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May 1, 2023
Advocating for agriculture has become increasingly vital, as more consumers than ever are disconnected from farmers and ranchers. Few know this better than Brandi Buzzard of Buzzard’s Beat, Debbie Lyons-Blythe of Kids Cows and Grass, and Carrie Mess of Dairy Carrie. Together, they have decades of experience in advocacy using social media, blogs, podcasts and face-to-face conversations to reach their audiences.
The trio sat on a panel at the 2023 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, sharing their best practices for communicating with consumers. Buzzard, Lyons-Blythe and Mess recommend considering the following practices to successfully advocate for animal agriculture:
1. Know your audience. “I’m trying to reach parents who want to be food-informed,” Buzzard said. “If I want to write about something and it doesn’t fit that audience, I don’t do it, because I want my content to have as much impact as possible. Every time I create, I do so with this very specific audience in mind. When I started advocating, I would just share information hoping it would take off. Now I have a specific content strategy for a specific audience.”
2. Focus on your strengths. “I don’t enjoy making videos, but I do like to write,” Mess said. “Consumers are still Googling for answers, and Google pulls up my blog. I also do a lot of food content now because I love food and I love to cook. It’s important to match what you like to do with the content you’re putting out. Otherwise, you’re just going to burn out and get sick of advocating.”
3. Kicking and screaming doesn’t win over consumers. “We have gotten to the point where the only time consumers hear from agriculture is when we’re mad,” Buzzard said. “That’s not a good look. We’ve really got to quit calling people stupid, because consumers don’t know what they don’t know. It’s not the average grocery shopper’s fault that they didn’t grow up on a farm or ranch. If I say that a company is stupid, will they ask me, or any other rancher, for input on their next marketing campaign? No.”
4. Burnout is real. “I recently had to change how I was advocating for my own mental health,” Mess said. “I stopped caring so much about what people had to say about me and instead doubled-down on who I am and what I stand for. I’ve taken a big step back from social media because I got really burnt out. Now I’m building my advocacy back in a way that is true to me and makes me happy. If you are miserable advocating, it’s not worth it.”
5. Find out what consumers really care about. “The first thing I do when talking to consumers is to figure out where they’re coming from and address any concerns with them one on one,” Lyons-Blythe said. “It’s been great to talk to people as a parent of five kids who all ate beef early. I’m able to tell consumers that I have five kids, and it is important to me that they’re eating safe, nutritious food — and beef is on our plate every day.”
6. Focus on the movable middle. “You have to remind yourself that a consumer’s beliefs are as important to them as your beliefs are to you,” Mess said. “You can sit in a room and argue with a vegan for eight hours, and at the end of the day, they’re still not eating meat. We don’t have to convert vegans. Focus on the people who buy your products and keep them buying your products. Let the vegans go vegan.”
7. Look for everyday opportunities for advocacy. “I’ll swing by the meat case and visit with people on what cuts of meat they’re buying,” Lyons-Blythe said. “And I’ve gone to many of my kids’ ballgames in manure jeans from the cow lot. When people ask if I came in from work, we’ll start a conversation about the ranch. I also love to wear gorgeous cowgirl boots, and when someone comments on them, I’ll say, ‘Thanks, I’m a cattle rancher!’ It’s the perfect opening.”
8. Don’t attend every argument you’re invited to. “I’ve had to remind myself that I don’t have to respond to every negative comment,” Buzzard said. “When there’s a grocery shopper talking to you on any social media platform, you are the only rancher or farmer they know. You are representing the entire food-producing population. So, when you come across as being snarky or argumentative, remember that you are the face of farming and ranching in that moment.”
9. Lean on experts. “When misinformation comes out, often my first thought is, do I even know what I’m talking about on this topic?” Mess said. “And a lot of the times the answer is no. I’ll lob it to experts because I’ve built a network of smart people who do a great job. If they don’t have a platform, but I know they can answer it, they can use my platform.”
10. Find common ground. “When I first got started blogging, my NCBA colleague Darren Williams taught me that the common ground is that we all eat,” Buzzard said. “And then finding your niche is how you’ll connect with other people. Darren was an athlete, and that’s how he connected with people. He was always writing about biking trails and training plans, but would pepper in information about beef and nutrition.”
11. There’s room for different kinds of advocacy. “Everybody needs to connect with who they can connect with, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it,” Lyons-Blythe said. “It’s all about connecting with your audience. Some of the worst comments I’ve received haven’t been from animal activists, they’ve been other farmers — and that’s wrong. We need to support each other, repost each other and comment on each other’s posts. If it’s not exactly the way you would say it, just keep scrolling. Everybody’s got their own way.”
12. Don’t put down the rest of the industry. “When I see farmers and ranchers putting down meat at the grocery store, I think — seriously?” Lyons-Blythe continued. “It’s people like me that raise beef for the grocery store. I had an old blog post I shared that specifically discussed how I sell meat that goes to the grocery store. My cattle end up in a restaurant, and I’m honored to be doing that. The meat is safe, delicious and nutritious. Don’t tell consumers lies to promote your own product.”
13. Avoid technical speak. “If you continually use jargon terms such as stocking rates, steers, heifers, vaccinations, etc. — it’s going to turn people off,” Lyons-Blythe said. “They won’t want to listen because they don’t understand you and you’re not connecting with them. When I talk about sustainability, for instance, I use different terms when I’m hoping to connect with food influencers versus when I’m talking to ranchers.”
Betty Haynes is the associate editor of Prairie Farmer. She grew up on a Menard County, Ill., farm and graduated from the University of Missouri. Most recently, Betty worked for the Illinois Beef Association, entirely managing and editing its publication.
She and her husband, Dan, raise corn, soybeans and cattle with her family near Petersburg, Ill., and are parents to Clare.
Betty recently won the Emerging Photographer Award from the Ag Communicators Network during the 2022 Ag Media Summit and placed in the Emerging Writer category as well.
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