Thursday, August 20, 2015

Agro-Know and social media: The progress in one year

One of the nice things in Agro-Know is the fact that you have the opportunity to get involved in various interesting tasks and change the focus of your work (which is good in some cases). In this context, I had the opportunity to focus on Agro-Know's marketing activities, tools and strategy; something that I have really enjoyed (at this point, I spend more time in the Project Management Department of Agro-Know, supporting its Director Nikos Marianos in various tasks).

As a Marketing & Networks Manager of Agro-Know I had the opportunity to combine my domain-specific expertise that allowed me to identify of at least the basic concepts, the main stakeholders and the identification of topics of interest, with a basic (at least) knowledge of the use of social media and marketing tools. Skills like communication, writing and copywriting/copyediting, desktop research and analysis of data, even photography and networking are also the ones that are needed for such a position and I tried to work on them; in fact, I still do as I am really interested in this kind of work - I even got invited to an interview by Agora MedSpring about the use of social media on the dissemination of information and knowledge.

What I did during this year was to focus on something that I really enjoyed; social media. Starting with our (almost inactive) Twitter account and also the fresh Facebook page of Agro-Know, I worked not only on trying to share quality content that would bring value to the company but also to identify the audience that would be interested in this content and build a community of engaged users. My aim was to create a buzz around the Agro-Know brand and share news related to the activities and outcomes of Agro-Know as well as quality content on agrifood information and knowledge management, covering topics such as open access and open data, linked open data, research outcomes, EU-funded research projects and proposals, interviews with people that work on these topics etc. At the same time, I tried to provide an insight on Agro-Know as a team, providing information on its members, activities in the office, internal culture and a more informal side of Agro-Know - just to show its human aspect.

Number of Twitter followers

At the same time, I experimented with Agro-Know's Google+ page (which is updated more or less like the Facebook one), I tried to keep the Flickr and Slideshare accounts updated and introduced a new tool, Instagram (which started as an informal experiment and now it's another tool in our social media arsenal). On top of that, I dedicated time and effort in transforming Agro-Know's LinkedIn page, which currently features 155 followers.

Number of Facebook likes
Number of followers on LinkedIn

However, the main source of content was published through the Wordpress-based Agro-Know blogwhich allows us to share news, updates, events and even personal opinions on topics of interest. Even though it is not as teamwork as I would like it to be, I believe that it has great potential as long as it is frequently updated with quality content. It can and should be used by everyone in the team (we also invite guest bloggers to contribute!) to share their work, concerns and ideas on what we are working on.

AK blog page views for the last year

The analytics of all the aforementioned tools used show that indeed the numbers are growing; likes and followers are increased, the same goes for retweets and shares, blog subscriptions are constantly growing etc. In addition, taking advantage of major events and using their special hashtags, participation in related online conversations can boost engagement and reach. But how does this affect Agro-Know (in a positive way)?

I am afraid that I do not have the answer to this question; it seems that it is really hard to identify the impact that all this time and effort put in our social media have in the progress of the company. I know that our social media presence is appreciated by several people that I /we admire and appreciate their own work but we cannot go further than that.

What I have noticed during this year is the fact that while sharing and liking seems to go pretty well (after all, it is only a matter of pressing a button in all cases), we receive no feedback on our content; only a few responses/comments have been received to our (currently) 200 blog posts (most of them within the team), our tweets very rarely get responses (not referring to retweets but to replies) and no comments appear below our Facebook posts. Some of the possible factors include

  • the lack of time for commenting and replying; in contrast to liking/retweeting and sharing, responding takes time for putting thoughts in order and expressing them in a logical way, 
  • the abundance of information constantly shared through social media and blogs, 
  • the high number of content sources that potential stakeholders need to access;
  • the lack of interest in general and 
  • (hopefully not!) the low quality of the content.

Information and knowledge sharing, especially in the agrifood sector, is a hot topic nowadays and I can see several vacancies related to this context (something that highlights the need for staff with specific skills). My experience so far shows that there is a wealth of information and knowledge to be shared and at the same time a long way to go for ensuring the optimal sharing of this content. At the same time, there are multiple platforms that share similar content and this renders the identification of quality content harder, as a content consumer needs to access multiple content sources. Aggregators like Agrifeeds partially solve the problem, by aggregating feeds from multiple sources (mostly blogs and websites) and offering user-defined RSS feeds, but still content shared through social media is not available through Agrifeeds. 

Ideally, a platform allowing users to select the feeds they want from a predefined list or to add their own sources; something like Agrifeeds or the most widely known Feedly do but with more options and a better, more user-friendly interface. Even though this solution would (partially) solve the problem of multiple content sources and lack of time, still there's not much that can be done in terms of lack of interest as well as the low quality of the content. 

In the end, the same question remains unanswered: Does it worth the effort and cost for working on the dissemination of agrifood research outcomes and other news? Does this actually pay back in any way?

P.S. What I didn't do during this year? I did not put enough time on updating the printed marketing material of Agro-Know (after all the changes in the team and focus of our work were constant and significant so it would have been obsolete in a short time), neither on our corporate website (which surely needs a nice facelift in terms of content). As regards printed material, I believe that it shouldn't be the main marketing tool; as for the website...revisions are on their way!

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