Our Take: Social media, community, and the future of engagement

Buckeye Farm News

Facebook, the social media site that started in a college dorm room eight years ago, recently made its founder and many of his Facebook friends very rich when it opened itself for public investment in May.

While Facebook (which now features nearly 1 billion users) may eventually give way to the next great thing, its impact on society’s expectations about communications and the institutions that serve us will remain.

Looking at the shift in communications started by Facebook, and multiplied by many other social media, we are increasingly noticing that the ways we in agriculture engage with each other, for each other and with the public are evolving.

Fundamental changes brought about by socially-connected communities across the globe have supported revolts against governments, helped win elections and have recently caused public scrutiny in unexpected areas of our own industry (consider the recent controversy surrounding “pink slime” in ground beef).

Before social media connected people with immediacy and relevance in influential numbers, communication was simpler for organizations.

For many years, the tendency has been to polish our talking points and broadcast them to an unconnected audience. Our ability to communicate was based on our access to mass communication outlets – billboards, newspapers, radio and television.

If individual consumers didn’t trust the information, they were typically unable to respond with as much organization or impact as they can and do through today’s  networks. 

People now immediately share their thoughts, experiences, passions and interests with friends, colleagues, fans and followers. Ideas can quickly become amplified and people can organize faster than ever before. 

The result is today’s consumers are no longer content on just “consuming.” They are empowered and influential. They question traditional messaging. They search for answers and get results in mere seconds. They use their online networks of friends, families and even strangers to learn, to shape their actions, and to decide who they trust. And they increasingly expect to influence what goes into the end product they consume.

Welcoming and listening to feedback, and taking what we learn to improve will be critical.

As Harvard Business Review’s Mark Boncheck recently put it,“You aren’t giving a lecture anymore; you are hosting a dinner party. Your success is determined by how well you connect people together and keep the conversation going.”

Social media is starting to impact the way some view organizational success. It may no longer be determined by getting your message out; but from encouraging, creating and maintaining communities (both physical and virtual) that engage in continual conversation and work together toward a common purpose.

Perhaps no organization is in better position to capitalize on this trend than Ohio Farm Bureau. But it will only happen to the extent that the people we serve are involved and engaged in this conversation. 

In a recent USA Today article focusing on how Facebook has changed business, a Red Robin restaurant executive said, “When people see things, they feel things. And when they feel things, they change.”

In the scheme of things, financial investment in Facebook may or may not be wise. But an investment in a transparent, humanized conversation about the well-being of our communities will be.

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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