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What Can Farmers & Small Towns Gain Through Using Social Media?

More than 100 million people are said to be using Twitter. With all the buzz around the service – challenges about how many followers people have, tweeted photos appearing on the big screen in major stadiums, and every business having a twitter icon on their homepage – one would have to wonder what would small town people to use the service. That was exactly what I was able to learn at the recent 140 Characters Small Town Conference in Hutchinson, KS.

If you haven’t heard of the 140 Conferences, you may be interested to hear founder Jeff Pulver’s thoughts on what the meeting can do depends entirely on the people who come. As he and event co-host Becky McCray opened the Small Town conference last week, Pulver said:

In America, 300 million people live here [in small towns] and only 65 million people live in the big town and everyone else lives in a small town and the technology we have that is touching our lives, that is effecting the way we work and live, effects everybody. It doesn’t discriminate. The same way that someone in education in Hutchinson is being effected by this is very similar to what’s happening in New York City. In fact, I think in some places, people in small towns are leading the way in being able to take a technology and run with it, to show and lead and use it. And I’ve found it fascinating to discover that.

We put a lens on small towns and put a lens on people who are affecting change and doing things. Either someone is touched by these technologies or they touching technology. That’s what the conference is really about. You will see lots of interesting voices coming forward and sharing their stories, sharing themselves.

McCray is one of the millions of Americans living in small towns or rural areas. Running a small business and living on a farm in northwestern Oklahoma where they raise cattle, she urged Pulver to bring 140 to small towns last year. This year as she took the microphone, she asked the crowd if they wanted to hear her “rant.” She drew the following picture in the audience’s mind:

Last week I opened a copy of the Chicago Tribune and saw a huge inside page dedicated to a story about the drought effecting Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas and New Mexico. And splashed across the middle of that story was a huge photo of a farmer from Oolagah, Oklahoma, in his overalls and his ball cap standing in the cracked and parched earth that is the remains of his farm pond. In short, they made him look like a hick. And he was surrounded by this story on the people who are fighting the drought, and their substandard housing, and how they are broke dirt farmers and it kind of made the rest of us look like a hick too.

See, there’s not room in the photo to tell the story of that farmer. To explain that he probably has between one and two million dollars in assets under management. There wasn’t room to explain that in his pocket is a Blackberry and that he is constantly connected with commodity prices, that he is probably a skilled commodities trader to protect his business. There wasn’t room in the photo to talk about his understanding of commercial lending, of cash flow management, of financial statements of all the disciplines of management that he has had to master to survive as a farmer.

There wasn’t room in that surrounding story to tell any broader of apicture of small town than just the broke dirt farmer. But there is room online and there is room here. We have room. We have room to tell a real story….

We can change some perceptions about who we are. Starting with our own. Because probably a lot of you were told the same thing I was told – ‘If you have any brains and any ambition, you will move out of the small town to the big city so that you can pursue opportunity.’ Which is wrong because today we can pursue opportunity from anywhere.

As she talked through this, the images of my small towns came into mind. Having lived in a Mississippi Delta town of 600 people for several years, I can point to students who were being told that the real promise was in big cities both overtly and in more subtle ways. But I can also point to individuals who “bucked the system” and decided to invest in their small towns, who got involved in the schools, helped bring the arts to their communities and many times, those people were farmers. I was busily walking down Memory Lane when Becky turned to a turn of phrase farmers know well.

Becky talked about the “hybrid vigor of ideas” that is achieved by getting a variety of people in the room, I knew that the day, that this conference had the potential to be incredible. I know I learned a lot while I was there and it was great to be in a room filled with people so passionate about America’s small towns.

In the coming days, we will share some more of the other presentations that were shared during the day as perceptions shattered. And we’ll show more perspectives on just how much small town residents have to gain through social media.

Originally published September 29, 2011 by Janice Person

Article courtesy of Beyond the Rows

Link Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk

 

 

How to Tell your Farm Story using Social Media

 

We Are Our Own Gatekeepers

Just a decade ago, the media was dominated by a few (very loud) voices. We watched the TV news at 5 p.m. and read the newspaper over coffee. If, as a farmer or a manufacturer or an inventor, we wanted to tell our story, we wrote up a press release and faxed it out – hoping someone would bite. Or, we sank thousands into advertising.

For the most part, farmers didn’t need to hire a big-city public relations firm to tell consumers that milk came from cows. Then came the social media revolution.

For the first time in history, the “gatekeepers” of media didn’t have the power to pick through a pile of press releases and decide which story to run or which consumer questions to answer (and which to ignore). Suddenly every individual had a public voice and a collective of individuals could create a revolution in a matter of days (literally, in some cases).


What happened next?

An overwhelming number of questions came pouring out of the consumer sector. Suddenly, people who previously thought to themselves “I wonder how many gallons of milk comes from a single cow each day?” could simply Google it. And if they couldn’t find out through Google, they could post the question on their Facebook page. Conversations got started and questions got answered.

The problems and uncertainty for farmers (and all industries) in this open information marketplace lies in the fact that the people who “answer” may have no idea what they are talking about. Misinformation becomes fact. Complicated answers become black-and-white. Conversation becomes argument.

This scenario of question/answer has played out in every industry in every sector in every marketplace. People want to know who is making, growing, shipping and selling the products they buy, eat and use. And they have the right to know. And we should be proud to share our stories with them. The more consumers understand the diverse, complex and fascinating world of food production, the more respect and understanding the industry will earn.


What do we do now?

It’s simple: we embrace transparency and tell our stories honestly with the people we work with, sell to, and learn from. It’s called public relations, agvocacy, conversation, or more simply, storytelling.

We are proud of what we do and are proud of our industry. We put food on the table of hundreds of millions of families each day in North America alone. And we stand together against bad actors and actions.

Of course we must listen to and acknowledge the concerns of those who trust us with their dinners, but with our voices, we must focus on our stories: our future, our technology, our commitment to safety, health, and social and environmental responsibility, our love of the land and our way of life, our dedication to our families. We admit our shortcomings and work to improve.

The more of us who choose to engage proactively and productively in conversation with the consumer audience, the more powerful our message will be. The tools we can use are Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Google+ (to name just a few).

As an ag business newbie and self-proclaimed city slicker, I was honored to be invited to the second Agvocacy 2.0 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, last month. The AgChat Foundation, a social media advocacy organization established to “empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms” held the conference to connect and teach ag professionals like me (and you) how to effectively use online platforms to help us tell our stories.

As I sat in the room a hundred ag professionals who have embraced social media and are using these tools to share these messages, I began to think of all of the millions of others who have yet to engage. Yes, the conference was amazing and I learned a lot. Yes, I think you should try to go, if you can. But, yes, I also understand that many farmers and ag professionals don’t have the time or knowledge to jump into Facebook or Twitter and figure it out.

One of the key messages of Jeff Fowle, AgChat Foundation past board president, in his opening remarks at the Agvocacy 2.0 conference was “reach beyond the choir.”

In my attempt to reach beyond the choir, I am appealing to you — the farmer and industry professional who doesn’t know where to start — pick one place to start.

Set up a Twitter account (it’s simple) and follow @AgChat@agchatfound and me (@amyserves). I’ll help you figure out how to follow along during the weekly AgChat. You can start by just reading the conversation.

Make a Facebook page for your farm (ask around! Your local Chamber of Commerce can probably help, or your teenage kid, for sure!). Connect locally, regionally and through the industry and share your daily life. Start by connecting with others through AgChat Foundation’s page (https://www.facebook.com/AgChatFoundation).

Visit www.agchat.org and read a few of the blog posts highlighted to get an idea about what other people are writing.

If you have something to say, but aren’t sure which avenue to take, connect with the AgChat community or email me and I can try to help.

We’re all in this together. We’re our own gatekeepers and our own storytellers, and through agvocacy, we are our own public relations machine.

Let’s use the tools we have available and get our story out. It’s one we can all be proud to share.

Article courtesy of DCCWaterbeds via Progressive Dairyman

Link Photo courtesy of Paolo Del Signore


How do you use social media to connect with consumers?

Want to learn the meaning of good conversation? Check out Tim Wray in “Get the Conversation Going.”
 

Judi Graff on why a professional business needs a professionally designed site

Our resident web expert contributor, Judi Graff of the FarmNWife, reviews our members blogs and gives some helpful tips on how to improve communications through social media. Check out her review of John Walkey’s, Bridge Business & Technology Inc. website.

Website Critique – Clean & Uncluttered is a great start

Our resident web expert contributor, Judi Graff of the FarmNWife, reviews our members’ blogs and gives some helpful tips on how to improve communications through social media.  Check out her review of Cara Conroy-Low’s, Clear Sky Farm website.

Website Critique – Blog tips for increasing conversions, traffic & sales!

Our resident web expert contributor, Judi Graff of the FarmNWife, reviews our members’ blogs and gives some helpful tips on how to improve communications through social media.  Check out her review of Elaine Froese’s, Farm Family Coach and Succession Planning  website.

 

Why Write a Blog?

Kevin Kossowan, Edmonton food blogger, talks about why you should take the time to write a blog about your farm or business?  There are a lot more reasons than you might think.

The point of blogging for Kevin, is branding. He says that the more you write about the topic that you know, such as farming, the more you are seen by the wider public as an expert in that area. This creates visibility and when you’re in the business of farming, visibility to the public is key.

Blogging gives you the ability to speak to consumers in your own words. For farmers this is very important and can help educate consumers about what life is really like on the farm and where their food comes from.

 

What Should I Blog About?

Naming a post or deciding what to blog about is the biggest challenge of blogging. Kevin Kossowan suggests that you must write about something that people care about. If you write about something that no one is searching for, then there will be no audience to find your blog. However, if you write about something that people are actively looking for on the internet, you immediately have potential readers for you blog.

So. as a farmer. ask yourself these questions – what about your farming business do people care about? What would people want to know about farming? Once you’ve answered those questions, and you’re passionate about the topic, you have found an excellent idea to blog about.

In this video Kevin discusses these issues and gives you tips on how to stay focussed on the topic your blogging about.

 

 

Designing Your Blog

Whether you’re looking to customize a WordPress blog with a killer template, or just tweak some settings, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your blog’s design matches your message! Kevin Kossowan walks you through the steps on how to design the blog you want.

 

 

Blogging to Become an Expert

Kevin Kossowan has mastered the art of finding “holes in knowledge online” and becoming the expert on those niche topics, leading to some great business opportunities!

 

 

Using Your Blog for Market Research

A blog not only can be a voice for your brand but it can always be a way to find out what your cusomters are saying and what they want. Watch Kevin Kossowan, Edmontonian food blogger, explain how to use your blog to extract valuable information from your cusomters and find out what they really want.