There's a consensus in agricultural communications that we're often just talking to each other - or preaching to the choir as they say. It's a challenge knowing what to do and how to get the word out on a range of topics. Especially as every group that eats has its own agenda about how you raise food - and in the case of corn "that" you raise food.
So how does a busy farmer reach out beyond his/her fields to connect to the consumer? In the past, that wasn't an easy task given your schedule and lack of connection beyond your local "neighborhood." Today, however, your "neighborhood" can be the world thanks to social media.
Now some of you reading this will roll your eyes or click on to some other worthy story on this site. That's fine, but if you stick with me for a moment I think you'll find a little time invested on your part may pay off for your industry in the long run.
First, a lot of non-farmers use social media - whether that's Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or some other site. They like to connect to people they've never met through shared interests and from there a conversation can grow.
Second, the rise of mobile tools - like smart phones - makes taking part in social media easier than ever since most of these sites are also built for mobile. That means you can carry on a conversation with your friends and acquaintances even as you work in the field (no texting and tractoring, but if you have auto-steer…). And building these relationships over social media can help consumers better understand your business.
If you've seen my writing in Farm Futures or our state magazines you know we follow the U.S. Farmers and Rancher's Alliance - one of a few groups working to bridge that gap. In a couple weeks, I'll be heading to the next Food Dialogues in New York where three different panels will take on some hot topics. USFRA has long been involved in social media and has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as foodies who are anti-ag (a conundrum for sure) voice their opinions on Facebook and elsewhere. The organization takes those comments, and responds as needed in an effort to build a dialogue.
More than 50 organizations are involved in that program with the aim of building some kind of understanding about what it takes to grow food in today's world. It ain't easy, but it's a chore that has to be done. The organization even has a program to develop farmer-spokespersons to help tell that story where needed.
So what does this all mean? Perhaps you should consider setting up a Facebook account. Or you could learn about Twitter - yes it's an odd service, but if you set up an account and send a few messages a week you can build a following of folks. Think about what you do on your farm, post pictures of your activities, and slowly and methodically explain what works for you.
If Twitter is your approach, consider the hashtag - those are phrases like "farm" and "agchat" (more about that second one shortly) that can be searched. They are proceeded by a "hashtag" or # so #farm or #agchat become important. Once you follow a few people on twitter (and consider following @farmfutures and major news sources like the Wall Street Journal and a few others) you'll start to see the value of the news stream.
This is especially true during big events like presidential debates, hurricanes and elections. If you follow us on @farmfutures you'll get key marketing and risk management information as news breaks too. Those hashtags also help you get followers since people can follow topics that way and will follow folks they feel have something to say - and trust me you have something to say.
And about #agchat. That's the hashtag for the Ag Chat Foundation - which is a group of diverse farmers working to tell your story. A lot of people follow that hashtag to keep up and share information about agriculture. You may not always like what you see under that hashtag but it is enlightening. And helps build communication bridges.
Best bet: Learn how to use a couple of social media tools and the best way to do that is sign up and poke around trying them out. The more voices chiming in to discuss modern agriculture the better.
You can follow Farm Futures on Twitter at www.twitter.com/farmfutures - you don't even need to be signed up, just visit the site to see what we're talking about. And you can follow me at www.twitter.com/willie1701a. You can even friend me on Facebook - www.facebook.com/willievogt if you want. Pushing your dialogue beyond your immediate circle is easier now than ever. Comment below if you have other ways you're reaching out.