Recently, my Latham Hi-Tech Seeds marketing colleagues and I traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, for the first ever AgChat Upper Midwest Regional Conference. The goal of the conference was to teach participating farmers and industry contributors how to communicate with consumers by using social media platforms to tell our agriculture stories.
I have to admit, when I signed up for this conference, I was wearing my “seed company hat.” I wasn’t thinking about how I could tell an ag story from the voice of SkyView Farms, which my husband and I own. We plant crops and raise cows, and honestly, I couldn’t see any of our friends or family members wanting to read about that since they’re also engaged in farming. And then I had a light bulb moment…
“Your story may seem ordinary to you, but it’s extraordinary to someone else,” said conference speaker Jenny Dewey, whose family operates the Chico Locker & Sausage Co. She pointed out that day-to-day operations are interesting to the majority of Americans who don’t experience it daily. It’s so important for those of us who understand food and fiber production to tell our stories.
“Tell your story or someone else will – and you might not like it!” is a line often used by Larry Sailer, who writes “Musings of a Pig Farmer” each Tuesday for TheFieldPosition.com. When told by the wrong person, stories about production agriculture can be downright frightening! Misinformation and half-truths lead to fire storms.
“Social media fires” break out often when it comes to hot agricultural issues, said keynote speaker Katie Pinke (pronounced ‘pink-e’), author of the Pinke Post. As she spoke these words, my mind was immediately filled of thoughts about biotech crops and antibiotic use in livestock production.
Katie said that when it comes to ag issues, we all must work together to put these fires out with “social media water.” Uh… what? Simply put, the more voices there are telling the truth about agriculture, the better the chances of debunking the misconception.
Think of it this way… When you’re skeptical about an issue, you Google it, right? If a person Googles a topic or key phrase related to farming or agriculture and the only results are from people writing mistruths, it gives more credibility to that side of the story. However, if people are blogging, posting and pinning true stories, then consumers have more sources for correct information that will put their minds at ease on the issue.
Now that you understand why it’s so important to make your voice heard, the big question lingers… where does one start?
- The first step is to listen. What is your audience talking about? Where do they spend their time online? What are they asking about? This will fuel your topics and can also set a tone for how to respond.
- Pick a platform. How do you want to communicate? This could be a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, the list goes on. We all love TheFieldPosition, so let’s use a blog as an example. There are several blog hosting sites out there with pros and cons. It just comes down to personal preference and will take practice to learn the ins and outs. Here’s a good article on options.
- Create content. Katie Pinke advised us to think of our content like pages in a magazine. Topics may vary but should focus on a common theme, so your audience knows what to expect.
- As you write your stories, be leery of industry jargon or how your story is perceived by consumers. Kristie Swenson of FindOurCommonGround.com shared some eye opening facts from the most recent U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Consumer Perception study. One example from the study is the word “abundant”. In agriculture, we might say, “We need to strive to provide an abundant source of food for our growing population.” This is intended to convey that we will soon have more people on the planet than we can feed, so we must be proactive. The average consumer thinks, “We have an obesity problem, we have enough food already.” Two totally different perceptions of one sentence and there are more like it in the study.
- Be conversational and don’t be afraid to take a stand on issues. Do you have an opinion on the changes to school lunch programs or use of antibiotics on farms? Blog about how you handle it at home or on your farm. It’s a non-defensive way to share an opinion on an issue in a relatable way.
- Reach out. Find 20 non-ag blogs and comment on those blogs. This will help draw people “beyond the choir” to hear about your positive agriculture messages. Find a few more blogs that are related to ag topics you have in common and get involved on them. This can help build your group of “Ag Ninjas” that can help reinforce your content through comments and sharing.
Agvocating overall is a very simple process. It’s taking your day-to-day and putting it “out there” for people to learn. It can be as simple as writing a story about your first newborn calf of the spring or as bold as to stand up to proposed changes in legislature. The important take-home message is that consumers need our help understanding the “how and why” of food production. Tell your farm story so the news reporters don’t tell it for you! As Katie Pinke says, her mom blogs about their family farm story so Katie Couric doesn’t!