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Farmers need to make time for social media engagement

ipopba/iStock/Thinkstock smartphone camera framing rural scene
FIND YOUR OUTLET: Farmers and ranchers are turning their phones into their own public relations team. They are sharing video of the rural experience and farm life.
Ag Matters: Find a social media outlet for your farm's story.

What a waste of time. I don't need everyone knowing my personal business. That stuff is for teenagers. I have enough to take care of; there's no way I could add that to my plate.

These are just some of the reasons people say they don't want to be active on social media. To be honest, I probably said most of those things myself before I decided to take the plunge.

I stepped into the world of social media in 2008, but only on a trial basis. I was encouraged by a friend of mine to use Twitter as an outlet to tell my farm story. I'll admit that I reluctantly agreed, knowing that once those 30 days came to a close, I'd be jumping ship faster than a buttered bullet, a rocket full of monkeys or a freight train.

Turns out, my prediction was far from the truth. I still didn't have time to tweet, but I made the time. I engaged with consumers — young and old. And I realized that people care greatly about what we as farmers do in our private lives, because we are the people who grow their food.

I could share with you numerous examples of why I now know that being part of the conversation on social media is not only an important use of my time, but it's also something we as an industry cannot ignore. One recent situation further emphasizes this need.

Going live
On March 30, six steers somehow escaped from a slaughterhouse in north St. Louis and took to the streets of the city. Live footage of police and other city authorities was watched by more than 250,000 people. Officers scrambled to corral these scared and confused cattle. Eventually, all of the cattle were caught, while Facebook users across the state and country watched.

Later that night, news outlets reported that the cattle had been "saved from returning to the slaughterhouse" and would be going to a new home at The Gentle Barn animal sanctuary in Tennessee. According to its website, The Gentle Barn “rescues animals from severe abuse and neglect that are “too old, sick, lame or scared to be adopted into homes. The Barn is home to horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, llamas, peacocks, emus, cats and dogs who are allowed to live out their lives in peace.”

Whether you agree with that decision or not, there's no denying the role social media played. Live streaming this situation on social media garnered an incredible amount of attention and resulted in these cattle being sent to an unexpected resting place. Animal rights activists are all over social media — and we need to be, too.

Share the story
Outside of attention, the online activity also resulted in some astonishing fundraising numbers for The Gentle Barn. Nearly $20,000 was raised in total from the GoFundMe web pages of two individuals, one of whom was a local radio host.

I can't help but imagine how wonderful it would be if that type of money could be raised to assist flood victims. Farmsteads or not, that's a great cause that won't see nearly as much crowd-funded support.

The comments about, and reactions to, this video and incident are noteworthy, and remind me why I stuck with social media after my trial period was up.

Over the past decade, there has been a groundswell of support for agriculture's involvement in online conversations, and those efforts should be commended. If you've stood on the sidelines until now because of one of the reasons listed above (or a different one), I'd encourage you to get involved by setting up your account, conversing with others to support our farm community or sharing your farm story through social media channels run by your commodity organization or the Missouri Department of Agriculture. We work every day to promote and protect agriculture, and would welcome your photos or videos that will help us show real life on the farm.

Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence.


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