With modern communications platforms, there are more ways than ever to reach the consumer today. Whether via blogs or social media, consumers are looking for a connection to the people who raise the food on their plates.
The trick is to tailor the message to the audience and the platform, according to a panel of social media influencers who spoke during the May 6 virtual Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholder Summit.
Jennifer M. LatzkePANELISTS: A panel of social media influencers spoke during the May 6 virtual Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholder Summit. They included, top row: Moderator Hannah Thompson (left), Animal Agriculture Alliance; Jennifer Osterholt, creator of the Plowing Through Life blog; and Brandi Buzzard, creator of the Buzzard’s Beat blog; In bottom row were Markie Hageman (left), founder of the blog Girls Eat Beef Too; and Dr. Alexander Strauch, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch.
The panel included: Markie Hageman, founder of the Girls Eat Beef Too blog; Dr. Alexander Strauch, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch; Jennifer Osterholt, creator of the Plowing Through Life blog; and Brandi Buzzard, creator of the Buzzard’s Beat blog.
Choose your platform
Each brought their expertise in various platforms to the table. Hageman, for example, prefers to create memes on Instagram and Facebook to reach the average consumer audience.
“I mix in pop culture,” she says. Most people understand the context of a meme, even if they don’t understand ranching or beef production, she adds. By combining the two worlds into one graphic element, she can reach beyond the regular rancher follower and share information about beef production without dragging the reader down with confusing facts and stats.
Strauch, meanwhile, prefers to use LinkedIn, reaching a much more professional audience with his messages about working as a veterinarian in the poultry industry.
Osterholt uses her blog to share recipes and bits of farm life with consumers, which takes much more time and attention, she says. She spends her days testing recipes and researching words and phrases that are trending in search engines, and then crafting blog posts to reach those people searching for them.
“[The blog] is not a diary,” she says. “I started by sharing my farm and life. But no one Googles that. But a lot of ladies want to know how to make a boxed cake mix taste better.” By writing a post about that recipe and topic, she can then promote it over Pinterest and grow not only followers for her recipes, but also slip in a bit of agricultural education with those recipes. She uses the language that consumers are using in their searches, rather than language that farmers might use, because that’s how content gets traction, she says.
Crafting a message
Before hitting “send” on a post, advocates should really keep in mind their communication goals, explains Buzzard, who was an early adopter of Facebook and Twitter for agricultural advocacy efforts.
“When I first started down this advocacy journey, whenever a company would do something negative for agriculture or beef, I would write a blog post lambasting them with a headline and talk about how wrong they were,” she says. “Those got a lot of clicks and a lot of traffic, but they never did reach the goal I had of having real conversations with businesses. Or build a bridge with grocery shoppers.”
She changed her strategy in the past few years, adopting a more inviting, less inflammatory approach to her writing. By starting from a place of shared concerns and inviting a conversation, she was able to get the attention of national news outlets. Those outlets, she says, invited her onto their shows to share her rancher’s perspective on climate change and sustainability because she didn’t just shout down the opposition, but invited a conversation instead.
Is the intention to make yourself feel better by riling up the regular agricultural crowd, or are you trying to “preach” outside of the agricultural “choir”? she asks.
Practice and strategy
Putting yourself out there as an agricultural expert is one thing, but you also have to remember how what you write reflects on your own businesses, Strauch says.
“Interdepartmental communications is key,” he says. “You practice during times of peace so you can perform in times of war. If you work with your marketing, sales and HR ahead of time on shared messaging, that practice helps you.”
Practice also helps in navigating the world of algorithms on social platforms, Osterholt says.
“It takes a strategy,” she says. “You don’t get accidentally found in any algorithm. It’s easier for me to get the most traction with Pinterest immediately.” By answering the top questions that are searched in Google, her posts rise up in search results, which draw traffic. But she also has to be consistent in her posts and build her network of other influencer bloggers to share the messaging. That takes time, she advises.
To engage or not
There’s a point when you ask yourself if its logical to engage with people online or not, Buzzard says. She prefers to consider folks as one of three categories: people who very pro-beef, the movable middle and people very anti-beef.
“If they are hard core against beef, I won’t engage,” she says. “They’re just there to make an inflammatory comment to get your hackles up.” But, she adds, if it’s a genuine question from someone seeking answers, she’ll engage. That’s the “movable middle” — the people with open minds who want to know more.
It’s tough when there’s emotion involved, which is often the case with the subject of animal agriculture. But Buzzard advises to keep in mind the long-term goal of bringing more consumers to the table.
“I don’t believe getting angry at a company gets us the results we want,” Buzzard says. “Yeah, if you get angry enough, you might get them to retract a statement or delete the post. But moving forward, how likely are they to reach out to farmers and ranchers for open dialogue? Long term, will they ask our opinions, and bring us to the table the next time they have some kooky marketing idea? Short term, the anger might meet a goal, but long term, not so much.”