The Northwest Cherry Growers is increasingly turning to blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter to promote the crop, said James Michael, promotions director for the Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash.

And a growing number of grower-packer-shippers are following suit.

One of the benefits is digital media’s timeliness, Michael said.

“Social media is a quick response, connecting consumers and word-of-mouth advertising, and all of those things line up with cherries,” he said. “We’re not a canned soup company or in paper towels. We’re in the market for a few short weeks, even with the later cherries, and then we’re gone for another year.”

That’s not to say that Northwest Cherries is abandoning print media, Michael said. Print media is still a large portion of the group’s efforts.

But print, with its long lead times, can be a challenge. It’s difficult to know how the crop will shape up in March and April, when magazine writers face deadlines for June and July issues.

Internet bloggers, on the other hand, offer immediacy, Michael said. As the first cherries come off the trees, Northwest Cherries sends samples to key bloggers.

The bloggers then put the word out to typically thousands of followers, who may pass the information along to their friends, and word-of-mouth advertising takes off.

“We’re a couple months out from the first cherry being picked, and we don’t know the exact date it will start,” Michael said. “But with bloggers, it doesn’t really matter.”

Food — and especially seasonal produce such as cherries — also is a key conversation point within the different digital venues, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers.

“People talk about food,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘I just saw some great cherries here.’ In no time, they’ll blog about the product on social media.”

Social media also is used frequently by core cherry buyers — those with higher educations and incomes of more than $75,000, Michael said. Many tend to be empty nesters or couples with older children, while others fall into the transitional generation — those younger than 30 years old but without children, he said.

Getting social with consumers

Stemilt Growers Inc., the Wenatchee, Wash.-based grower-shipper, has a blog, Facebook page and Twitter and YouTube accounts, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director. However, he said the company places the most emphasis on connecting with consumers through Facebook.

“We try to tell people what’s happening. We have pictures of the trees, pictures of the people in the orchards,” Pepperl said. “We’re trying to bring the orchard to their home.”

Stemilt Growers has more than 7,000 Facebook fans, but he said he hopes to build that to more than 100,000.

Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, began putting quick-response codes on its apple bags during spring 2011 and subsequently rolled them out on all cherry bags and clamshells for the entire cherry season, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager.

The QR codes take consumers to a mobile website where they can learn about cherries, such as the differences between rainiers and dark sweet cherries.

In July 2011 alone, the mobile site received 2,000 hits, he said.

This year, Superfresh Growers plans to add videos featuring the crop’s progress.

“Cherries are really about the locale where they’re grown rather than local — you just can’t grow a cherry anywhere,” Queen said. “Consumers like to know who’s growing their fruit. Especially with cherries, it’s family farmers who are hand-growing each cherry for them to eat.”