Anyone who doubts that hay growers have entered a new age of marketing and communication should talk with the Round brothers – Clint and Casey – about their experiences in setting up The Hay Connection Facebook page.
Clint, a 30-year-old insurance adjuster in Glenpool, OK, came up with the idea after hearing how producers and horse owners in the drought-stricken southwestern U.S. were having difficulties locating hay supplies. "My brother and I were raised on a ranch (near Jay, OK), and we still have a lot of connections to agriculture," says Clint, who has an ag communications degree. "I started thinking that Facebook would be a great way to connect buyers, sellers and haulers."
He spent a couple of hours setting up the page and had it ready to go by 9 p.m. Over the next 24 hours, more than 350 people, mostly from Oklahoma and Texas, posted on the page. By the end of the next day, the number had mushroomed to more than 1,000.
Clint asked Casey, a rancher and horse trainer from Big Cabin, OK, to help monitor the page. "At first, we'd go to the site and see who was looking for hay," explains Casey, 34, who has degrees in animal science and ag economics. "Then we'd do an Internet search, looking at sites like Craigslist, and see what was available in the area the poster was looking in. We'd send him a message to let him know what we'd found. It took up every minute of our spare time.
"It's amazing when you think about it. I can be on my iPhone and track down a supply of hay anywhere in the world in just a few minutes' time. Basically, what we're doing is using new technology to address an old problem."
Over the next several days, the number of postings and the geographic reach of the site continued to increase. "We started seeing posts from Arizona, New Mexico and California," says Clint. "Then it was Washington, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota. It just kept growing and growing. It was crazy."
At the end of the week, Clint was interviewed about the page by local television stations, and a CBS affiliate made its segment available to other CBS outlets around the country. "Later in the day, in about a 20-minute time span, we saw the number of posts jump from 2,700 to over 3,500," notes Casey. "It was pretty incredible."
By Sept. 4, roughly three weeks after the page was launched, more than 9,000 people had signed up as "fans." The Round brothers' workload in running the page has steadily diminished as user numbers have grown. They check the page several times a day to see if users have problems finding what they need. "If so, we'll try to hunt something up for them," says Casey. "But for the most part, the users are reacting to each other's posts. That's the way Facebook works."
The brothers plan to stay with the project as long as users post. "It looks like hay supplies will be tight all winter, so there will be a need," says Casey.
Clint is looking for ways to better organize the posts on the site. "Now the posts just go onto the page in the order they come in. I want to see if there might be a way to categorize things by buyer, seller or hauler."
A minor shortcoming of Facebook is that it doesn't show how users can connect with each other. "We do get a post once in awhile hearing from people who have found what they needed," says Clint. "Overall, we just have to assume that people are hooking up. We just hope that it is doing some good."
The brothers have no interest in making money off the project. "This is about people helping people in a time of need," says Clint. "In hard times like these, people don't need to pay for something like this."
"It's worked," adds Casey, "because people in the agriculture community have stepped forward to help others. It really says a lot about that particular community in general. It's been absolutely great watching this thing grow."
Clint Round can be contacted at 918-557-7500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Casey Round, call 918-520-5208 or email email@example.com.
Editor's Note: Been using Facebook or Twitter as part of your marketing strategy? We'd like to hear about your experiences. Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.