Here’s a newsflash: social media is important! And it’s everywhere. It’s omnipresent in a way that feels a little…embarrassing to write about. Many of us spend more time than we’d ever admit scrolling, liking and wondering if our comments are clever enough and/or effectively emoji-ed. And though there does seem to be a growing trend of setting limits or abandoning the photoshopped world of stories, posts and grids entirely, it’s also just a given these days that if you run a business – even (or perhaps especially) a small business on a small island that prides itself on promoting all things homegrown, homemade and analog – that business will likely require a presence on social media.

This standard is arguably true for most, if not all, new Island businesses – from boutiques to barber shops, mechanics to yoga studios. But when it comes to Instagram perhaps no industry benefits from a better marriage of form and substance than the food and farming communities.

As manager of the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market (@westtisburyfarmersmarket) and founder of Fantzye Bagels (@fantzyebagels) and Fantzye Suppers (@fantzyesuppers), Elana Carson is responsible for updating a number of social media accounts. Since learning on the job at past positions at the Beach Plum Inn and Behind The Bookstore, she’s developed a style of casual yet informative posts, and tries to deliver content that will be relevant and entertaining to each target audience.

For the farmers’ market account, it’s less about updates and more about a mood or feeling. “The market has always been super nostalgic,” Elana said. “People have always loved to promote their favorite vendors. They come every week to get their produce, and then bring it home to cook a meal.”

This time-honored, seasonal routine finds an easy parallel online. Whereas once news of a particularly popular vendor or time-sensitive ingredient would spread by word of mouth, now market visitors can capture photographs of their shopping trips in real time, sharing the soup-to-nuts process of an Island meal with followers far and wide.

“Now people like to share their market haul,” Elana said. “They’ll share the dish they made, or the popsicle they ate. It’s that same sense of fondness, of celebrating the market. And we can encourage that by having an active social media presence ourselves.”

In simple terms, “having a presence” entails little more than engagement. For an account like the farmers’ market, Elana says it’s just as important to stay on top of reposting others’ content – a way of sharing what people have purchased, cooked and enjoyed – as it is to maintain a schedule of her own regular posts.

“I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out algorithms or increasing engagement,” Elana said. “I just sort of post what I like.”

Fellow market vendor Eva Faber who, with her partner Lexie Roth owns and operates Goldie’s Rotisserie food truck (@goldiesmv), says that as a mobile food business, social media is essential. “Our Instagram account is truly the public face of our business,” Eva said. This is due in part, she said, to a “generational shift in how we share information,” but it’s also just a practical solution to the transient nature of their work. “Social media feels uniquely tailored to our business model, where our location and hours are constantly changing. It’s important to have a way to instantaneously get the news out.”

In addition to schedules and menus, original content often and increasingly can come in the form of video reels, showcasing behind-the-scenes glimpses of food production and events in real-time. “It’s hard when you’re in the thick of it,” Elana said, of the struggle to remember to document every step and stage of a process or event, to ensure you have enough content to post later. “You’re always like, we just made so much beautiful food and I didn’t get a single picture of any of it?”

That’s when Elana and others call on a little help from their friends. Island photographer Elizabeth Cecil (@elizabeth.cecil) is often behind the lens of a number of local food accounts, helping to promote events or new food businesses or showing love to Island farms. “I’d just call Elizabeth and ask her to come over,” Elana said of her busiest bagel days. “You’re never going to be mad about having too many pictures.”

Another new favorite of market visitors and social media scrollers alike is Stoney Hill Pizza (@stoneyhillpizza). Conceptualized in 2019 and launched during the first summer of the pandemic by Islander Nina Mae Levin, the heart of Stoney Hill is a mobile pizza oven that Nina designed and helped to build herself. “I had already planned on getting started and everyone was so bored (during lockdown) and I was just very consumed by this building project, trying to get materials so I could open that summer,” Nina said.

The process of building the oven became a much loved series of videos Nina has shared on her Instagram page. “I had kept the pizza oven pretty private,” Nina said. “I hadn’t really told anyone about it. So when it was done I wanted to share it.”

As far as strategy, Nina’s past experiences managing social media accounts for brands such as Anson Mills has taught her that content often matters less than having a reliable presence. “Consistency is really important,” Nina said. “I always try to post the menus every week. Otherwise it’s mostly just pretty pictures of pizza.”

But for Nina, Elana and Eva, sharing photos and updates is just the beginning of the Instagram exchange; the real fun starts when their followers begin to share back. “We love how interactive it is,” Eva said. “It’s so much more than free marketing. It gives us perspective on who our customers are. People are always shooting us messages with feedback and fun little glimpses into their lives. Social media is very much in the spirit of a food truck: there’s no real division between the kitchen and the customer’s experience. It keeps things human.”

Alexandra Bullen Coutts is a freelance writer and the editor of The Oyster. She lives in West Tisbury.