Patrick Smith

Executive Director, Target Activation Group

Smart and social: Trends in key agricultural audiences’ media use

Audiences are the Garfunkel to messaging’s Simon: No better harmony exists than a message aptly delivered to the right receiver. To prevent tone-deafness and understand the trends in how key agricultural audiences use media outlets, Bader Rutter launched the now biennial Future of Communications Audience Insights Study (FOC) in 2010.

What started as a means to an end — recognition of trends — has become a mainstay resource for understanding media and information-gathering habits of key audiences across agriculture.

As we unpack the 2016 data and assemble the full report, important insights have emerged pointing to which channels our audiences are using.

When asked what media respondents “currently read, view, visit, attend or use for valuable industry information,” agricultural magazines top the list at 92 percent. Trade print has reigned as the first-place information source since 2010, and is even up this year from 86 percent in the 2014 study. What we do know about this audience is their hunger for information. Print has always been a first place to turn for industry news, and it likely remains in the top spot both because of quality content and its legacy with this audience. We anticipate, however, that this will change as a true generational shift takes hold. Publishing mainstays demonstrate this thinking as well, as they have all expanded their digital content offerings in recent years.

These print resources do not exist in a vacuum for our audiences. Respondents’ use of digital technologies for information continues to grow in two key ways.

Nearly 50 percent of our growers are using social media channels such as forums, blogs and YouTube to get their breaking news. While “dialogue with others” as a reason to be on social has decreased, information-seeking has not. Ag-specific message boards and LinkedIn surpass other channels for “business only” use, creating demand for digital engagement from expert resources.

And this savvy reveals itself as one might predict — younger growers and producers have adopted social channels for business information at a higher rate than their counterparts in previous generations.

But millennials’ adoption of digital technologies does not solely account for our audiences’ continued attention to social channels. Older growers are also adopting the channels, albeit at a lesser rate, bolstering the trend. In fact, 47 percent of those 48 to 57 years old and 33 percent of those 58 to 67 years old use social for information.

Our growers’ increased social activity is happening primarily on a smartphone. Growth in mobile is significant from 2010 to 2016, but tablet use has stalled. In 2012, based on the survey, we anticipated tablet use growth in the 2016 report, and instead, it’s dropped. Just like in the consumer market, the initial projections for tablet growth were stunted by the growing size of the smartphone.

Digital and mobile technologies strike a resonant chord with multiple generations now, and trade print trends do sustain. Trends in channel use, however, point to a more distinct preference for digital overall as we fully shift to the next generation of agricultural growers and producers.

We’ll continue to publish insights from the study as we assemble the full report.

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