ABOYNE – Wellington County food entrepreneurs should clean up their on-line presence with some “digital hygiene work”, according to an advisor who led a digital marketing and social media session on Feb. 11.
Digital disruptor Charlotte Moore urged farmers and food sellers to adjust key details of their internet image, to simplify and enhance interactions with potential customers.
“Many people get overwhelmed quickly when we talk about digital,” said Moore, who is digital project manager for RT04, the provincial government’s tourism agency for the territory that includes Wellington, and previously did digital development for Guelph Tourism Services.
“A lot of digital is actually just hygiene work, and I don’t mean going home and taking a digital shower,” she said.
“I mean fixing your digital asset and presence so that you can go on to have very successful digital marketing. The marketing is kind of the easiest part.”
The event at the Wellington County Museum and Archives was co-hosted by Foodlink Waterloo Region, a non-profit group that promotes local food and connects farm and food businesses, by LaunchIt, which helps new businesses with mentorship, workshops and support programs, and by Taste Real, an initiative of the Wellington County economic development office that facilitates local food connections.
“Feedback from our local food businesses has overwhelmingly shown that there is a great deal of interest in learning more about farm direct and digital marketing,” said Christina Mann, coordinator for Taste Real.
“The communication and marketing landscape has changed significantly over the last few years and businesses are looking to hone their digital marketing skills.”
Farmers were also urged to develop value-added farm sales and experiences, and got advice on effective signage, displays and pricing from Jessica Kelly, marketing specialist from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
There were breakout sessions to enhance digital marketing skills, including video content, paid promotions, targeting specific audiences and measuring the success of a marketing effort.
Moore said digital details can be frustrating for entrepreneurs, but reminded her audience that changes don’t have to happen all at once, and that the focus should be on keeping things consistent for members of the public who visit them on-line.
“A lot of digital is actually just hygiene work, and I don’t mean going home and taking a digital shower,” she said. “I mean fixing your digital asset and presence so that you can go on to have very successful digital marketing. The marketing is kind of the easiest part.”
Branding includes the relationship with digital customers and what they remember and say to others about their encounter with a business.
She suggests that businesses focus primarily on how their content looks on mobile phones, rather than on computer screens.
“For look, be consistent. What is the one thing of your brand that people can expect when they look at your content? How can you convey that from your physical brand to your digital brand?” said Moore.
“There’s a lot of content on line, and how can you cut through the noise? By being authentic and sharing your story.”
She showed some examples of effective on-line presence, including the Instagram feed of Lauren Hallman (@lmhallman), a photographer and vegan baker who runs a food focused media production company in Elora.
The photos are dramatic and bright. There are convenient links to commentary, a blog with recipes and a site (veganfoodwithgratitude.com) which promotes other services such as video production.
“She has a beautiful on-line brand,” said Moore. “This is a really good example of how your can be consistent across all of your platforms.
She also highlighted the on-line marketing of Strom’s Farms on Wellington Road 32 just south of Guelph.
Their site (strom.ca) not only has a guide to their various events, pictures of food products, a link to a twitter feed and advice how to plan a visit, but there are many informal pictures of people having fun – especially kids and dogs.
“This is how you can be authentic through your mobile content,” said Moore, saying farm owners can snap mobile-phone pictures of their visitors. “Everyone loves dogs and everyone loves babies.”
She said farmers should still engage their customers in the off-season with posts about their preparation and plans for the next season.
Moore was also impressed with the on-line marketing of Bliss Dough (blissdough.com and @blissdough), which sells vegan cookie dough made to be eaten raw, not baked. They offer free delivery in Guelph.
Some of their on-line photos are product selfies – photos with a jar of their dough held in the foreground, and the store where it is sold in the background.
“This is amazing, especially for a new business – it’s perfect, brilliant, really easy and a great way to connect your physical product to your on-line digital presence.”
Moore said marketing should not be about deceiving people, but about being yourself and delivering a simple, honest message.
She said simple things that entrepreneurs should do include controlling what people see when people find them through Google.
“Google is where people live, so your presence on Google is 99 per cent more important than your website,” she said.
She urged owners to go to business.google.com/create and take control of the Google My Business page of information that appears on the right when a business is found in a search. They should add photos to that page and make sure that location, hours and contact information is exactly what they want.
They should also claim/control their TripAdvisor page. For on-line reviews that are critical of a business, she urged owners to respond respectfully and positively.
Moore suggested business owners should be cautious about spending money on Google Ads if they are inexperienced at marketing, and that they find someone they trust to provide advice.
She said businesses should Google themselves to see what customers see, make sure that there are no broken links on their website and that old or inaccurate pages are completely deleted.
It’s also important for businesses to use Google Analytics to know where visitors are coming from and what they are viewing.
A business Facebook page should have website, contact and hours information, with a profile photo and a cover photo. All Facebook posts should include an image.
Instagram pages should have real photos, not posters, and Twitter pages should have regular updates.
For businesses that rely on reservations or simple product purchases online, she said the goal should be to complete the interaction with two clicks.
“Make it easy,” she said. “People are lazy – they don’t want to read a lot.”