By Chandler Bruns, Social Media Manager, Rooster Strategic Solutions

The Half Century of Progress Show is a popular biennial event held in Rantoul, Illinois, with a footprint of more than 300 acres devoted to displaying, demonstrating, and discussing vintage tractors and agricultural practices. Its fans are passionate and many; the show has increased in size every year, with more than 50,000 people attending over four days this past August.

Frankly speaking, the show doesn’t really need to advertise. However, its coordinators already had a relationship with Rooster Strategic Solutions, so when we told them I could help make the show even more popular and more engaging using social media – and without breaking the bank – they were interested.

The results exceeded our expectations. And, because Half Century of Progress was nice enough to let me tell their story, it might serve as a case study for other ag companies and organizations who want to increase their own social performance and audience engagement.

Set realistic goals. Since HCOP hadn’t done much social promotion in the past, and because I wasn’t using any paid boosting, I set a fairly conservative goal: 300 to 500 followers on Twitter and Instagram. My first posts were in early June, roughly 12 weeks before the show opener. I started posting every other day, and as I got more information and better photos and videos, I became increasingly more aggressive – by the time August hit, I was tweeting five times per day, with an equivalent presence on Instagram. I was equally aggressive in the use of hashtags, using as many as 15 on some early tweets, and as many as 9 tags on Instagram photos.

Know your Audience. In both these cases – the volume of posts and the use of hashtags – I admittedly crossed over into territory that can only be described as “borderline spammy.” Cadence and tagging are tricky, and there’s a fine line between being conversational and being outright annoying; cross it, and you’ll quickly see your followers bail if they don’t feel like they have a connection with you. But in this case, it was a calculated risk. I knew that the people following HCOP were passionate about the show and its success, acting more as an affinity group than a customer base, and in this case, the more, the better. That’s obviously not always true, and it pays to know your audience. I also actively monitored response ­– several times per day – looking for people who might be dropping out; had I seen that, I would have backed down. I also made a point to like or respond to every person who engaged with my messages. This meant constantly monitoring the site, nights and weekends included, but I knew that HCOP is built on relationships, so simple courtesies would go a long way with this audience.

Target Key Influencers. Part of the reason I used as many tags as I did was to leverage existing groups who had established audiences that share similar interests to the group I was trying to build. I researched and found a number of existing accounts that were obvious, such as current or previous HCOP presenters, antique tractor clubs, and ag history buffs, as well as those that were merely related, such as socially active farm accounts, local media, and equipment manufacturers. Oddly enough, the second group performed as well as the first. It helped that I already have some credibility with farmers and ag professionals, having spent my life and professional career in and around the ag industry – I obviously wouldn’t have been as successful if the folks I tagged didn’t already know me or have friends who know me. But I also made a point to tweet at local media personalities in the area, as well as local meteorologists, and was amazed with the coverage they provided. It takes a lot of legwork, but when you’re as reliant on organic reach as I was, you look for anybody who can help spread the word.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time. The research and legwork, constant monitoring, and timely responses made this a full-time job, and then some – and all that was on top of the actual execution (finding/displaying photos and videos and crafting the messages). If you want to improve social performance and engagement at a meaningful level – with or without using paid social boosting – you must be prepared to have a knowledgeable person or team on the job at all times.

If you’re willing to make that kind of commitment, you can definitely see results – I was thrilled when we blew past my initial goal (300 to 500 followers) halfway through the campaign; by the end of the show, the goal was surpassed by a factor of 5. Even if you can’t dedicate the manpower, or don’t have the in-house expertise, it’s still possible to improve social performance and engagement –