A decade ago it is unlikely any farmers would have guessed that in addition to learning more about how to improve efficiency in their operations, they might also be learning how to explain why they are using specific practices to consumers. The importance of communicating with consumers cannot be overstated. That's why a team of Nebraska Extension educators developed a workshop aimed at helping Extension staff, growers and farm group representatives communicate with consumers about the industry. The first session was held recently in Kearney, focusing on sensitive issues like GMOs and animal agriculture.
According to University of Nebraska assistant professor in the agriculture and environmental sciences communication program, Karen Cannon, new media and social media provide opportunities for producers to engage consumers in a unique way. However, it's easy to be intimidated by the array of social media choices and it might be difficult to determine how to proceed or even get started. At the communication workshop, Cannon offered several tips for growers, Nebraska Extension staff and farm groups that want to gain an understanding of how to use social and new media methods to communicate with consumers about how food is raised and why farmers do what they do.
1. Don't be afraid of it. Cannon said that social media shouldn't seem daunting, but should be looked at as an opportunity to share your own unique perspective about the work you or your organization is doing.
2. Start small and simple. She said that farmers shouldn't focus on getting bogged down with details. Just begin slowly. Choose one channel or social media platform and work using it, rather than trying three or four at once if you are overwhelmed.
3. Use creativity. Be creative in your messages so consumers will want to read what is next.
4. Know which part of your audience is participating in which type of media. It is useful to understand which consumers are using specific forms of social media, so the message can be targeted to the right people.
5. Evaluate available tools. Cannon suggested exploring different types of media and tools within each media.
6. Keep your messages visually vibrant. Photos, videos and infographics add color to the message and make them more likely to be seen and read.
7. Always maintain professionalism. Keep language and tone in a professional manner, Cannon said.
8. Build in assessment strategies. Figure out ways to evaluate current messages so they can be tweaked to improve understanding.
9. Start with strong communication objectives. Have a plan for the messaging and use of social media. "Think about what you'd like to get out of it," Cannon said.
10. Use engaging language. "Use words and language that is not threatening, but invites openness and conversation," she said.
11. Keep divisions down. Cannon suggested that any divisions between agriculture groups or commodities and agencies be left out of the conversation. A united approach is key to engaging consumer audiences about agriculture.
12. Think about things in the larger sense. Don't look at the experience from a detailed standpoint, but look to the big picture and the broader concerns.
You can learn more about how to engage consumers about agriculture through social media and other methods by contacting Cannon at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by reading an upcoming print article in Nebraska Farmer.