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Promoting dairy through social media: ‘It’s not that hard,’ says Shelley Colson

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 06 June 2012

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Shelley Colson didn’t grow up on a farm, but when her now-husband, Matt, took her to his family’s 65-cow operation on their first date, she knew she was in for an education.

“I had never been around cows – or even on a four-wheeler – before,” she laughs. “I’ve learned a lot over the past few years.”

The farm, located in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, is run entirely by family members. Matt’s parents, Dean and Debbie, took over the farm from Dean’s father, Joe. Matt’s brother, Daniel, is taking an off-the-farm job but will continue to help out when he can.

Matt’s older sister, Melissa, is a veterinarian with a practice in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and serves as the farm’s on-call vet.

When Matt and Shelley returned to the farm in 2010 after they were married, they entered into an already thriving agritourism business along with the family dairy.

Matt’s family started Country Pumpkins about 10 years ago. Four years ago, they began providing a one-of-a-kind experience, featuring a dairy tour along with the pumpkin patch, to local groups and schools.

In September and October of 2011 alone, more than 2,000 people visited Alpine Hills Dairy Farm.

Click here to learn more about the agritourism efforts of the Colson family.

In addition to being involved with agritourism, Shelley carved out a niche for herself on the operation by taking charge of online communications and marketing.

She’s responsible for the farm’s website , Facebook page, Twitter account and blog . She also posts several farm-related items on her personal Pinterest account.

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard, where users share ideas through a multitude of topics including recipes, crafts and decorating.

After more than two years of managing these accounts, she says the farm has received only positive feedback, especially on the Facebook page, which has 715 fans.

“I try to post things in a positive light,” she says. “Not that there’s anything to hide, but I don’t usually post things consumers would find sad or gross. I think that helps.”

While she’s heard horror stories of other dairy producers’ social media experiences, she says she’s been lucky.

“I know some people may be scared to get into social media because they’re worried about comments from animal activists, but we have to try to help offset the negative comments being said about agriculture,” she says.

She wants those producers to also know that it doesn’t take quite as big of a time commitment as they might think.

“It’s not that hard,” she says. “Some days I won’t post anything and other days I’ll post four things. I spend a lot of time on it because I can, but you don’t necessarily have to spend hours and hours.”

The fact that social media is mobile-friendly helps too, she says.

“There’s so much you can do from a phone these days,” Shelley says. “Just snap a picture and post it. Just make sure you’re being conscious of it while you’re doing your other work, like, ‘Oh, that would make a good photo.’”

She’s discovered photos are the key to getting people’s attention.

“People love seeing farm life and scenery around the farm,” she says. “I used to just post status updates with information about what we were doing. Since I’ve started incorporating photos and videos, I’ve seen a lot more feedback.”

Shelley particularly enjoys using the app Instagram, which allows users to snap a photo, apply a filter and then post to Facebook and Twitter.

“I was surprised. There are a lot of other dairy farmers on Instagram,” she says. “When you upload a photo, you’re able to tag it with a keyword like ‘cow’ or ‘farm,’ so it’s easy to find one another.”

She has found that she can keep a stock of photos on her phone and save them for days when there might not otherwise be much to post.

Shelley has also seen amazing results with photo contests.

“We’ve done ‘Name the calf’ contests and received upward of 50 comments with name suggestions,” she says. “That’s been fun for Dean and Debbie, too. After so many years of naming calves, they’ve started to run out of ideas.”

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She posts humorous photos and encourages Facebook fans to come up with a caption to go along with the photo. The latest, two cows that seemed to be having a conversation, spurred more than 20 submissions.

These particular contests don’t usually come with a prize. Alpine Hills Facebook fans are happy enough just to win the honor of coming up with the best caption or calf name.

Given the success of Alpine Hills’ online presence, Shelley has been asked to share her social media knowledge with others. The Colson family was featured as a DFA Mideast Member of Distinction and Shelley recently did an interview with the Michigan Farm Radio Network.

The host asked Shelley what was the biggest reason why producers should get involved with social media.

“Social media is where the people are,” she responded. “The last report I heard on the news the other day said there are now more than 800 million active Facebook users. What a great place to share your message. It’s free, it’s easy and, I think, pretty fun to do.” PD

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: Shelley Colson monitors websites, Facebook pages, a blog, a Twitter profile and a Pinterest account for Alpine Hills Dairy Farm and Country Pumpkins. Courtesy photo Dairy Farmers of America.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Colson enjoys receiving submissions in "Caption this" contests. Screen capture from Alpine Hills Dairy Farm Facebook page.

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Emily Caldwell
Editor
Progressive Dairyman
magazine

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