“Hoarders” quickly went from a popular television program to a stark reality earlier this year when states around the nation urged residents to “shelter-in-place” to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19. When the quarantine orders started rolling into effect, citizens flocked to their local supermarkets buying food items in mass quantities. As food went flying off the shelves and grocery stores struggled to keep items stocked, America quickly began to pay attention to an unsung group of heroes: farmers and farmworkers.
Deemed “essential,” these warriors risk their health and safety to continue providing America with a safe, healthy, abundant and affordable food supply during the coronavirus pandemic. However, as the quarantine order has slowly rippled from one week to now nearing three months at the time of this writing, questions surrounding America’s food supply have surfaced.
What are farmers doing to keep farmworkers safe?
How are agricultural operations limiting the spread of COVID-19 within their fields and packing houses?
What additional food safety measures have been put in place?
How are farmers adapting their health and sanitation protocols in response to the coronavirus?
During a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic where any sense of normalcy has been demolished, social media can serve as a powerful tool to educate the public. When questions regarding safe agricultural practices started bubbling, Western Growers (WG) immediately flooded social media sites with selfie-style videos of WG members and compelling infographics to inform consumers on how growers are ensuring the safety of their workforce, how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting their operations and how proud farmers are to be on the front lines of feeding America during the coronavirus pandemic.
Using the #AgIsEssential hashtag, the videos and graphics are tied together across WG’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Since early April, the videos have been viewed more than 520,000 times, and more than 64,000 people have liked, commented, or shared #AgIsEssential posts. To date, the #AgIsEssential social media campaign has reached nearly 2 million people.
Because of its significant impact, WG wanted to share some best practices on how to manage a crisis using social media:
1. Be Authentic. Be Honest. Be Real.
Being genuine is a vital part of connecting with consumers, and now more than ever, people want to hear about their food supply…from food suppliers. The selfie-style videos featured in the #AgIsEssential campaign allowed viewers to hear from farmers and farmworkers about the role of agriculture in providing a safe, secure and healthy food supply amid the coronavirus pandemic, while knee-deep in planting and harvest.
In a world where everyone is showing carefully curated, beautifully filtered moments, the selfie-style videos allows consumers to see the real faces behind an essential workforce. For example, one video featured Alexandra Allen of Main Street Produce with a mask on, in the middle of a strawberry harvest. She not only spoke about the countless measures being taken to protect essential farmworkers but showed specific examples being implemented at Main Street to enhance worker and food safety.
2. Use Social Media as a Collaborative Tool.
As the #AgIsEssential campaign started to peak, WG noticed that other agricultural associations and brands, as well as a handful of farms, were replicating the effort with similar videos. Using social media monitoring platforms such as AgoraPulse and Hootsuite (which is free!), WG was able to easily see this content as it became live and immediately engaged (likes, commented and shared) with it.
A notable example is Innovative Produce and Faith Farming, which took to their fields and started filming interviews of their farmworkers on why they continue to go into the fields to harvest safe and healthy food during the COVID-19 health crisis. The videos, which were in both English and Spanish, were posted on the farm’s Instagram page, under the #AgIsEssential and #FarmOn hashtags
3. Add Value.
Whether you are posting a simple photo with some text or a video made from your smartphone, the content should offer consumers a peek behind the curtain. One of the #AgIsEssential videos featured Tasteful Selections, where various employees spoke about the safety measures being taken. Viewers were able to journey through the operation with different employees—from the chief operating officer to food safety managers to IT technicians—and receive a detailed, inside look into how this bite-sized potato company was keeping their employees safe, as well as delivering premium potatoes to customers.
4. Don’t Post and Forget.
During any crisis, reporting a steady stream of updates about your company is crucial. People want to know what’s going on with their food supply and how their beloved brands are faring during the crisis. Social media easily allows you to make these updates publicly available to your customers and can further solidify a relationship between your brand and consumers. However, you can only create meaningful relationships and brand ambassadors if you engage with them.
Regardless of what you share, once you post this content, you must regularly check to see who has commented or engaged with you. Taking the time to answer questions and reply to feedback (whether it be positive or negative) is just as important as posting that video or picture.
5. Reach Different Audiences Through Paid Advertising.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, WG had a well-established following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, many of the followers fell in the category of AGvocates—those who already supported the agriculture industry. For this campaign, WG wanted to reach audiences who were not yet familiar with the ag industry. To do this, WG placed ads on Twitter and paid a minimal fee to “boost” the videos on Facebook, which allowed these messages of hope from the field to reach consumers in urban areas. Through this “pay to play” effort, the #AgIsEssential campaign reached an additional 300,000 people; what’s even more impressive is that 90% of those 300,000 users engaged with the post by either liking the video, sharing it with their friends and family or commenting on the post.
Social media adds an element of speed to crisis communication that can make delivering real-time information more accessible than it has ever been previously. This communications vehicle, paired with the easy-to-use technology offered by smartphones, allows you to quickly respond, have more control over your message and maintain transparency during a crisis.