For producers, college students or those just interested in the agriculture industry, getting involved with an animal agriculture organization can open many opportunities for involvement. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with the Animal Ag Alliance through two different programs: College Aggies Online and Animal Ag Allies.
College Aggies Online
If I had a dollar for every time I found an opportunity through Twitter, I’d have enough to justify the amount of time I spend on that app. One of these opportunities was hearing about College Aggies Online from an alliance staff member. As a passionate advocate for animal agriculture — and a graduate student who never turns down a scholarship opportunity — I figured why not sign up and give it a chance?
For those unfamiliar, College Aggies Online is an online college scholarship that teaches ag advocacy through social media challenges. Students receive nine weekly challenges and guidance from experts in agriculture to help them craft their online messages.
These messages and challenges range from animal production, myth-busting misconceptions of agriculture and students’ stories of agriculture. Aimed at sharing information about agriculture to the “movable middle” of consumers, these students learn the best ways to reach an online audience with videos, photos, infographics and writing.
With three divisions, nearly everyone attending a higher-education institution has a chance to participate:
- individual for undergraduate students
- individual for graduate students
- club for student organizations
Students who want to participate as a club and as an individual are able to do that as well, as challenges vary between the divisions. This year’s program started in mid-September, but students can still sign up at College Aggies Online.
I participated as a graduate student in the first year of my master’s program in 2019. As someone passionate about agriculture, I was excited by the prospect of learning how to better advocate for it on social media. Each new week pushed my comfort zone online just a little more, from creating my first infographic to hosting a Facebook Live at an event.
Each week contained at least two social media posts that follow that week’s theme, a challenge to push us into creative thinking, and a webinar of some kind to educate on the topic. These posts happened on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blog sites, and we were encouraged to be as creative as possible. College Aggies Online works by awarding points to the selected “winners” each week in both the social media posts and challenges.
Week after week, I and the rest of the College Aggies Online participants became social friends, cheering each other on, and asking questions and getting ideas for upcoming weeks. We received points for our participation, and bonus points if we won for the posts or challenges. Especially helpful was receiving guidance back from the expert mentors each week on our work.
As the end of the contest came closer, I checked in with my points (being the competitive person I am) and was surprised to see that I was in the lead for the individual competition. I’d won several weekly challenges and a couple social posts, but didn’t think that would add up to too much.
Winners in 2019 were announced at the end of a live Twitter chat, and I was shocked to share first place with another college aggie from Indiana. Scholarship funds always help, even as graduate students. I still am online friends with many of the other competitors, students, mentors and staff, and love to see the message of animal agriculture continue to shine through.
Animal Ag Allies
What about people who aren’t students? I most recently was part of the fifth class of Animal Ag Allies, which dives even deeper into advocating for animal agriculture. With more requirements on who can participate, Animal Ag Alliance focuses on investing in individuals who have the opportunity to have a public voice for agriculture. Ranchers, farmers, veterinarians or those who have demonstrated their commitment to engaging on relevant issues are preferred.
Participants should have an already established social media presence on at least one channel (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.) and have at least 1,000 followers on these platforms. This goes to help take the alliance’s training to the next level and reach even more people. Participants should also have some kind of experience working with the media or other communications training. These guidelines are not set in stone, and the alliance encourages those who feel like they are a good fit to contact the group.
In my case, I am clearly not a farmer, rancher or veterinarian, but always jump at the chance to learn more about better advocating for agriculture. Not only is it a part of what I do every single day here at Farm Progress, but informing about animal ag always plays a heavy role on my social media channels.
The program is designed in two phases:
- online training
- private forum to discuss social media strategy and emerging issues
You are able to select which industries you have the most interest in, as well as learn more about all areas of animal agriculture.
Due to the popularity in our region, I chose beef cattle as my industry focus. You work through modules that contain information about your selected industry, animal agriculture as a whole, social media strategy, communication work and how to grow your online presence.
After working through College Aggies Online and three years of studying animal science on top of my agriculture communication degree, I thought it would simply be a great refresher and a great story. Instead, the alliance creates online modules focused on sharing the message with those “outside the choir” of agriculture to reach the movable middle of consumers.
The program continues to grow with opportunities for networking, training, and continuous development of issues expertise and communication strategy. Many of your favorite farmers (and editors) online have participated in Animal Ag Allies, will you be one of the next ones to join?
For those interested check out Animal Agriculture Alliance online for more information about both of these programs, and be on the lookout online for these great group of advocates!