With so much misinformation spread every day about agriculture, those in the business feel compelled to get the real message out. But is social media the way? Will it really do any good to spend time blogging and tweeting? Who’s out there, and why would they care about what you’re doing on the farm today?
Many in agriculture have figured out the answers to those questions. One is Ryan Goodman, a young Arkansas rancher who founded a blog called I Am Agriculture Proud. Although he’s now focusing on graduate studies, the blog continues thanks to equally committed friends.
During last year’s controversy over “pink slime,” Goodman’s blog got the attention of CNN, which ended up featuring him on its Eatocracy site. Rather than shun controversy, Goodman’s social media philosophy is to encourage civil discourse between farmers and animal rights activists and critics who label farmers as bad guys.
“Are you proud of what you do?” Goodman asked a group of industry members recently. “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so listen to people. Their opinion matters, whether it’s right or wrong. Questions need to be answered, so have a civil conversation and tell them why you’re proud,” he said.
In addition to his blog, he is active on Twitter and Facebook. He advocates planning before jumping into the social media melee. “Make a plan to engage. Write down goals and objectives. Ask questions and participate,” he said. He also encourages intelligent posting of photos and videos to tell agriculture’s story. And, he emphasizes, “Be real and authentic about your passion.”
Other popular ag bloggers include:
“A Farmer’s Life” is another blog that tells agriculture’s story from the heart. Heavy on photos of everyday life on the farm, it also reaches out to followers to answer questions about topics such as corn production for ethanol. Answers are candid and straightforward. Brian Scott created The Farmer’s Life site “to promote the virtues of modern agriculture and feature the daily operations of our farm,” he says on his home page. He farms with his father and grandfather on 2,300 acres in northwest Indiana growing corn, soybeans, popcorn and wheat. He graduated from Purdue University with a degree in soil and crop management.
Michele Payne-Knoper’s blog, Facebook pages and Twitter efforts form a multifaceted approach to telling agriculture’s story in an intelligent and engaging way. A leading farm and food advocate, she has devoted herself to “connecting conversations around the food plate, including farms/ranchers, nutrition professionals and those with an interest in food,” her mission statement says.
A great source to find other top farm blogs by folks who know how to do it right is farmerbloggers.com.
FFVA members also are riding the social media wave. Plant City strawberry grower Wish Farms is one. Its blog shares recipes and company activities such as its involvement with the Florida Strawberry Festival. The company has a strong Facebook and Twitter presence as well engaging followers to keep strawberries top of mind with upbeat content and delicious-looking photos.
Wm. G. Roe’s Noble Juice brand posts upbeat messages on Facebook that relate to its followers’ activities. It refers to current sports events, holidays and other timely topics, engaging the follower by asking how its products fit into the game, etc.
Tomato company Lipman Produce reaches out through Facebook by offering recipes, links to books about healthy eating, lifestyle notes and more.
Although not an agricultural producer itself, upscale retailer Williams-Sonoma engages fans of fruits and vegetables with Twitter content relating to preparation, nutrition, background information and other content including beautiful photography. Most social media experts advocate visuals as an enticement to follow and engage with a company.
Center for Public Issues Education can help
Dr. Tracy Irani is a professor at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the development director for its Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources. She and her team advocate a strategic plan for becoming active in social media.
“Know your audience. Engage. Tell a story, don’t just post information. Be consistent. Measure effectiveness and adapt,” are her bullet points on the topic.
The PIE Center offers online tools that can help a novice or experienced social media user dive in and see results. A toolkit goes into the hows and whys of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. Topics covered include setting up accounts, connecting with other users, increasing your online presence, and the little details such as Twitter hashtags. Plenty of other how-to sites are out there, but the PIE Center’s toolkit is specific to agriculture. It doesn’t talk down to the user, yet it’s not over-the-top technical.
Speaking from the heart
All these companies and individuals have something in common that contributes to their social media success: They speak from the heart. They offer a window into what they do – another way to say they exercise transparency. And they offer a personal voice that’s helpful and informative.
Because most people have never set foot on a farm, a personal message from a farmer is a valuable way to have a conversation, Goodman says. Social media offers an opportunity to show someone how things are done, to take them to the farm – virtually, yet personally. So when someone you’ve talked to hears incorrect information and unsubstantiated claims, that person will be able to say, “No. Actually, this is how it is.” All because a farmer took the time to explain the truth about his or her passion.