Kate MacLean is the owner of Longest Acres Farm in Chelsea, Vermont. You can follow her farm on Instagram at @longestacresfarm. She and her sister are writing a forthcoming children's book centered around farm life.

Where Part 1 in our mini series tackling farmers and social media gave a brief and basic introduction to using Instagram on your farm, Part 2 will tackle the nuance of using this platform successfully. Anybody can log onto the platform, create a profile and post photos. The trick is doing so in a way that speaks to the strangers -and potential customers- on the other side of your phone.

The author's 'Best 9'.

Rules for Successful Engagement:

1. Defining a Narrative. At its best, Instagram is a storytelling platform. At its worst it is an addictive app where one can lose hours to inanity. To make Instagram worth it for both you and those who choose to follow you, it is imperative to pick a compelling narrative. This needn’t be specific and narrow but should be one that is personal and relatable. This narrative can be as specific as growing saffron organically in New England  to something as broad as homesteading in South Dakota. Think of your narrative as a mission statement for your account. Something that followers can immediately understand and appreciate when they first visit your account.

2. Your ‘Best 9’. When publishing a new post, think of it visually in relation to the other posts published before it. Specifically how it looks in conjunction with the eight that precede it. These nine photos are what new followers will first see when coming to your account and will be what almost wholly make up their judgement to (or not to) follow you. You want the posts to give a cohesive vibe whether by color palette or subject matter. Either way, consider your most recent nine the ‘spokesphotos’ for your account. It is up to them to grow your audience.

3. Personal versus Public accounts. If you like the platform enough to want to share photos of your personal life consider a personal account and the option of making it private. When considering the rights of children there are ethical decisions to be made about using their images to promote a business for which they are not directly paid.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t post photos of your children at all on a public account. That is a decision between you and your partner. However, it is imperative to consider the ethics of doing so before you do. As your business account grows you want to take stock of the strangers -perhaps ones that will never even visit your farm- having a look into your private life.  You can more freely post photos of your children and your off-farm life on a personal and private account.  This private account can be reserved for friends and family to document your off-farm life.

The author's dog, a recurring character in her on-going Instagram narrative.

4. Stick with your Narrative When you have defined your narrative stick with it. If for example your narrative is that you are an organic egg farmer and you interrupt your normal photos for a few posts of you eating dinner on vacation you will inevitably notice a decline in your engagement. The majority of your followers don’t care about your personal life or your vacation.  They care about pretty eggs, and chicken portraits and animal rights and food production. If they wanted to see photos of food that you didn’t grow they would likely follow a chef, or a restaurant. However, photos of a farm you visited on vacation could be of interest. As would photos of a dinner you made of food you grew. The key is in keeping to the themes of your narrative.

5. Posting Often. As mentioned briefly in Part 1 you want to post with regularity on Instagram. Finding images and thoughtful captions to post every day can be a laborious and time consuming effort. Aim for 3-4 posts a week, to keep engagement up and your narrative relevant among consumers. You can consider scheduling these posts through an app like Later or Buffer.  Or you can simply save them in your Instagram app as drafts to be published at even intervals through the week.

Use Stories to post everyday. These must be engaging as well or your followers will skip over them. Resist the urge to post a dozen photos of your harvest from different angles. Those days of Internet interest in the minutiae of daily life are past. These needn't be visually arresting shots however. This is the perfect part of the platform for short videos of How To’s etc... Stories are meant to be posted throughout the day. The algorithm works in such a way that if your followers are viewing your stories often (and not skipping through them or over them)  then your posts and stories will also come up first in their feed. If you do not post stories and you are seldomly posting videos you can be sure that your account -and the little content it has- will be buried by the algorithm and your engagement will decline quickly.

One of the author's educational posts includes a book review and tags to other Instagram accounts of interest.

6. Educate As discussed in Part 1 there is an undeniable fad to fetishize the rural lifestyles of farmers. It is to our benefit to take advantage of such fetishiziation so as to get more likes/comments/shares/followers/customers. However, it is our responsibility as shepherds of both animals and land to use this opportunity to gently but methodically educate our followership. If non-farmers continue to fetishize you at a superficial level only then you can be certain no appreciable gains will be made in your business and in organic farming at large.  Followers don’t respond well to whiny or pedantic or angry. Unlike the real word, in the online world they owe you nothing and thus can easily mute, unfollow, or even block you for such tone. However, they do respond well to patient enlightenment.  Use Instagram to gently and persistently educate on the differences between organic and conventional growing,  on food injustice and food apartheid, on the nutritional benefits of microgreens and grass-fed beef, on the life of a factory caged laying hen versus the one that yours is living.

Instagram for your brand/business/farm is an active form of advertising that takes time and thought. By following these six guidelines you can take your account to the next level attracting more followers and thereby (ideally) broadening your customer base. If you are to make the public’s interest in your farm a sustainable one you must treat it as you treat the soil you grow in and upon; with gentle, consistent, and attentive care.