James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Social listening: It’s like eavesdropping on conversations when your customers, prospects, and interested bystanders talk about your industry, your company, and your brand. At Rooster, we believe so strongly in social listening it was one of the first tools we unveiled to clients. Why? Because social listening is as valuable as it is difficult.

The value is obvious. You can monitor conversations you might not otherwise hear from farmers, as well as investors, industry insiders, activists, and fans. You gain a much better understanding of the conversations in which you need to participate – and those you should avoid. Social listening helps you shape messaging and scheduling. It’s very powerful knowledge.

But it’s also difficult to manage. Few of our clients have full-time social staff, and none of them have the manpower to provide the full-time monitoring that social listening demands. To date in 2020 there have been more than 3 million mentions about agriculture in social media, online news articles, blog posts, and chat rooms. Having a tool to aggregate and compile all these – plus a person to analyze and prioritize the mentions – is more than most companies are willing to absorb. That’s why Rooster provides this service to our clients.

So, as we look back on the social world of 2020 and its 3 million agricultural mentions – which, for the record, led to a total reach of 4.7 billion and 28 billion total impressions – what were farmers saying?

April 11 – We need a better response to the pandemic. Farmers, like everyone else, were caught unprepared by Covid-19. A perceived unpreparedness by the federal government complicated the situation.  One tweet summed it up best. “Farmers dumped 11% of the milk supply, poultry producers broke eggs this week no longer needed by restaurants, schools, and hotels. 10,000 cars lined up for food in San Antonio. Our federal gov’t has done nothing to plan for strains on our food supply, which was obv coming.”

That farmers were frustrated wasn’t surprising. However, the volume and the sentiment of this frustration was shocking. In a normal day we see roughly 8,000 agricultural mentions. On this particular day there were more than 22,000. Our tool uses AI to measure the emotions of the messages from surprise to fear to joy to disgust. On this day, the overwhelming emotion was disgust, to the tune of 1,172 percent above normal.

What can we learn from this? Tread carefully. Many companies plan evergreen social messaging months in advance and are counseled to use humor whenever possible to increase engagement. This wasn’t the time for that, of course. If you’re a leader in the food arena and already developed plans and programs to ease the financial burdens of farmers, this was a good time to double-down on paid, targeted social. For all others, it was a good time to step aside. Even well-intentioned but generic “we’re with you” messaging came off as tone deaf.

June 17 – Cautious optimism on trade with China. Although exit polls last month suggest that farmers overwhelmingly voted for President Trump, trade policies were a hot topic all year. This spiked on June 17. One example: “he asked Mr. Xi to buy a lot of American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. And then Trump forced meat packing plants to open just so they could export to China.”

And when I say spiked, I mean spiked. In addition to measuring emotion, our social tool categorizes messages into buckets such as Agronomy, Animal Health, or Precision Equipment. The category where this fell averages 150 messages per hour; at 12 pm we counted just over 500. At 2 pm we clocked more than 4,700. Then it died, just as quickly as it rose. The overwhelming sentiment we measured was “neutral.”

What can we learn from this? Despite the surprising outburst, this wasn’t really a story. Famers were excited, then they weren’t. Measuring the longevity of conversations is almost as important as the number of conversations.

September 14 to 28 – A mixed bag of emotion. As corn growers were gearing up for harvest, there was a flurry of announcements on ethanol, sustainability, water management, and more. The number of messages averaged more than 15,000 per day over this 2-week period, well above normal. Sentiment was all over the board, with “joy” and “anger” sharing equal billing.

So, what did farmers really think? It depended on the topic. And when volume is that high, it’s easy to lose sight of your objectives. Our tool was able to segregate positive mentions in a few key areas, such as conversations about sustainability among corn growers, in which our clients were able to participate.

Lessons you can learn from social listening. These were just a few of the major topics that farmers discussed last year. Hopefully these examples demonstrate the power and importance of having a social listening tool with knowledgeable ag experts analyzing the data.

This includes:

  • Getting down to the nitty gritty. In 2020 I used social listening to research specialty crops, grain storage, and specific on-farm technology, among others. The closer you can get to a company or industry, the better. Our tool lets me get pretty granular.
  • Making apples-to-apples comparisons. Take the seed category, for example. Not all brands are competitors, and they go to market differently. So, when farmers or insiders discuss seed companies you need a tool that can differentiate these messages.
  • Measuring sentiment. There’s an old adage in Public Relations, “All publicity is good publicity.” That’s not the case in social media. Bad publicity can seriously injure or even destroy a company. Knowing how many times people mention your company is important; knowing whether these mentions are positive or negative and whether they expressed joy or disgust is even more important.
  • Knowing who’s influential and who’s not. Social media is full of posters who talk a lot without saying much. But if you know where and how to look, you can identify people in your industry with actual influence. Those are the ones with which you want to spend time building relationships.
  • Proving ROI. Most companies who employ social listening do so reactively, using the tool to monitor conversations and decide whether or not to engage. There’s nothing wrong with this. But a good tool will also help you measure the effectiveness of a program or campaign when you actively plan to listen to key individuals or groups after it’s launched.

Simply put, social listening should be an integral part of your overall marketing strategy. If you’re ready to implement a listening program, I’d love to have a conversation.