February 16, 2023

Social Media Risk Management & Contingency Planning

Farms and agribusinesses are confronted by many different types of risk in today’s market, including social media. In this third episode in the Farm Risk Management podcast series, Purdue University’s Jenna Nees, Renee Wiatt and Ariana Torres join Brady Brewer to discuss social media’s impact on businesses and how to build a contingency plan to protect your farm.

A Social Media Risk Checklist pdf and the audio transcript can be found below.

Additional Resources:


This series is based on the Six Pillars of Farm Risk Management course, funded by the North Central Extension Risk Management Education Center. More information on contingency planning is on the Purdue Institute for Family Business’ website, https://purdue.ag/fambiz, under the Strategic Business Planning Focus Area tab.

Audio Transcript

Brady Brewer: Hi, and welcome to the Purdue Commercial AgCast, the Purdue University Center for Commercial Agriculture’s Podcast, featuring farm management news and information. On today’s episode, I’m your host Brady Brewer, and joining me today is Jenna Nees, ag and natural resource extension educator in Putnam County.

Renee Wiatt, family business management specialist here at Purdue University and Ariana Torres, associate professor of horticulture and agricultural economics. On today’s episode we will be continuing our discussion of contingency planning. And we will be specifically talking about social media in contingency planning.

So I just wanna remind all the listeners, this is a five part series and this is the third installment of our topics and episodes on contingency planning. So today we’re going to address some of the questions around how does social media impact a small farm business and how does this play into contingency planning?

Before we jump into today’s content, I just wanna remind all the listeners that you can get all the information that we talk about on today’s episode at the Purdue Institute for Family Businesses website. You can go to purdue.ag/fambiz and from there the resource that specifically that we will be talking about is called the Six Pillars of Farm Risk Management.

And this is based on a project that was funded by the North Central Risk Management Extension Education Center. You can also find the Purdue Institute for Family Business on Twitter. And their Twitter handle is @PurdueFamBiz. So Ariana, I wanna start with you when thinking about you know, social media, so why is this needed?

Why is social media contingency plan needed for small and farm businesses?

Ariana Torres: So, I think we need to, as business owners, as farmers, as someone in the agricultural sector or just someone who has a smartphone or computer, which is a lot of people in the U.S. I think we need to be aware that about three quarters of Americans have access to online platforms and are users of social media. There is a greater percentage of people that have some kind of connection to online and digital advertising.

So when we’re looking into how marketing has developed over the past decade. We went from small businesses that drove their customers and the clientele through word of mouth, and that was great at that time. But with social media and the internet and the broad adoption diffusion of those tools, we have the new word of mouth is actually digital.

So everybody’s spending some sort of time at some time today on the internet. And one of the things that we can do is connect with customers. So if we have a business and we want to develop relationships, we need to have an online presence, but that carries also certain risks. So for example, we’ve seen a lot of issues where something goes viral and that’s not necessarily something good.

So something that a business did goes viral, and then people are looking at it and that can actually hurt a lot of business. So when we’re looking into social media, it brings a lot of inexpensive marketing data, consumer outreach, et cetera. But it also brings all the risks because let’s think about it, there was a post that wasn’t supposed to be intended or let’s say you have your personal profile and then you have your business profile, and then you forget which one you are posting at.

And there are things that may be controversial or maybe not business related. You don’t want that to be in the eyes of your consumers or your customers. So there is a social media continuency plan that is needed for businesses to avoid those risks because those risks can really hurt your business, but can also help a lot.

So if we have a plan, we can kind of counteract potential risks and just have good relationships with the clients.

Brady Brewer: Yeah, I, I think social media is meant to help get the word out and be an an extension of marketing advertising for your business. Especially if you think about a farm that may be selling at a farmer’s market to let people know where you will be.

There’s obvious benefits. But you mentioned some of the downsides and obviously there’s some contingency there. So, Ariana, I wanna follow up with what are the first steps we need to be thinking about in this plan for using our social media.

Ariana Torres: So one of the things that I recommend business owners is to, well is to have a plan, but the first one is to conduct an audit.

And the audit can be very simple. I mean, with social media, you can go very in depth and spend a lot of time or money. You can hire a company to do all of this, but if you really wanna do it and you have some time, I would say one of the first things that you can do is an audit. And an audit has four steps that when we do a social media audit. So the first one is you would want to have an audit sheet. And that audit sheet is basically gonna tell you for every platform that you have, most businesses start with Facebook.

So you’re gonna have a Facebook account, you’re gonna have a handle, which is your username or the at (in this case) @ Purdue Family Business I nstitute, it’s fambiz, Purdue fambiz. The at something that’s your handle, and then you need to understand who is the manager of that social media.

So let’s say if you have a family business, and let’s say you are one of the managers of the account, but you also have grandkids or kids or grandparents or partners or relatives are gonna have access to your social media account. You need to understand what is the hierarchical order and who has the last say on that because that person should be able to say, Yes, that goes out or it doesn’t.

I’ve seen cases where grandkids have access to their social media account and they’re posting things that are irrelevant to the business and that’s gonna create certain aspects or certain feeling towards your customers if that happens. So you wanna understand what is the process, if there is a process, rather you need to ideally have a well written description of your business.

Ideally, you can add your mission statement or your vision statement. , you want to understand what are the things, what are the goals that you want to have on your social media posts and the most recent post or any notes that you have. So there are a variety of examples or templates for audit sheets, for social media.

But again, it’s all about understanding who has the passwords, who has to say, what is the handle, if there’s any manages and who has access. So you can really clearly understand what is going on with all your social media. The first thing I would say is also Google your company’s name. You wanna understand what is your name.

There’s been cases where social media, what our business has a social media handle in Facebook, and it’s different on Instagram and it’s different on LinkedIn or TikTok. So what you want to say is you have to have the same name, otherwise your customers are gonna be wondering, is this even the same business?

Is this even real? You want to understand that your language has to be consistent, and that’s why having someone who is approving ultimately all the content going out is important because that person is gonna have the same language overall. And then you can identify any platform that you’ve been missing out.

TikTok has taken the world of social media these days, this is not about only corporations or people recording their dances on TikTok, this is about businesses also engaging with customers, sharing information in a more media oriented way. So for example, we have a company, the pasta company, Barilla.

It’s posting a lot of content about how do we use leftovers of pasta so you can actually save money when we have rising prices in groceries and life in general. So inflation and a lot of business are telling their customers, Hey, this is how you use our product. So it’s a great idea for, let’s say farmers who are growing different crops or are trying to do some environmental practices.

They wanna convey those things. TikTok has been proven to be the platform. I’m not saying everybody should go on TikTok, I’m just saying if that’s something that you think you can convey your message, you can probably try it out . So that’s the first step, understand what is going on with all the platforms that you have, you have photos are accurate, your names, your bios, your addresses.

What type of hashtags or what are the things that actually work or have worked for your business.

So another thing that you want to do is understand where your profiles at. Like are they on brand? A business has a brand and as a business owner, let’s say you are a farmer and you’re producing crops, but your business is a brand and people are gonna come to your brand or your business and the marketing that you do is gonna attract, create relationships, and connect. It’s not only about sales, it’s long-term relationships. So the second step is, are your profiles on brand. The third step is you probably wanna centralize your passwords. Again, I’ve seen cases where a business owner has hired a temporary employee and they’re managing their social media.

You want to make sure who has the password, why. So on that sheet you can actually add a column that says who owns their passwords, and if it’s a team, which is most likely, you want to understand who owns it, who has access. When you have passwords, people who have passwords should know what are your goals in social media?

And when we’re looking at goals, you may start looking at, okay, how many people are following us? That is potentially the first goal in social media. So you have that many followers. Your next goal may be, how many likes do we get? How many comments we get, how many shares we get? That’s a second tier goal.

But then we get into fancy goals that we call KPIs. So key performance indicators. And these are, if you’re doing social media, if you’re paying social media marketing, you wanna understand how many dollars you get back from every dollar that you spend your return on investment, if you may. So that’s when you’re looking into conversion rates or pay per click. So there’s just a wide variety of key performance indicators that you may want to look into, and there’s a bunch of resources online about this. Ideally you don’t have to change the password every time. Because what you can do is. Requests a password or have a password deadline or a password scheduling because you’re gonna have employees working for you for a while.

And the last step on the auditing is actually setting up a monitoring program. So you want to have these audits, maybe on a yearly basis, understand what’s performing the best, what is what is the content that is actually working. So when we’re looking into what content we post, we may be posting about our products.

So I tell business owners, you should have a three part strategy. So the first third is post about what you do, what products, what service. What are you selling? Basically, what are your income sources? Another third is going to be about your values. What do you stand for? What are actions?

What is your family? What is your community? And the third part of that ratio, it’s re-sharing or what, what we call user generated content. So for example, I have a customer posting about me. So you can see that because they’re gonna tag you, re-sharing. What it creates is a kind of inexpensive or actually non-expensive reward because you’re re-sharing what someone did.

You’re showing appreciation to your customers. You’re saying, thank you for coming to us, and it’s an instant reward that doesn’t cost you anything as a business owner, but you’re creating this reward system to your customers. But you also are creating this idea that, hey, I do care about my customers to others who are not, who are just seeing this share.

So that just creates a good story behind what are you doing with your social media. So you wanna understand what are you doing? What is the post that are creating among these three ratios, the highest KPIs or key performance indicators, or the highest reward, if you may. And then you want to compare, you know, what are the posts, what are the engagement numbers, how many people are seeing you?

And then define goals and action items. Like what do you want to change if you have had 10 followers for the past year. There’s a couple of things that you can do to change that. And this is the time at the end of the auditing where you decide, okay, these are the strategies that we’re gonna implement.

Brady Brewer: Auditing is definitely super important to understand how the social media fits into your operation and the benefits of it to make sure you’re doing it correctly. So I wanna turn now to Renee. One of the topics of this episode is contingency planning.

Ariana just went over a lot of how social media can really help a business. But how can social media help in the time of a crisis if something goes wrong, which is what contingency planning is for when something goes wrong. How does social media help in the event of a crisis?

Renee Wiatt: As a business owner, you can actually create a crisis communication plan, which you can utilize via social media. So you might say, you know, what is a crisis communication plan? It’s actually the dissemination of information by the business that addresses a crisis that impacts either customers, maybe the organization’s reputation. Crisis can take a lot of forms, right? Some examples of when you might need this communication plan would be maybe you have product recalls. Maybe one of your products is spoiled somehow it has some problem. You have to recall it and you wanna get that word out quickly.

Maybe an employee or a customer had an injury and you kind of wanna get in front of that narrative and speak your own narrative before someone else does it for you. Maybe there’s workplace violence, maybe there’s misconduct. You could have disasters, whether that be natural, man-made. You could have cyber attacks.

Maybe your email system was hacked, maybe your inventory system was hacked, your website was hacked. Something like that. You wanna be able to have this plan in place to get ahead of that and tell your customers what you want them to know instead of letting that narrative be spoken by your customers or by the news or whoever gets ahold of this. And that can happen pretty quickly. So if you don’t have this crisis communication plan, you can have decreased sales, decreased customer satisfaction. One of the biggest things for me, a damaged reput. You know, that can be really hard to get back if you have a damage reputation as a company.

So basically, you know, what does your crisis communication plan do? It basically breaks down the potential crises and then the response options. Organizing these response intensities according to the severity level of this crisis. So if somebody has an injury at work and you have to be shut down for a little bit. That might be a quick email to customers, put it on social media. Hey, we’re closed for a couple hours. We had an employee injury. You know, we can’t wait to come back and serve you. Something like that. So you really need to identify what stakeholders you’re going to be communicating with during this crisis/ emergency/ business disturbance, whatever you wanna call it .You need to sometimes contact employees, customers, maybe business partners.

If something large happens, you probably wanna contact the media and like I said, get in front of the narrative and speak your own truth before the media does that for you. And even the general public. It’s important to not only communicate externally, but you also want to communicate internally.

And so your communication should be done in real time or as close to as real time as you can. It should be accessible everywhere and the message that you put out should really be relevant to the individual you’re trying to talk to. There’s a lot of things to think about when we’re doing this, but before any crisis happens, you want to have an established presence on social media. That’ll make communication in real time and giving your customers updates a lot easier.

If you have that social media presence, you have that following already. It’s easier to get that information out. Things to consider during the actual crisis. You’re gonna wanna monitor all the different channels. So social media channels need to be monitored, maybe more vigorously than usual.

Customer post related to the crisis if you’re able to, should be responded to promptly. And more importantly, honestly you want to use a designated spokesperson for your farm. Choose that person ahead of time. You need to try to have positive messaging if you can. You want somebody who comes off as genuine, positive, empathetic, also relatable.

You want to identify that person who’s going to be speaking on behalf of your business ahead of time. I said this before, but you really wanna make sure that you’re positive and honest in your messaging. Even if you had a recall, be transparent, be honest with your customers, that’s gonna help you maintain your reputation and not get a bad reputation.

Brady Brewer: There’s some examples that come to mind, Renee. Here in the very recent past of farms, small businesses, especially with Covid. There’s also instances of employees accused of wrongdoing. At certain farms here in Indiana, where getting out in front of that message really helped certain companies and businesses manage expectations and I don’t think sales were hurt too much.

Now I want to turn to Jenna. We’ve talked a little bit about the audit sheet we need to think about if you’re gonna have social media as part of your farm and family business, how can it help with crisis management. But how can social media help with the overall objectives of our farm and business, not just these special instances where we have a crisis happening, but how can it help with the overall objective?

Jenna Nees: Once you have your goals for your farm whether it be increased sales, improve customer service or maybe increase product or brand awareness. You can then come up with specific objectives and tactics related to how social media will relate back to that goal. So let’s say that the goal was to increase product or brand awareness.

You might then have a social media objective such as having one product promotional post per week for say four (weeks). Then your tactic would be to develop a calendar and a specific post schedule, that are scheduled in advance, to help meet that objective. Some things to think about when you’re developing your calendar, you wanna go ahead and make it up on paper or in Excel, where you’re gonna put the date when the post are going to appear on social media. Write out that post. Include whatever photos you may plan on using or if you’re gonna use a live feed. And then who’s the responsible party for making sure that that post takes place. And as you’re making those posts in advance and scheduling, remember some helpful hints such as celebrating holidays or reutilizing posts from previous years. If you’re doing a live event, go ahead and script it out so you have something to kind of work with and just be consistent with those messaging, just like Renee was saying. So a good example of how you might do this is if you’re working on that product awareness, you may go ahead and schedule a week out a post that says, we are getting ready to market a new type of goat milk soap with lavender in it.

What should we call this new product? And that’ll help get you some engagement with your clientele on social media by asking for their input. And then you could schedule another post a few days later showing a picture of one of your goats and talking about how to utilize the milk from those goats to make your soap. Just having those things scheduled in advance so that you can be prepared to reach your overall goal for your farm of having increased brand awareness or product awareness. Now that’s scheduling and making those posts in advance. That’s only part of the process. The other part is after those posts are done, you need to go back and see what impact they have.

Going back and seeing what the reach was, how big of an audience, how much engagement did you get? When we asked that question about what should we name the soap, going ahead and seeing how many people responded and making sure we comment back to ’em and say, thanks for that so that we can relate to them and see what impact our overall post has on sharing our voice and reaching our clientele and helping us move forward towards our overall goal.

Brady Brewer: Social media can be used to help us achieve a lot of our business objectives and get the word out about the product. Renee, I wanna come back to you. We’ve talked about the audit sheet, what’s the checklist for using social media. We’ve talked about crisis and we’ve talked about aligning with business goals.

But what are some rules and guidelines we need to be aware to make sure when we’re interacting with customers in social media that we don’t use social media in a negative way.

Renee Wiatt: We suggest setting up a social media policy. You might think, why do we need a social media policy? We talked about it a little bit before, but it protects both the physical and digital safety of both the members of the business as well as the business. It helps to protect your reputation. It helps to deal with controversy. It’s a great opportunity if you’re a family farm business, it’s a great opportunity to line those family values with your business’ online presence. The policy lets employees know what they should or should not do on social media channels. And sometimes when we’re talking about those employees, we’re talking about a son or a daughter, we’re talking about a grandma or a grandpa, we’re talking about these family members that might be involved in our farm. But we need to have these guidelines of what we should and should not say as a business on social media. A family and a family business’, online reputation is a great asset. I’m sure that we can all think of some family farms who really do a good job of communicating with their customers via social media, but also letting their customers know who they are as people and who they are as a family. And it kind of warms our hearts and makes us wanna buy from those businesses a little bit more. But we want to make sure that what others learn about us online doesn’t drive away customers.

We wanna post things that make people wanna be closer to us and to buy our products. Another thing to keep in mind. Your social media reputation and your online reputation, it should fairly represent who you are and what you stand for. So when we think about social media policies, some considerations to put in there we need to think about what purpose members hope to serve with our social media accounts.

What are we trying to do with our social media account? Are we trying to educate? Are we trying to inform? There’s a lot of different things that we can do with our social media account, but we need to think about what we’re doing. Ariana touched on this but we need to distinguish between the business social media, and the individual employee or family social media and consider how those intersect.

There could be some times when the business could share a post of a family member that talks about the business that could be appropriate. We don’t want our drunk niece or nephew, who’s off at college, getting into the social media platform when they’re at a party and posting something inappropriate.

We wanna make sure that we have these policies in place and we limit who has access to that social media. Will there be an impact from social media activities on the business’ charitable activities? You can share things like that on social media. We just need to think about what we’re going to allow.

When you’re setting your social media policy, you need to make sure it’s simple, clear, accessible, and it should be continually updated. As you hire employees, as people maybe as your son or daughter who are in the business get a little bit older, you give them some more control over that. You’ve heard me talking about social media policies, but you might be thinking, okay, what’s an example of a social media policy to have. These policies can be very simple and straightforward. We want them to be clear to everybody. An example of a policy could be let the subject matter expert respond to negative posts. Say somebody says something about the way you grow your vegetables, you probably don’t want the person who just runs the cash register at your farm stand, respond to that. You probably wanna get your agronomist or the person actually in charge of choosing varieties and planting these things and harvesting. You probably want them to respond to that negative post. They’re gonna have some more science-based answers. To let the customers know what they need to know.

Another social media policy to consider is that your local posts can have national or global consequences. We’ve heard about going viral. You can go viral for good and bad things. Think about that when you’re posting. Be conscious when you’re mixing your business and personal lives. Those lines can be blurred when we’re farming with our family.

And another policy to think about would be when you’re in doubt, just don’t post it. If you’re really questioning yourself, go get some advice, talk about it with somebody else before you post it.

We’ve got a few examples from different companies who have some social media policies. Best Buy, their policy is very straightforward. It’s protect the brand, protect yourself. So you have to protect the Best Buy brand, but employees also have to protect themselves. The Ford Motor Company, they say, be honest about who you are. Clarity that your opinions are your own. Respect and humility in all communication. Good judgment in sharing only public information, including financial data and awareness that what you say is permanent.

It’s a good reminder that even if you take something down off of your own business’ website, they can still be out there forever and other people can take a screenshot, they can copy it. Once you put it out there, it’s out there forever.

Brady Brewer: Thank you Renee. That is it for today’s discussion on how social media can impact a business and how social media can be used for contingency planning. I just want to remind everyone for more information visit us at the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture’s website at purdue.edu/commercialag, or the Purdue Institute for Family Business’s website, which is purdue.ag/fambiz. On behalf of the Center for Commercial Agriculture’s team, the Purdue Institute for Family Business, I’m Brady Brewer. Thank you for listening.




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