Five Korean college students traveled to the U.S. to take a look at the U.S. beef industry from start to finish, with hopes that they will take their stories and photos and pass them on to other 20-somethings seeking firsthand understanding of U.S. meat production.
The students, which the U.S. Meat Export Federation called "social media journalists," tote smart phones and have Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest accounts.
The objective is to develop a fact-based view among young Koreans who have never seen the ranges where cattle graze in the U.S., or the real cowboys who tend them.
"The few stories that reach consumers through the Internet about livestock in the United States tend to focus on the sensational," says USMEF-Korea Director Jihae Yang. "Our intent is to develop a core of people who speak with firsthand knowledge and share photos and stories that show the environment where U.S. beef is raised is very healthy and natural."
With financial support from the USDA Market Access Program and the Beef Checkoff Program, applications were solicited from Korean college students through the American Meat Story page on Facebook. From 67 applications, five were selected based on their proposed media plans.
The students participated in an ambitious schedule that included visits to two cattle ranches, the Agriculture Research Development & Education Center at Colorado State University, and USMEF's Denver office for a briefing on the U.S. cattle production system, attributes of grain-fed American beef, and the role of USMEF.
The week-long experience, which included participation in a two-hour cattle drive and a variety of cuisines featuring U.S. beef, resulted in 85 real-time postings by the participants on Facebook, blogs and YouTube, including visual images and videos.
"These postings drew a high level of interest from the students' peers," says Yang. "They have thousands of Facebook friends who were closely watching the real-time, real-life stories. These were particularly credible because it was a friend and peer of theirs who saw, heard and experienced the things that were being posted on Facebook."
Yang notes that it was South Korean consumers in their early 20s who were among the most vocal groups at the candlelight vigil protesting U.S. beef in 2008. This group of young trendy opinion leaders is very active with social networking, with an estimated 93% of them owning a smart phone.
One Korean survey showed that 88% of this group trusts the information they receive through social media.
"College students are a key marketing target for major companies in Korea these days," says Yang. "Not only do they provide fresh ideas and an opportunity to see the current situation from a new perspective, but they are the customers of the future."
News source: Beef Checkoff