As a special topic for Cooperative Extension, eXtension hosted a professional development web conference on January 21, 2010 on the use of social media in agriculture. The recorded session, the presenters’ presentations, the conference chat, and tweets associated with the conference are available.
Here are my notes of each of the presenters discussions.
Will Gilmer @gilmerdairy,Gilmer Dairy
Will Gilmer, Alabama dairy farmer, discussed how he used different applications to educate the public on agriculture, in particular dairy. Will learned from his online activities that people who are removed from the farm appreciate learning and hearing what is going on the farm. He also noted that online communications are a great way to tell why farmers do what they do from environmental, sustainability, and food safety perspectives. While agriculture representatives should still speak at to civic clubs and schools, agriculture should to also go where the people are, and that is being online and in social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Will uses different interaction techniques to engage the public. For instance, he uses contests on his blog, creates educational and sometimes humorous videos on YouTube (shooting the video and uploading them from his smart phone), and uses Facebook for Gilmer Dairy fans a chance to vote on contests. For instance, Gilmer Dairy Facebook Fan Page became the home page for the milk mustache contest.
Will suggested when talking about agriculture to not use jargon and to reach the people where they are. Each application (Twitter, Gilmer Farm YouTube Channel, Gilmer Dairy Farm Website) is a little different and one leads to another. They should be integrated.
He estimates that he spends 10 to 15 hours per week.
Arlan Suderman @arlanff101 Farm Futures
Arlan Suderman, a market analyst for Farm Futures, discussed using Twitter and mobile applications to sharing real-time commodity market information. Arlan writes commentary for Afternoon Market Updates on the Farm Futures website, in their electronic newsletters, and for the Farm Futures magazine. He also said that Farm Progress uses Facebook fan pages to promote farm shows such as Farm Progress Show.
- Stupid trend – Someone talks you into it.
- You find information that perks your interest.
- You start building connections – community builds.
- You reach a point of feeling obligated to share.
- You realize the power of the message and harness it.
Arlan also noted social media is revolutionizing our cultures, much like how the air conditioner changed the way we congregated and socialized.
He described several strengths of social media:
- is a cost-effective communication too.
- is rapidly being driven by the over-35 crowd.
- allows you to mix media – pictures, video, and web links.
- provides real time information.
- provides an avenue for dialogue and feed back from clients.
- has no geographical boundaries.
- serves as a great advocacy tool.
Hazards of social media are:
- Social media can own you if you don’t master it.
- Social media knows no geographic or demographic boundaries.
- You can lose your focus, diluting your messages.
- Social media functions 24 hours a day, creating the “ping addiction”.
- Social media is a two-way dialogue-where followers can consume your time.
- There is expectations of responding in a “ping” culture,
- By opening the doors, those who oppose your views will find you.
Arlan described steps to a social media strategy as:
- Define your objective.
- Define your audience.
- Define your tool – Twitter, Facebook, Blog, You-Tube, etc.
- Develop your strategy / content.
- Market your tool.
- Remain true to your objective.
- Evaluate your results.
Arlan’s objectives were to provide real-time commodity market commentary to farmers wherever they are (on the tractor), build Farm Futures’ brand name and increase hit-count at Farm Futures. Using Twitter, he targeted his audience--largest 205,000 farmers and what they needed which is having real-time explanations why markets are fluctuating.
His tactics and content were tweeting real-time market commentary, relevant content (such as weather), and links to relevant news stories. Farm Futures marketed his Twitter updates online, in the magazine, through their e-newsletter and at speaking engagements.
He evaluated feedback, by measuring web page visits, increased number of followers, increase direct communications, and increase personal comments.
Arlan tweets 15 to 25 comments a day from 6 am to 9 pm.
Carrie Oliver, founder of Oliver Ranch Company, Artisan Beef institute, and @meatcamp (TM) discussed her use of blogging and use of Twitter (@meatcamp) in support of her business and in educating others about the specialty meat industry, Artisan Meat. She described her work with beef much like a wine connoisseur, “Like fine wines, beef flavor & texture are influenced by breed, growing region, diet & the unique skills of those who raise it.”
Carrie described the challenges that social media can be used to overcome. The public is not well educated on the specialty markets, the process of meat production, and differences in meat products. Also agriculture and specialty markets and processes are complex. She suggested, like Will, to simplify the message and improve writing to reach your target audience, and use a combination of social and traditional media.
Social media allows entrepreneurs without marketing budgets to reach customers. Carrie uses her blog, Discover the World of Artisan Beef, as a way of making notes for herself, blowing off steam (sometimes not publishing them), and educating and building a community.
Carrie said that blogging and tweeting have helped her play a role between producers and consumers. Comments and questions on her blog and on Twitter, during a meat recall last were interactive, serious, and educational.
Carrie has found that Twitter is great place for interaction, make connections, create education—both for others and herself, solve problems, and connect to old-line media outlets (i.e. news articles and television). Twitter has proven to be a way to spread and create understanding around complex processes.
As people had questions about myths and were confused about processes, Carrie and Chris Raines @iTweetmeat, Meat Scientist with Penn State Extension, created a Twitter chat--an open forum--#meatcamp, focus on issues pertaining to producing and the process of producing meat #meatcamp is a place for she, Chris, and others to share their expertise and knowledge, to de-mystify meat, and to allow people to easily ask questions. She shared an example of a meatcamp transcript.
Carrie ended her discussion by noting that Twitter is fun. She encourages others to “Jump in…The water is warm”.
Dan Toland discussed how Ohio Farm Bureau moved from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, taking a year to get the Ohio Farm Bureau web site to include a social component. The process to moving to a social web presence allowed Ohio Farm Bureau to “humanized themselves”. He said the old way meant that the web site was a destination. The new way means that the web site is a hub and the stokes of the hub are links and social networks that are two way communications. He says that having a web site is no longer enough; it is now imperative to have a web presence. Social media is an integrated approach, not just a channel-by-channel communication. Dan, like Will Gilmer, said, to go where the people are--Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Dan described about how fast connections, easy publishing, collaborative communication, mobile technology, and real time information has changed the landscape. The goals for Ohio Farm Bureau’s social media efforts were to increase awareness, engagement, traffic, and word of mouth.
As part of their social media efforts, Ohio Farm Bureau develop Ohio Farm Bureau Social Media Guide for farmers.
Dan described one of Ohio Farm Bureau’s “ah-ha Twitter moments” was when they were having trouble finding a life-size plastic cow for a promotion. On Twitter, they ask if anyone knew where they could find a life-size plastic cow. Within 10 minutes, they had 5-6 responses with suggestions and web links.
Twitter and Facebook were instrumental in the Issue 2 campaign doubling the number visits to the Ohio Farm Bureau web site in the few days before the vote. They also were able to monitor and answer questions and engage voters throughout Ohio during Issue 2 through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Dan suggested that a social media policy for an organization should:
- Encourage and empower employees. Don’t discourage people from using social media, There is no way one person can know everything. It is better for individuals to tweet what is going on in their own area.
- Note there is a blend of personal/professional life when using social media.
- Use common sense. Remember, posts are searchable and public.
- Specify those who are using social media on behalf of an organization.
- Tie social media policy to other communications policy.
- Provide proper training.
- Encourage use of security settings.
- Make participation optional.
Dan indicated that success in Ohio Farm Bureau in the use social media were increases in visits, page views, average time on the site, number of referring sites,direct traffic, and returning visitors.
Andy Kleinschmidt, @akleinschmidt Ohio State Extension
Andy Kleinschmidt described his success in blogging and Twitter as an Extension educator and said that it is paramount that Extension have a robust web presence that is well indexed by search engines. He said Extension should learn to write and optimize blogs and web sites for search engines.
He noted that his work load is increasing because of factors outside of social media. Though, social media allows him to communicate incredibly efficiently.
As Extension educators, interaction is and will always be important. Face-to-face, phone, email, blogs, comments on blog, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever replaces these technologies are all ways to interact and engage.
Andy described the smart phone as his favorite technology allowing him to be instant and without constraints. He blogs, tweets, and uses Facebook from smart phone.
He has found that the Agriculture and Van Wert County blog is the best way to disseminate information. He did admit that as individuals create blogs, managing numerous blogs may be a problem.
Slideshare site for presentations:
- Arlan Suderman’s presentation
- Carrie Oliver’s presentation
- Dan Toland’s presentation
- Andy Kleinschmidt