Social media have gained such prominence in the marketing business that some apple shippers have hired specialists to focus on the area.

About a year ago, Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. LLC hired Natasha Johnson as its social media director.

The position had to be filled, given the company’s array of online activities, said Kevin Steiner, marketing director.

“We have Twitter and Facebook and launched a new website, and (Johnson) has worked on some different programs with some of our retail partners, where we’ve actually utilized social media in conjunction with our retailers to drive customers to their store,” Steiner said.

Johnson’s list of responsibilities includes sending Tweets about certain promotions of Sage products at a particular store and sending information to retailers for their social media sites, Steiner said.

“We work with one retailer and they have a Facebook page and we have a Facebook page, so we’ve been able to connect with them that way,” Steiner said. “Anybody who goes to that retailer’s Facebook page can come to our page for more information on the commodities that they have in their stores.”

Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, said he has sent off the occasional tweet and social media are part of everyday marketing life at Stemilt.

Company products bear a quick-response, or QR, code that can convey information to a consumer’s mobile phone about an individual product, such as Stemilt’s Piñata variety, Pepperl said.

“The QR code has been used in Japan for years,” he said. “If you have a BlackBerry with a camera in it or iPhone, you take a picture of it and the phone will read the QR code and it will send you a link for a website.”

Product information can be sent directly to a phone via Stemilt’s mobile website, Pepperl said.

“You text a number and ‘pinata’ and send it, and the site will automatically send the mobile website to your telephone,” Pepperl said. “It will tell you all about it and how to use it and recipes.”

Of course, the company’s traditional website is there, as well, Pepperl said.

“We maybe get 6,000 hits on our website every week and it’s growing,” he said. “We’re hoping to grow all these numbers. It will happen, but it takes time.”

The Lansing-based Michigan apple Committee reports that it has 3,561 fans on its Facebook page.

“It’s been going for about a year and a half, and we actively post comments, whether it’s which apples are in season or are available to little mentions of our contests and giveaways,” said Holly Whetstone, marketing and communications specialist with the committee. “

The committee’s executive director, Denise Donohue, is an active participant, Whetstone said.

“She is tweeting, out there posting pictures when she’s out in the orchards, where the crop is,” Whetstone said. “She’s posting bloom pictures right up until harvest. It’s a week-by-week account of the apple harvest.”

The committee also has been posting videos on YouTube for the last couple of years, often from events in which the organization is involved, Whetstone said.

“It’s a great vehicle to reach a lot of people,” she said of social media outlets. “Other than the staff time, which is very minimal, it’s basically a free tool to get the message out there, so we try to take full advantage of that.”

The Fishers-based New York Apple Association Inc., which released an application for iPhone and iPod Touch devices about a year ago, also has seen some success with social media, said Jim Allen, president.

“It falls into play with all the social media tools,” he said of the iPhone/iPod app. “There is a farm market app that’s very popular. It’s all over. You can go on and punch in where you are and the GPS will tell you where the closest farm market or pick-your-own operation is.”