Social media and farming: How farmers are delivering their message pt. 2by Will Flannigan on Jun 29, 2012 • 10:38 am 2 Comments
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation at OFBF’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Some of Ohio’s (and the country’s) premier agriculture bloggers were in attendance to share ideas, techniques and success stories of their farm blogs. It was a great chance for those new to blogging and the veteran bloggers to come together in one place. More than 30 people sat at conference tables in a cool meeting room. Laptops, smartphones and tablets splayed across the work surface (a sight I’m sure many farmers wouldn’t have thought possible at a “farm meeting” 20 years ago.) Social media has changed the way people connect and those in the agriculture community are eager participants.
3 Courses: Breakfast, Lunch and Technology
After some tasty snacks and a short introduction by Dave White of the OFBF, things started rolling with Brenda Hastings, Jennifer Kiko and Lindsay Bowman. The three blogging pros discussed reasons for being an agriculture blogger. “I want Google searches to take people to me, where they can get real information, factual information,” said Hastings. Hastings is an avid blogger who farms from her dairy farm in Burton, Ohio. Hastings is right! Readers need to hear information right from producers’ mouths (or from their fingertips.) That’s why blogging is becoming the go-to route for many farmers and ranchers. Nobody can spread their message in a more approachable way. Even better news for agriculture bloggers is that young people oftentimes get their news and information online. Gone are the days of daily newspapers. As younger, tech savvy people begin shaping the world, their habits will stay with them. That’s great news for farmers and ranchers who put their thoughts online. It’s not all about information, however. Readers want to see honesty as well. Jennifer Kiko, who’s been farm blogging since January 2009, mentioned the need to be honest with your readers. She said if you’re trying to be somebody you’re not, readers will catch on rather quickly. She added, part of blogging is being vulnerable and that builds trust with the readers. After the trio discussed why to blog, they shared some personal experiences with “trolls.” For those of you who don’t know, a troll is somebody who causes a ruckus in the comments section of a blog or on online forums or chatrooms. They’re basically the Internet’s equivalent of a debbie downer. “They can’t argue with your own thoughts and experiences,” Hastings added. There’s two ways of dealing with trolls: Ignore them and delete their posts or address their post in a civil manner. Unfortunately, most trolls will create arguments just to cause problems.
After the panel discussion on why to blog, Dan Toland, the OFBF’s director of digital strategy, gave a presentation on how to blog, the technical side of it. He highlighted several different blogging platforms that farmers and ranchers can use to get their message out on the interwebs. Different services are better for different skill levels and kinds of bloggers. For instance, if you plan on posting mostly visual content use tumblr. For serious and advanced bloggers, WordPress may be the best choice.
Toland’s talk reminded me of my blogging past. I started putting words on the Internet when I was 14. I started filling a LiveJournal account with teenage angst. Actually, I used it as a way to keep my friends in the loop when it came to my new life living on The Outer Banks. I then moved to Blogger and now, when I do write on my blog, I use WordPress. You see, blogging used to be just putting personal thoughts on a webpage. Web log. In those early days, before blogging became a legitimate source of information, blogging was simply about keeping your friends and relatives updated on your life. Nobody expected other people to care about what was happening in your personal life. The fact that you burnt a steak was just an Now things have changed. Blogs are not only serve as online journals, but as sources of information, opinions and breaking news. People actually get paid to do this stuff!
Though I’m sure you’d love to have links to my prior blogs, I feel as if it would do my personal reputation more harm than good. Remember: teenage angst.
Lunch was served and everybody sat down to a video conference. Mike Haley, Ray Prock and Jeff Fowle of Just Farmers joined the workshop from remote locations. If I remember correctly, Fowle was actually streaming his video from his truck at a campsite. Prock and Fowle are both farmers and bloggers who live in California. Fowle called social media a ‘box of chocolates.’ Mike Haley, a farmer in Ohio and who was in person at the workshop, discussed the difference between an agtivist and an agvocate and agtagonists. According to Haley, agtivists are using social media to combat the load of misinformation that movies like Food INC. perpetuate. It’s not only about the farmer anymore, it’s about building relationships with the customer. Haley said, “We need to be more inclusive.” That’s the beauty of social media, right? Being inclusive, having conversations and finding common ground. Haley’s experience with the Restuarants Intelligence Agency’s Ellen Malloy is a perfect example of how farmers and consumers can come together and find common ground. Malloy is a frequent blogger is an outspoken opponent of GMO’s, amongst other things. She wrote a particularly scathing post on her blog about farmers. Haley took the opportunity to open a civil conversation with Malloy. The conversation went both ways and resulted in Haley and Malloy better understanding each other’s point of view. Social media is as much about listening as it is sharing.
Reaping what you sow
I’m leaving out some of the other details, like the informative time I spent with Mike Haley and Laura Sutherly discussing the finer point of blogs and blogging. There was also a panel discussion on blogging culture, but if you’re reading this post I’m sure you’re already familiar with the basics. It’s interesting to see the more traditional aspects of agriculture making their way to the Internet. Consistency, motivation and discipline are evident throughout agriculture’s blogging community — as is the down-to-earth tone and ideals that many farmers have. The lack of pretension is paramount. Blogging is allowing customers around the world to connect directly with the people who grow and tend their food. But, what’s special about the connection isn’t the fact that there is one (because many industries utilize social media), it’s the first degree connection that is amazing. Farmers are connecting directly to customers, answering their questions, having conversations and educating them on the ins and outs of agriculture. Farmers and ranchers are encouraging customers to take a candid look at what goes on behind the scenes. That’s more than what many industries are offering today. Why? Because farmers really do care what their customers think. Below is a short list of agriculture blogs. Please visit them to learn a bit more about what happens down on the farm.
Here’s more blog posts about the event:
The Dairy Mom- Can We Talk?
Farmgirl Follies- Farm Blog or Bust
Will is Farm and Dairy's newest writer. He's recently moved to Lisbon, Ohio where he lives in a church turned community theater. He enjoys writing (of course), theater and hiking.
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