Ninety-eight percent of Americans have little to no on-farm connection, but are increasingly vocal about how food is produced and how farms should operate.
At such a high percentage, it’s not surprising agriculture takes some lumps.
But how does the 2 percent of the population that is farming reconnect with an increasingly distrusting public? The solution is simple, often say farmers and ranchers: “They need to be educated about what we do.” But this phrase is typically followed with, “But I’m too busy. I don’t have time to do it.”
Leaving the work to groups such as Farm Bureau would have been the way to handle the situation as recent as five years ago, but in today’s world of instantaneous connections, the non-farming public wants more.
“Consumers want to hear the story of agriculture from those directly involved in agriculture,” said Ohio dairy farmer Brenda Hastings, who authors a blog titled The Dairy Mom.
And why wouldn’t they want to talk with the people raising the products they’ll consume? After all, it’s not very often a farmer buys a new piece of equipment without first consulting the person selling it.
“Social media has become an important part of our culture. It’s here to stay, and we need to be a part of the conversation. It’s important to build trust,” said Hastings, who was among 50 individuals (including a handful of Ohioans) selected to attend the first-ever social media “agvocacy” training strictly for farmers.
The training was hosted by the AgChat Foundation (http://agchat.org), the nonprofit grassroots brainchild of four U.S. farmers – including Wayne County Farm Bureau member Mike Haley – who realized their shared interest in connecting with non-farmers through a weekly moderated chat on Twitter known as “#agchat.”
Hastings, a Geauga County Farm Bureau member, said she came away from the two-day conference inspired by learning how to effectively engage in social media conversations from the top agvocates in the nation.
And we’re not talking about spreading feel-good messages such as “Farming is the original ‘green’ business” and “Every day is Earth Day to a Farmer.” Those often repeated slogans increasingly fail to instill confidence in skeptical consumers, according to Larry Kaagan, president of Kaagan Research Associates, at Ohio Farm Bureau’s recent Leadership Conference.
Instead, Hastings said it’s critical to realize that listening and engaging is more important than catchy sound bites.
“We often want to educate consumers about agriculture, while what we should be doing is engaging them in dialog to get a better understanding of their concerns, and then provide factual information. It should be a conversation, not a lecture.”
Her takeaway message to Ohio farmers: “It’s challenging to find the time and put ourselves out there, but it must be done. We can’t allow special-interest groups to define us. Conversations via social media will happen with or without us. Who do you want telling your story?”
Did you Know?
- Facebook now receives more U.S. Web traffic than Google
- Facebook reached 150 million users nearly three times faster than cell phones
- More than 8,100 search results appear for the word “farm” on Facebook
- More than 2,500 people from four countries have participated in the weekly #agchat on Twitter. Similar weekly chats have started in Australia and Africa, with growing interest in Europe.
- More than 840 agricultural Twitter users can be found on the FollowFarmer list at http://bit.ly/FFarmer
- These stats and more can be found in “Evolution of online agvocacy,” a video produced for AgChat
Ohio Farm Bureau can help!
For the beginner and advanced user, Ohio Farm Bureau’s award-winning and newly updated guide to social media can help you understand and become comfortable with social media tools. Find a copy of the guide online at: http://tinyurl.com/OFBFsocialmedia
Interested in having a hands-on Ohio Farm Bureau social media training in your county? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 614-246-8233.