Online Rural Communities

There is a slow but steady wave of change hitting the agriculture industry around the way in which we engage in social media. With that change, has come the discovery of different forms of social media for specific uses. The form I have found to be most valuable over the past 3 years, is the Facebook feature ‘Groups’.

The ‘Groups’ feature is fantastic for community based projects and connecting people with similar views, thoughts, hobbies or jobs. It is especially useful in rural communities, due to the vast distance between farms, small towns and helps bridge the gap between face to face meet ups. The benefit in a Facebook group as opposed to a Facebook ‘Like’ page is member involvement. The members of the group control the quantity of what goes into the page on a day to day basis, while the administrators control the quality of that.

My first involvement with running a group came in early 2013, with Farming Mums NZ. FMNZ began as a ‘Like Page’ which soon proved to be unsuitable for what it was needed for. Three months later I changed the format from a ‘Like Page’ to a ‘Facebook Group’ and watched it grow very successfully and organically.

The group started with a loose direction. With my initial thoughts being aimed at the young mum, who has just left their city job. Moved onto the farm to have kids and play ‘Farmers Wife’, whether that be strictly by choice or due to geography. Feeling like ‘Just a Farmers Wife’ was quite a patronising term, was where the name Farming Mums came in. Giving a relatable practicality and ability to the group and its members.

When starting a specific community page some questions need to be asked. Is there something out there similar? Is there a need for it? Who will the group be for? How will you ensure it runs smoothly and is set up for longevity? Do you have any non-negotiable rules?

Farming Mums has gone from zero members in 2013 to 5500 members now in 2015.A large part of its success comes down to continual close monitoring by a team of great administrators and a water tight Code of Conduct. Helping to keep things fair, for both members and admin when it comes to warnings and removal from the page. Every day we have 100-170 individual posts, each of them with 10-120 comments and a history of up to 700 ‘likes’ in some special cases

In addition to the main FMNZ page, ‘FMNZ Classifieds’was created. To keep down sales clutter on the main discussion page, it currently has 2500 members and is growing as well.

I went on to use a similar theory for the next generation of the deer industry (‘Next Generation Deer Farmers’) There was certainly nothing else out there like it and was there a need for it? I believed so and what’s the harm in trying?

NGDF started with the same basic principle of allowing easy contact between deer farmers that live throughout the country. It was a good 6 months before first mention and putting it into action as people weren’t convinced that it would take off due to the belief that it wouldn’t be used. Fast forward a year and we now have 107 members (at least 80% being male) with an average of one to three per week joining which doesn’t sound like a lot, but for the size of the deer industry it’s not too bad! With the industry being a shrinking one I believe that every form of contact, encouragement and resource is crucial. The group also has key members of the industry amongst it, allowing it to be a useful farming tool of great advice with a quick turn around.

Facebook groups are a priceless addition to a group or organisation where communication is key to its success and in places where geographical obstacles create barriers – Rural living being the perfect example of this.

UPDATE 3/4/17

Nearly one year one and we have gone from 5500 members as noted above to over 8600 today. We have a team of 7 excellent administrators and have been going from strength to strength. Late last year we also self published our own 'FMNZ Cookbook'! We have only 200 left out of 2000 and at the end will have raised $10,000 for the Rural Support Trust and $10,000 for St John Ambulance.
We are extremely proud of it and you can find it here on the Young Rural Ladies Marketplace.

You can also find us online at www.farmingmumsnz.com

My name is Chanelle O’Sullivan. I originally studied agriculture, before moving south onto a Station, followed by a stint dairy farming. After 3 years vet nursing, I am now a Mum to 2 kids and creator of Farming Mums NZ and ‘Just' a Farmers Wife while also now working for Landcare. 
Find Chanelle's instagram here