Sarah Kwast, Social Media Community Manager, Rooster Strategic Solutions

When it comes to targeting the Rural Lifestyle Audience, many marketers stop at the word “Rural,” focusing on the prospect’s country addresses. But while it may be true that all farmers are country folks, not all country folks are farmers. A better approach is to address their lifestyle, rather than their location. And when it comes to targeting lifestyle, social media – used correctly – is a very efficient and cost-effective tactic.

This is important because the Rural Lifestyle Audience (RLA) is growing, and fast. More than 60 million people – nearly one out of every five Americans – live in a rural area today. And according to a recent Pew Research study, 63 percent of those homes now have broadband internet connection. That’s nearly twice as many who had access in 2007. Increased adoption could grow annual revenues of rural small businesses by more than 21 percent over the next three years, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an increase of roughly $84 billion.

Here are a few tips to make your social plans work harder in Rural America.

It’s a content strategy, not a social strategy. For starters, social media should be just one tool in your toolbox, and part of an overall media plan. Pat Reese recently wrote a terrific article on how to create a comprehensive media plan to reach the RLA. Good content should work together in harmony, with established campaign goals and metrics.

Start with your own customer information. It’s likely better than any list you could buy. James Arnold penned an excellent article on how to target the RLA using your own first-person data, as well as the importance of getting your company’s website ready for a deluge of online shoppers.

Focus on the lifestyle. Not your product. People move out to the country for a reason. Because it’s quiet. They need space to grow a big garden. They want to raise some livestock, hunt and fish, or race ATVs across a pasture. Social media is the perfect opportunity to show these customers how your product or service can help them achieve the lifestyle they desire, turning the fantasy into a rural reality!

Choose your channels wisely. There are any number of popular social channels available, and it’s unlikely that you’ll have the time, money, and knowledge to use them all successfully – nor should you have to. Picking the right channel is simply a matter of knowing who you are and who your customers are.

Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla of social media. According to Pew Research, it’s the second-most-popular app in rural America, helping to connect generations of family members and friends. But it tends to skew older, and you can’t rely on organic posts as you once could because fewer than 7 percent of your intended audience will see your posts. And the site’s enhanced privacy settings are making it tougher to get a pulse on who’s seeing and sharing your messages.

Instagram, in my opinion, has the most potential to reach the RLA. It’s all about that picture-perfect sunset, the mud flying off the tractor’s tires, the shot of the kid standing on the edge of the field. Instagram is tailor-made for highlighting the rural lifestyle in all its glory.

Pinterest was third on Pew’s list of rural usage, and while I don’t argue with its popularity, I do question its effectiveness to help sell ag products and services. If I want a cheesy potato recipe, I know I can find one there, but the interface is hard to navigate, and execution isn’t easy. It’s a very whimsical platform that doesn’t necessarily line up with ag marketing intentions.

Twitter is a faster-moving platform, and it’s a great place to pump out a lot of info. Understanding how and when to use hashtags is a key to making it work for you. Also, keep an eye on social ads if you choose to market on Twitter. Sometimes the reach isn’t there.

Tik Tok is another platform with real promise for ag products and services, but using it properly requires both marketing expertise and significant video resources, which many small companies don’t have. Most ag companies would be better served partnering with social influencers and leveraging the Tik Tok followers they’ve already cultivated, particularly if those influencers are already living the kind of lives your prospects imagined when they moved to the country. Micro-influencers, defined as those who have fewer than 10,000 followers, are a particularly good option for ag companies, providing excellent exposure to a dedicated, motivated, and very loyal fan base. It’s a very cost-effective tactic, making it an excellent option for marketers who don’t have large budgets.

Don’t forget about YouTube. It’s easy to forget that in addition to being the second most-popular search engine after Google, YouTube is a social medium as much as it’s a video library. In fact, the Pew study mentioned above rates YouTube the most-popular app in rural America, and by a significant margin. Very few people will seek out brands on YouTube, but brands can find people there, if they know their audience. If you have good first-party data and possess video assets that highlight how your products and services can help prospects live the rural lifestyle, YouTube can provide a tremendous opportunity to help you reach and convert RLA prospects.

Again, you don’t have to be on every social channel to reach the RLA. Some of the channels won’t make sense for your business. But sometimes it makes sense to try different channels with similar messaging and see which of your posts perform better, then focus on the media that provoked the strongest responses.

If you have questions about how to use social media to expand your business to the Rural Lifestyle Audience, or you’re not sure where or how to begin, I’d love to have a conversation.