or another search engine to make sure it isn't already taken. You can also look at the State of Maryland’s Department of Assessments and Taxation (DAT) searchable business database to see if your business name is already being used by another business. Once you settle on a business trade name, you will file it here as well.

Social media

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Oh my! There are so many social media platforms available that it’s challenging for a social media professional to stay on top of it, never mind a farmer. In order to determine how to tackle social media, ask yourself two important questions:

  1. Who is my target market and what social media platforms are they using?
  2. Which social media platforms do I enjoy most? If none of the above, then which do I feel most comfortable with trying?

Once you decide on a platform, check around and observe how other successful small farm businesses are using their accounts to leverage sales. Often this is the best way to get ideas for your own social media strategy. At Extension, we are big fans of R&D - Research & Duplicate. If you see a successful strategy, think about how you can incorporate it into your own social media marketing. We are not suggesting that you copy, but you can use other’s work as inspiration. Regardless of what social media platform you use, here are some best practices:

  1. Know your audience and what content appeals to them.
  2. Develop a unique, authentic voice.
  3. Be an expert. Be transparent.
  4. Be consistent with posting.
  5. Mix-up educational with cultural and just-for-fun posts.
  6. Use a variety of content including original and user-generated.
  7. Give credit to authors and sources by “tagging” them.
  8. Use hashtags (#) and handles (@) to increase engagement.
  9. Post visual content (images, videos, GIFs, infographics).
  10. Make sure images are optimized for both desktop and mobile.
  11. Respond to fans (and haters) in a timely, positive fashion.
  12. Get a few professional photos taken (headshots, products, farm).
  13. Put your logo or website on images.
  14. Use your headshot, logo, and farm images widely.
  15. Use graphic design apps to create professional, eye-catching social media images.

Let’s reiterate the importance of video in your social media toolbox. It’s much more likely to generate engagement then a graphic. Taking it a step further, live videos earn more interaction than regular videos. Forget plain old text. It’s not a priority for many social media platforms including Facebook’s algorithms which heavily favor visuals because they gain more comments and shares. This trend is even more obvious as the pictorial Instagram continues to rise in popularity and has become the king of engagement. This is important to keep in mind when drafting posts and developing a social media planning calendar. If you have a Facebook page for your business, consider creating a Facebook Group which fosters natural interactions, something that Facebook algorithms encourage.

Graphic design for the graphic design software challenged

Let’s face it. Not all of us have time to learn how to manipulate Photoshop. Fortunately, there are both desktop and online programs and phone apps with fantastic templates to assist you with your DIY graphic design. Many people rave about Canva, but there are others to consider including Word Swag and Adobe Spark. Ask your friends and colleagues and do your research as new programs continue to emerge. Having these tools in your back pocket on a rainy day will make creating your marketing materials more of a fun creative project than a laborious chore.

When drafting materials, it’s important to use bold colors, unique images and illustrations, and don’t discount using text as part of a graphic. If done well, text can be compelling and add interest. While it’s best to use your own graphics, there are free, royalty free images available from online sources such as Unsplash and Pixabay.

The most important concept to keep in mind when creating graphics for your social media and other marketing collateral is the KISS principle (Keep It Simple and Straightforward).

Email newsletters: still one of the most effective marketing tools

While a sector of marketers claim that email newsletters are dead, others say it’s here to stay. According to an article in Forbes in 2018, 59% of B2B marketers report that email marketing is their most effective channel for generating revenue. While some point to emails as spam, surveys show that people don’t mind emails as long as they are relevant, interesting, and offer value. This is why more organizations are segmenting their email lists to target the content to the reader. In 2018, the Direct Marketing Association reported that “segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue."

There are many ways to begin building an email list. Keep a clipboard at your farmers market booth or farm stand. Have a sign-up button on your website, Facebook page, and in the bio of your Instagram profile. Also, many newsletter content management systems integrate with your website and social media accounts. Speaking of which, while you can develop email lists in your regular email service, consider a professional email marketing system such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, and CakeMail to name a few.

How do you build your email list? Consider your target market and what they find interesting to read. Do they enjoy recipes? Food storage tips? Fun facts about your farm? On occasion, it’s not a bad idea to ask your readers what they would like to hear more about as well as what they’d rather do without! Be sure to include graphics and videos because emails with these features tend to have higher open and click-through rates. Finally, make sure that subject line is catchy! September Newsletter may tempt your readers to hit “delete” while “Chris, Savor Summer at our Solstice Supper” may peak Chris’ interest. And if you add the sun emoji (while we’re thinking about the summer solstice), you’re likely to get even more opens according to the latest marketing statistics. Emojis and including the recipients name in the subject line boost open rates.

Podcasts help percolate your fan base

While bloggers enjoy photography and writing, that’s not everyone’s strength. Some entrepreneurs are more at home with creating conversational environments. In the same respect, while some customers enjoy reading blogs, others would rather get the same information by listening to a podcast. In fact 17% of the U.S. population listens to podcasts weekly, and this figure is on the rise. What are some best practices to keep in mind? Before you begin to podcast, you need to pick a theme. It needs to be specific enough to generate interest and target your listeners, but also broad enough to give you enough content to discuss without painting yourself in a corner. Where to start? What are you most passionate and knowledgeable about? Once you settle on a theme, you will need to pick a title for your podcast. It must be catchy, but it also needs to include keywords that would rank in a search.

Once you have selected the name and theme, it’s time to look into equipment and software. There are many choices with a variety of price points so do your research. Essentially, you will need a headset, microphone, and recording software. Record and edit your podcast, upload it to a hosting service like Podbean or Buzzsprout, and then list your podcast in directories like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

You are on your way to Podcastville!

Incentivize your customers

There are a few relatively simple ways you can incentivize new customers and retain existing patrons. Your incentives could include free samples at a farmers markets or community event (please check with the health department regarding sampling permits), a coupon in your monthly e-newsletter, or more expensive give-a-away schwag such as t-shirts, travelers mugs, or shopping bags. Regardless of which incentives you provide, think about what might interest your customers at a price point that you can afford and that is in alignment with your marketing goals.

Many customers are looking for an experience and more importantly, a community. Consider hosting a customer appreciation event either on-site or at a local venue if your space isn’t conducive to hosting guests. Some farms have had great success with creating virtual communities through facebook groups and social media photo and video contests using farm products. Winners win more product AND are highlighted on your social media and in an upcoming newsletter. These contests are a win-win because they use existing customers to promote your farm’s products and services. Remember, this is part of your marketing strategy so make it work for you.

Are my promotional tools working?

Now that you have a nice mix of tools in your promotional toolbox, you need to evaluate them from time to time to see which are most effective for your business. Social media has built in metrics to facilitate evaluation, while other tools will require you to set up a metric with a tracking system. For example, when you send your July email with a coupon (be sure to include an expiration date and a tracking code), track the redemption rate and sales related to that coupon campaign. You will also need to factor in how much you spend on any particular marketing campaign. For the email coupon, that will be your time to develop the coupon and newsletter as well as the cost of the email marketing service for that month. If you posted any social media ads for cross promotional purposes, you will need to factor in your reach, sales, and costs of the ads when determining if the promotion was a good fit. At the end of the day, increased sales is the ideal indicator for success, however increased engagement can lead to more sales down the road which is one of the reasons why social media and newsletters can seem like a time sink without much return on investment. Regardless, they can be an important component of your relationship building strategy. Finally, if a promotional tool isn’t working for you, feel free to tweak it or abandon it all together. It’s important to make an adjustment before you are too far down the road to the point of no return.

Bottom line when developing your promotional toolkit: talk with your customers AND competitors, think outside the box, be flexible, and have fun!

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Next page: Chapter 3: Marketing challenges and opportunities-Summary


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