Traditionally Mr Sam the Strawberry Man would stand in the middle of the market place hollering “Strawberries! Strawberries!”. That was the way to get customers to come and buy strawberries. In more sophisticated mode a seller could add some adjectives “Sweet Strawberries! Fresh Strawberries”. And then add a call to action “Come and buy sweet, fresh Strawberries”. Add a personal appeal “Come and buy my sweet, fresh strawberries, grown on our family farm”. If none of that worked and there is stock remaining “Buy One, Get One Free!” may work. Finally, being resourceful, Sam may well be back the following week selling strawberry jam.
Maybe by definition people that come to producers’ markets are “people” people – happy to brave whatever the seasonal weather to come shopping. There’s no guarantee what will be on offer. Fruit and vegetables grow to their own schedule, not a calendar date. It is the antithesis of scroll, click, delivered shopping. However digital technology has a place in traditional farmers’ markets. It can mirror and even enhance each step of the selling process for producers – without diminishing the importance of the personal touch or undermining the market.
In essence social media platforms, like Facebook or Instagram, connect people with shared interest so that they can interact. The plethora of digital media platforms can seem both overwhelming – TikTok, Discord, Reddit, Youtube and more – and a waste of time. But Sam the Strawberry Seller only needs to connect to people who are interested in buying strawberries generally and his strawberries specifically. Crucially the people who are interested in buying strawberries are also trying to connect to Sam and other strawberry sellers.
For many producers social media is a very happy place – they click , share, upload, comment with such skill that it is almost intimidating. So intimidating there is a huge temptation not even to start, perhaps fearing the digital juggernaut has somehow left the station and there is not point in trying to catch up. Social media moves with such fluidity and speed that there is no start or stop moment – it is happening now.
Let’s imagine Strawberry Sam has reluctantly decide to have a go with a bit of digital technology. At the very least he will need a Smart phone/ device with access to the internet. He will also need digital photographs of strawberries – lots of strawberries. A gallery of strawberry images: strawberry plants; growing strawberries; funnily shaped strawberries; strawberry jam; strawberries in desserts and puddings; happy people eating strawberries (so long as the people in the photographs are happy to have their images shared – this is a good moment to rope in the family); strawberry varieties; straw and strawberries. Get the picture? PICTURES make social media fun and compelling and pictures taken of real strawberries are better than stock photos. You will never be accused of infringing someone’s copyright -and your images will not be being used by every other strawberry producer.
Now Strawberry Sam needs to create some social media accounts: Instagram and Facebook. He’ll need a username, a password and mobile phone number. His presence can be as simple as a bit of a photo of one of his strawberries and his name SamStrawberry. Next step is to start connecting: the markets he goes to; his local “What’s On” page; his school friends; his suppliers; people he admires, everyone and anyone he things might have an interest in him, his strawberries and strawberries could be worth following.
“I don’t have time for this” – I can hear Sam shouting at me “Sam, Sam” I’m going to say “Imagine how long it would take, and how loud you would have to be, to connect to all your existing and potential customers. So shut up and get following.”
By embracing social media Sam now has a better understanding of his market, his customers and the understanding goes both ways. As he shares his stories – and all those pictures of strawberries – his supporters and customer know more about him. They can relate to him. Being able to connect in such a personal way that almost feels one-to-one is one of the new and amazing benefits of social media. In practical terms he can make sure his customers know where he will be and how they can buy his strawberries. Through social media connections Sam’s customers can give him feedback – and share his news and stories on to their connections. They feel part of Strawberry Sam’s world.
Farmers and Producers markets are hundreds of years old as a way to buy and sell. What social media is adding to such timeless mechanism is speed, scope and scale. Stories and posts can be quickly loaded and shared. The messages can be targeted, general or seasonal. In terms of scale – well, the internet connects the whole of our world. Sam now has a (virtual) way of hollering loud enough for everyone to hear.