Farmers are often urged to reach out to consumers — and that can work, but it’s also time-consuming. You can leverage that work by connecting with social media influencers who have thousands of followers to help get the message to your target audience. If you’re interested in building your social media presence, there are ways to do that, too.
One organization, the National Chicken Council, constantly reaches out to influencers, reporters, dietitians and bloggers to follow chickens from egg to processing plant.
“We’ve had success with business reporters and ‘lifestyle mom’ bloggers,” says Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council. “But mainly it’s the food bloggers, because they get the most questions from consumers when, say, they post a chicken Marsala recipe. People want to know: Is organic better? What’s ‘free range’ mean? What were the chickens fed? Were they in cages? Given hormones? The food influencers are on the front lines of these questions from their followers.”
The NCC hosts influencer tours because the burden of proof for the care of chickens and how they’re raised falls squarely on the poultry industry and farmers. “Telling our story is great,” says Super, who is based in Washington, D.C., “but allowing people to see, smell and hear it for themselves resonates.”
The tours are filmed and photographed by the influencers, who post about it on social platforms. “Followers trust influencers because they have credibility,” Super explains. “That’s why they spend time following influencers on social media. Comments on the influencer posts are often, ‘I had no idea. Thanks for showing me.’”
INFLUENCERS REPORT: These Instagram screen grabs from different influencers show what they learned from a recent National Chicken Council influencer-focused event.
To identify influencers to invite to your farm or ranch, Super suggests asking trade associations. “That’s what we, and they, are paid to do,” he says.
Another avenue is to seek out and follow influencers who post about rural life, working landscapes and food. A quick way to expand your online circle is to do a hashtag search for your top 10 favorite things on a platform like Instagram, and follow people running the accounts. To build a community with these influencers, learn what they care about.
“Follow their accounts to find out what it’s like to go to their house on Saturday afternoons after soccer practice,” suggests Brooke Clay of Rural Gone Urban. “When we engage with their content, we might find we’re both parents, or really love watching the same TV show. Now we have commonalities, and when we invite them to our farm and ranch, we can skip the awkwardness to create true relationships with people that care about our land and food.”
Which social platforms to use?
If you decide you want to work harder to influence others, there are choices to make — and the first is what platform you’ll use. If you’re picking one platform, Clay recommends Instagram because it’s highly visual and currently the easiest platform on which to build a community. “Twitter has a smaller user base than Instagram, and a Facebook page is only one-sided,” Clay explains. “Facebook groups are heavily growing, but you interact as your person, not as your page. On Instagram, you can easily throw comments on someone else’s page, and they can comment back.”
INFLUENCER BECOMES AG EXPERT: Natasha Nicoles of a Houseful of Nicoles visited a chicken farm on an influencer tour with the National Chicken Council. She got a first-hand look at how broilers are raised.
How to develop posts
To learn about different post styles, Clay recommends following your favorite celebrities, television shows, musicians and hobby interests. “The [TV] show ‘Yellowstone’ has tremendous Instagram digital content,” she continues. “The goal is to see not the influencer, but how they use social media.”
Following influencers outside of agriculture will help keep your posts from stagnantly replicating other ag content. “If you want to relate to someone who’s in a different industry or geographical setting than you,” Clay explains, “look at the content they normally consume. Ask yourself, ‘How can I make my content about agriculture match the aesthetic of what my target audience — rural or urban — consumes?’”
Is normality worth following?
Jay Hill, a New Mexico farmer, curates an engaged audience just by posting about his mundane tasks. “Posting is not an afterthought to Jay,” Clay says. “He incorporates it into his responsibilities. He goes behind the scenes of planting and harvesting. Some days it’s office work, family dinners and the kids riding in the back of the pickup.”
Follow Jay as @hilljay45 on SnapChat, Twitter and Instagram. Find his family’s Hill Farms on Facebook @hillfarmsnm.
Is there too much social?
Scientific research has shown that screen time and obsessive consumption of social media can be detrimental. Clay believes it’s healthy and completely OK to take breaks from social media and the influencer role.
“Aly McClure, a creative marketing specialist for the cattle industry in Kansas, took a month off social media,” Clay says. “She didn’t post anywhere for a month. Not only was it good for her mental health, but she also found she continued to gain followers and earn likes without new posts. Her influencer business didn’t stop because she did.”
No smell here
The influencer tours of the National Chicken Council were successful, but they do have financial, logistical and biosecurity constraints. Because of this, in 2018 the council filmed a virtual reality series to immerse viewers at a hatchery, farm and slaughterhouse. “We bring virtual reality goggles to schools,” Super says of the project, “and the videos are on YouTube. It’s another way we can bring the farm to people instead of bringing them to the farm all the time. It's everything but the smell.”
Virtual reality tour of chicken hatchery
360-degree virtual reality videos allow you to see every direction at once. Click around to see up, down, frontwards, backwards and side to side from the original starting point. You can see that at this link, youtu.be/1-Pyn5kRh-0.
What influencers thought after their chicken tour
Dozens of bloggers, reporters and registered dietitians tour a hatchery, a family farm and a processing plant to see how chicken gets from the farm to the fork. Check out what happened at youtu.be/wY5ve-VKAoA.
Hemken writes from Lander, Wyo.