A World of Experts
I cannot think of a more influential technology for delivering a message than social media. The cascade of events over the last 50 years that resulted in a computer entering every home, then the worldwide adoption of the internet, and ultimately the redefining of human-to-human interaction driven by the likes of Facebook and Twitter has created a world where communication is almost unrecognizable as compared to a decade ago.
It is my job to spread ideas and technology to ranchers in the small ruminant industries, and as we speak a simple video, I created for our extension Facebook page showing a piece of equipment to handle goats has been viewed by 8 million people! That type of response is something that should incite a backslapping and high-fiving frenzy amongst our office. So why is it that we still approach posting on social media with a tingling sense of both positivity and trepidation? Like most unfathomably beneficial tools, there is a darker side to social media that must be understood and properly navigated, because a single mouse click has the power to turn good intentions into serious hot water.
In agriculture, not just sheep and goat production, we have an ever-increasing disconnection with the end consumer. I know we all have read something or heard a quote from a city-dwelling critic of how animals are raised and shaken our head in disgust. How could they think that way? The truth is, most people are not as foolish as we would like to think they are, but as a species we tend create a reality in our own minds about everything, even the stuff we know nothing about. For those not connected to agriculture in any way, how farming and ranching really works is a complete unknown, so their perceptions are easily shaped by the talking points of others.
Social media fuels this snowball effect as we tend to surround ourselves in the digital community with like-minded individuals. But that’s not even the point I am trying to make. With the disconnect between farmer and the public quite apparent, we have encouraged our fellow agriculturalists to “tell their story.” Quite simply, pictures and posts on social media about your daily interactions with the animals you raise has the power to shed positive light about the industry and agrarian way of life.
At nearly every conference and or leadership event I have attended where the discussion has turned to creating visibility to the end-consumer, the mantra has been “Post!”, “Post!”, “Post!”. Before you do though, I want to provide our own experiences with building a social media campaign, because even though we have not had any major incidents, just because you post with the best of intentions, it is important to know not everybody will see it through the same lens… and often the harshest critics are our neighbors.
I’ll call this next part, “Lessons from the Facebook Frontier.” Our page has around 10,000 followers, which in all reality is not that many, but it is enough that we expect each of our posts to be seen by several thousand folks. There is potential for us to put something on Facebook and by the next day it has been seen by the same amount of people that attend an Aggie football game. Wait a week and that might equal all the people who watched the football game. For those of you who wish to use social media platforms to promote agriculture (or any business, really), we have a little advice. Here is what we have learned what to do and not to do –
1) DO allow, and encourage, comments on your posts. This creates interaction and promotes sharing and discussion of the information, and all around is beneficial. DO NOT get caught up by negative comments. Inevitably, someone will say something a bit “snarky”, or even worse, and it is very easy to dwell on. We typically brush off comments that are obviously foolish. Best case scenario is when a fellow ag producer defends you with honesty and integrity.
2) DO include photos in your posts. Pictures connect with people significantly more than just words. We (humans) believe what our eyes see but are more likely to question or ignore what we read or hear. Pictures are worth more than a thousand words online and often a simple, or no caption, are even required. Bonus points for pictures of animals. Double bonus points for baby animals. If you are working livestock, definitely describe what and why you are doing.
3) DO post about the drawbacks and negatives of farm and ranch lives. Seeing the “other side” of the story is usually appreciated by viewers as everybody is faced with positives and negatives within their careers and by you showing (and describing) your adversity it helps to create a sense of relatability. DO NOT Describe your problems and how it is somebody else’s fault. Describing a situation, showing both sides of the story, and letting others draw their own conclusions is infinitely more powerful.
4) DO share, comment on, and promote posts by fellow agriculturalists who have similar messages as you. Regularly posting on your page to maintain a steady stream of interest can be exhausting if you are trying to develop new content daily. Often by sharing posts or interactions with others you are able to publish new posts that are equally as impactful without the need to create something new by yourself. DO NOT post or share articles or content from others without vetting their source. The saying “not everything you read on the internet is true” needs to be amended to “almost nothing you read on the internet is true.”
5) DO go live and share videos. Social media is crowded with people who have found the success of posting photos. But most people are terrified of being behind a live camera. Viewers recognize this and are more attracted to videos. If a picture is worth a thousand words, live video is worth a million words. Once we stepped into the world of Facebook live, our audience grew tenfold. Do invest in equipment to stabilize the camera and drown out the wind noise.
This is far from an exhaustive list of how to be successful through social media promotion, mostly because we have not figured out the perfect formula ourselves. New technology generates excitement amongst its users and provides everybody a voice to share their views and stories. You have a great story; so tell it to the general public or someone else will tell it for you. “If you want something done right; do it yourself!”
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.