'Today's consumer still cares what it looks and tastes like but wants more ...'
By DAN WHEAT
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Social media is an evolution of communication, an open dialogue, that is changing the way people buy produce, increasing contact between producer and consumer, a social media expert says.
Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tMedia Strategies, of New York, spoke to about 500 Northwest growers attending the 70th annual Cherry Institute at the Yakima Convention Center on Jan. 11. It's the annual meeting of the Washington State Fruit Commission and its affiliated Northwest Cherry Growers with members in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.
"I remember going to the store with grandma, picking up fruit and squeezing it and we bought it if it felt good and looked good," said Miklusak, who has an executive master's degree in business administration, a master's degree in integrated online marketing and Fortune 500 companies as clients.
"Today's consumer still cares what it looks and tastes like but wants more information," she said.
People want to know where produce is grown, how many calories it has and everything else they can find out about it. People use smartphones to get information about items as they stand in the store deciding whether to buy it.
"When we touch someone twice, they tend to remember a message," Miklusak said. Social media can be the next best thing to that touch, reaching out in education, collaboration and entertainment, she said.
A California avocado grower's mother started a Facebook page for his fresh avocados and now they ship to 17 states, Miklusak said. It was done not with a hard sales pitch, but simply providing information about what he does, his avocados and their health benefits, she said.
Northwest Cherry Growers created social media buzz last season with its promotional Rainier Cherry Day by engaging chefs from one iconic restaurant in each state to design menu items incorporating cherries and the cuisine for which the state is known, Miklusak said. It got people talking about cherries, said James Michael, domestic promotions director for Northwest Cherry Growers.
Miklusak said she met a woman in Yakima who didn't know about a nearby blueberry outlet until she found it on Facebook.
People spend more time on social media sites than static websites and that's eroding sales borders at minimal cost, she said.
"We have a generation C3 -- a collaborative, creative class -- not defined by age that wants to understand the day in the life of a grower, the process, the people behind the brand," Miklusak said. "There's a blurring of the line between the personal and professional in the social sphere."
She urged growers to identify opportunities by listening and then asking themselves how they can use social media. Talking about an item's health benefits is a good way to start, she said. Agchat.org is a resource for growers getting into social media and food-hub.org connects growers to distributors, she said.
"Social media is not that different," she said. "It's just evolution of communication. It's what you've always done. It's just messaging in a different way."