Equestrian businesses and riders are starting to embrace social media as a marketing tool, but many are still missing valuable promotion opportunities.

These are the findings of Ulster University student Stephen Farrell who researched the horseworld’s use of Facebook, Twitter and the like, as part of his equine studies degree.

He found many brands unwilling to try social media, but said charities like World Horse Welfare and brands such as Spillers and Horse & Hound are making a real success of it.

“The concept now has the potential to connect the equine industry with existing and prospective customers,” said Stephen.

“Bombarding users with adverts is not a good idea, but it works well for charities and social groups. The Redwings/Spillers campaign was excellent.”

Horse welfare charity Redwings collaborated with Spillers and for every person who “liked” the Spillers page on Facebook, the company gave the charity 1kg of feed. Redwings received 18 tonnes of feed and much publicity and Spillers also enjoyed the advertising.

Nicola Markwell at Redwings said: “Our Facebook campaign with Spillers was a fantastic example of social media in action. We would like to thank Spillers and the incredible 15,500 people on facebook who agreed to help us.”

Clothing brand Joules has been a pioneer as far as promoting its merchandise — when I started my research in 2009 they were one of the few with a real presence on Facebook,” said Stephen.

Stephen interviewed 40 equestrian brands. He found companies were worried that having a Twitter feed or Facebook page was “tacky”. And because of a lack of knowledge about what it involved and the fear they would not have time to update their paged, 52% would not consider using it.

But Liam Killen of Abbeyview Equine hopes to change this preconception. His company, helps equestrian traders build their brands online.

He said: “Social media is huge, but many businesses are missing it. For example, a Belgian showjumper is looking into ways of getting sponsorship on the back of his Twitter feed. British riders should be more aware of the possibilities.”

H&H web editor Carol Phillips has put H&H at the forefront of social media for some time.

Facebook is the largest single website driving visitors to us online, excluding search engines like Google,” she said, adding that H&H has almost 64,000 Facebook friends. “We have used social networking to expand the H&H brand to reach out to new readers and website visitors.

“During 2010, the number of people using our site increased to nearly 530,000 per month.”