By Nick Smith
Social media use in forestry has grown exponentially in recent years. Loggers, log haulers, foresters, and others in our industry have embraced it as an efficient way to connect with people. The question is no longer if we should use social media. Rather, it’s how we use it to grow our businesses and organizations, influence public policy, and educate the general public about forestry. This column provides some advice on how to think strategically about social media, and how to use these tools for branding your business and developing a social media presence.
Identify your goals
Many of us know we want to use social media, but few of us ask why we want to use it. What are your goals? If it’s simply to connect with family and friends, you probably don’t need a plan. But if you wish to use social media to grow your business or support the practice of forestry, defining your goals will make it easier to determine your audience; what you want your audience to do; and what content will get your audience to do those things that help accomplish your goals.
Know your audience
To achieve your goals, you need to understand your target audience, what motivates them to act, and even which social media sites they use. When messaging to your target audience, keep WII-FM in mind: “What’s in it for me?”
For example, if you’re a logger seeking to promote your business, your target audience might be forest landowners. Because forest landowners tend to be an older demographic, they are statistically more likely to use Facebook. If a forest landowner is looking for a contract logger, they may not care whether you have the biggest and baddest machinery. They’re probably more interested in the professionalism of your work. That’s why posting an “after” photo of a quality logging operation, along with a positive customer testimonial, may result in new business.
If your goal is to attract new employees or reach younger people, then your social media strategy and tactics may be different. You may use LinkedIn for professional networking, or Instagram that attracts a younger demographic. Your social media posts may focus on the benefits provided to employees, opportunities for advancement, or the culture of safety within your company. Whatever your goals, keep in mind that “people don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”
Share content that makes a difference
Marketing research suggests that the most effective forms of digital communications are those with visual content, especially in forestry and natural resources. On social media, people are spending less time reading and more time watching. Whether you’re seeking to attract new business or recruit new employees, let your photos and videos tell your story. Your smartphone probably has all that you need to shoot, edit, and upload high-quality content. Just remember, your social media account is your brand. Whatever you post is going to affect your reputation, and if (for example) you wish to showcase your logging operation, make sure your crew complies with all safety regulations. OSHA is watching.
Use marketing tools to reach and grow your audience
You don’t need a “social media guru” if you’re willing to invest time and a little bit of money to grow your online following. By setting up a business account in Facebook, for example, you will have access to incredible marketing and advertising tools to ensure you reach your target audience. Most social media sites offer features and functions that help you target specific groups of people in specific locations with specific interests, such as those who often consume information about forestry and logging. To take your social media to the next level, take time to learn these tools because even minor investments in social media marketing can yield substantial returns that help you reach your goal.
Educate, advocate, and amplify
Social media gives us the ability to educate the general public about forestry and the forest products industry, without depending on the mainstream media to accurately tell our stories. It’s up to us to use these tools to inform others about what we do in the woods, why we do it, and what motivates us as stewards of the forests. Using these social media tools strategically helps us move the needle and gain the so-called “social license” to continue harvesting.
Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (HFHC) uses Facebook to inform hundreds of thousands of people about the need for active forest management on federal lands, and to provide meaningful opportunities to positively influence policies that affect our timber communities. Increasingly we are using Instagram (@healthyforestshc) to reach new audiences and educate them about forestry and address misconceptions about modern logging on public lands.
As I’ve written in previous columns, #TimberUnity demonstrates the power of using Facebook to politically organize peers in logging, trucking, and natural resource communities. Both HFHC and #TimberUnity use social media strategically to educate, advocate, and amplify our messages to achieve important goals. By thinking and acting strategically, social media can also be used to protect and grow our businesses, so our entire industry is prepared for a bright future. Take time to learn and practice. It’s worth it.
Nick Smith is Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (healthyforests.org) and provides public affairs services to the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, Oregon.
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