Do Agvocates Need to be a United Front?

I have been thinking a lot about this recently. I have been noticing there has been disagreement among farmers about the “Ag Gag” bill. While I don’t really know enough about these bills to give an opinion, I do have my opinion on whether we should have a united front on issues in the national spotlight. I have come up with some criteria I think we, as agvocates, need to use when deciding if we should be a united front and when we should agree to disagree.

When to be a united front

While I would like to think that we should be entitled to our opinions, there are some times I think we should really just stop and think about our actions. The most important thing to remember  is that we are trying to promote agriculture and, in the end, we need everyone to stand together to survive. I truly believe that social media agvocates should not bash other agricultural farming methods (i.e. organic vs. conventional). After all, we are all here to run a business and feed our families. If not anything else, we should at least respect those two ideas. Farming is a way of life that, as much as we would like not to believe it, is pretty much the same across all farming practices. All farmers are here to feed and clothe the world, and nothing is going to change that.

When not to be a united front

While I don’t believe we should be bashing other agricultural practices, it is everyone’s right to disagree on something that can affect their well-being, for instance, the “Ag Gag” bills. If you feel you could be slighted by manipulation of videos and think it could affect the agricultural industry, go right ahead and tell people about it. If you think the bills have lost in the “court of public opinion”  and think we are losing trust in consumers, then go right ahead and disagree with the bill passing. I cannot feasibly sit here and type and not let you disagree on an issue that could dramatically affect the farming way of life.

I guess I draw the line at whether you are making an attack against another farmer. Farmers depend on each other and I know that a farmer would help out another farmer with field work if they needed it. I think we need to extend the same courtesy on social media; to help agriculture as whole succeed instead of splitting it in pieces. In the end, I leave you with one final thought to ponder…

For all of the time we spend bashing other agricultural practices and the farmer’s character, I wonder how many consumers we could have told about agriculture?

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How to Bring Your Agvocacy Conversation with a Consumer to Social Media

Ag Day on Campus UW-MadisonTomorrow (Wednesday, April 24) is Ag Day on Campus at UW-Madison sponsored by the Collegiate Farm Bureau. Even though I am not a part of the organization, I am going because I want to help spread the word about agriculture to consumers. With my recent brush with social media and this event tomorrow, it got me thinking about how I would take the connections I meet tomorrow and get them connected to other social media agvocates. Below is how I am going to do it.

1. Get to know them

The first step when you are at an agvocacy event is to give an introduction. In this introduction, make sure to give them your name, where you live and your connection to agriculture. At an agvocacy event, giving the person your connection to agriculture will make your opinions more sincere and give you credibility. After your introduction, ask them to tell you about themselves.

2. What parts of agriculture are they familiar with

Once you know each other and feel you can share information, it is important to ask them what they know about agriculture. It is really important to let them talk and not jump all over them when they get something wrong. We have to remember, they don’t live and breathe agriculture like we do. When they are done talking, talk about your experiences with what they just talked about. Give them stories about the practices you have witnessed and don’t talk in absolutes (i.e. “all farmers use the right practices when dehorning cattle”). Instead, tell them the truth about what you have witnessed and what you feel most farmers do. Then tell them, there are others out there that do not follow these practices. This will give you more credibility because you are more transparent with them.

3. What parts of agriculture do they want to know more about

After you have talked with them about what they know, ask them if they have any questions about what they don’t know. Is there anything that they hear in the media that they have a question about? Make sure to be upfront with them if you don’t have the answers they want to know about. The key is to direct them towards people that can give them a good answer, which bring me to point number four.

Ag Day on Campus 2012

4. Tell them about social media agvocates in these areas

Once you are done with your conversation, make sure to direct them to social media agvocates that are knowledgeable about the agricultural issues you discussed. This will encourage them to connect with these people to get even better answers and examples. Don’t forget to connect with them as well. A great way to get yourself, the consumer and other social media agvocates connected is to have a tweet that goes something like this:

Hey @JPlovesCOTTON, @CONSUMER wants to know more about cotton. I thought you two should get connected.

This will put all of your Twitter handles in one tweet and allow you to interact with that person afterwards.

5. Actually interact with them

After the event, it is really important to actually interact with the person. The first step is to follow the person on Twitter. After that, make sure the social media agvocates and consumer are talking about the issues. From here, keep in touch with the person and keep interacting with them. The more you talk with them on social media, the more likely they are to come to you for agriculture know-how than the alternative. That is the point of all this after all, to be the consumers first choice for answers related to agriculture.

What Agvocates Need to Know About Tweetchats

Tweetchats, in my opinion, are one of the best social media inventions of all time. Tweetchats are conversations people have that use hashtags to group all of the tweets together. For instance, #agchat is a tweetchat every Tuesday night where people weigh in on agriculture. These tweetchats are a great way to meet other people interested in agriculture and, if you find the right tweetchat, a place to connect with consumers. Whenever I participate in tweetchats, I always get a lot of new followers and people to interact with on Twitter. Below are the top  5 things you need to know about tweetchats.

Tweetchat1

1. Always remember the hashtag at the end
2. How the questions look

The hashtag is the thing that makes the entire tweetchat work. If a post doesn’t have the hashtag in it, then it won’t be seen in the tweetchat stream. #agchat, #blogchat and #foodchat are great examples of tweetchats that you can get involved in.

2. How it works

There is some variation in how tweetchats work. Some have a question and answer system, like #agchat, while others have a free-for-all like #blogchat. It really depends on the preferences of the people in the tweetchat. When there are questions that are asked, the tweet usually starts with a question identifier like “Q1.” Whenever you answer that question, your tweet needs to have either “A1” for answer one or “Q1” at the beginning to tell people you are answering that question. Then you answer the question the best you can in 140 characters or less. Usually the hashtag will go at the end.

Tweetchat

2. Using “Q1” to answer
3. Tweetchat.com
4. You can adjust the speed of the tweets

3. tweetchat.com

My favorite thing to use for tweetchats is tweetchat.com. This website allows you to login to your Twitter account and follow a tweetchat. When you use Twitter search it doesn’t show you every post that comes through, especially when there are a lot of posts quickly. Tweetchat makes sure you see all of the posts with the hashtag. Another nice feature is that it has a refresh speed you can set. This allows you to choose how fast tweets can come into the feed, which is important when you are trying to read a bunch of posts. Tweetchat.com still counts your characters for you, just like Twitter, but also automatically adds the hashtag at the end of your post. Just one more thing you don’t have to remember in the furry of a tweetchat.

4. The speed

Tweetchats can go by really quickly, which is why it is really important to remember that you don’t need to read every tweet. It is more important that you engage and talk to people in separate conversations. Tweetchats were created to help its users make connections and find answers to their questions, not to just read the answers of others.

5. Tips and tricks

In my time participating in tweetchats, I have found it really helpful to have tweetchat.com and Twitter open at the same time. I use Twitter to keep track of all of my interactions by staying on the “connect” tab. When I am in tweetchat.com, new interactions show up on the Twitter tab. This tells me that I have a new interaction and that I should engage this person further. It is also really important to be on tweetchats that pertain to your target audience or help you succeed. In our case, we probably want to use tweetchats that have our target consumers on it or that help social media agvocates succeed (like #agchat).

Tweetchats are a great way to find connections, find answers and have interesting conversations, but they are also really hard to master. Feel free to post your questions about tweetchats in the comments section below and I will answer them the best I can.

Twitter 101 for Beginning Agvocates

Twitter, hashtag, handle, character, RT, retweet

1. Hashtag
2. Twitter handle
5. The character counter
6. The RT

While Twitter is a great way to connect with consumers and other social media agvocates, it is very different than other social media sites out there. Below are some cool features of Twitter you need to know.

1. The hashtag (#)

The hashtag is a “tracking device” for Twitter posts with similar interests. The hashtag starts with the pound sign (#) and then has letters after it that signify a specific event, Twitter chat or just a funny hashtag. Some events that you go to will have a designated Twitter hashtage like #WDE13 and #agexpo13. Some hashtags mark a Twitter chat like #agchat, #blogchat or #foodchat. People will also use hashtags as a joke at the end of a tweet like #winning. In the end, hashtags are a great way to group posts together so others can search for the experiences on Twitter. Simply search or click on one in a post to follow a hashtag.

2. The Twitter handle (@)

The Twitter handle is an identifier specific to every person on Twitter. You will get an update whenever your Twitter handle is used by pressing the “connect” tab. You can also tag people in a post using their Twitter handle to make sure they see it. It is important to know that whenever you start a post with a Twitter handle, it is only seen by that person and people who follow both of you. Many people put a period before the Twitter handle if they don’t want that to happen.

3. Twitter search

One of the most powerful things about Twitter is the search function. It allows you to search for nearly anything on Twitter including hashtags, Twitter handles and words.

4. Lists

Lists are a great way to make different groups of the people you are following. You can make your own lists or you can subscribe to lists that are already made. Either way you can go to this list and view the tweets by people in the list. This can be really helpful when you start following a lot of people and can’t keep up with your Twitter feed.

5. 140 characters

Every tweet has to be below 140 characters. A character is any letter, number, space or symbol that is used in the tweet. Twitter has a character counter in the bottom right near the tweet button to help you count. I would also recommend keeping any tweet you want to be retweeted pretty short. This allows people to add their own take on the subject and put your Twitter handle in the retweet.

6. The retweet (RT), modified tweet (MT) and favorite

Think of a RT as a share on Facebook, but for Twitter. You can RT anyone’s content at any time. A RT typically starts like this: RT @advocate4ag: Twitter 101… and continues with their original content. It is a good idea to add a short comment to the beginning of a RT to further engage the tweet writer. An MT is just like a RT, but the original tweet has been modified a little. This usually happens when the RT doesn’t work in 140 characters.  The favorite is basically a “like” on Facebook. I usually favorite something if I liked what they said, but it wasn’t RT worthy.

Twitter is a great resource to use, but it takes a while to learn the “ins and outs” of it. Use it regularly and don’t be scared to ask others (especially myself) for help if you need it.

Top 5 Ways to Use PETA to Your Advantage

I know P.E.T.A. is not a favorite group for agvocates to have a conversation with, but I feel they actually can be useful for some things. Here is my list of ways you can use P.E.T.A. to become a better social media agvocate.

1. Set the story straight

Most social media agvocates can agree that PETA does not do the best job of telling our side of the story. That is why it is very important whenever PETA makes a claim to actually talk about it. Carrie Mess recently did this exact thing when she responded to Ryan Gosling and his views on dehorning. Agvocates need to explain why things are done the way they are done because people are listening to what PETA is saying and waiting for someone else to speak up.

2. Use them to create blog posts

PETA is a great website to browse through to get ideas on possible blog posts to write about. Whenever you go through their website and find something that isn’t right, talk about why it isn’t right. Give a response to what they have to say about the issue. You might find a whole slew of blog posts after reading just one web page.

3. Read their posts for SEO search terms

PETA is a social media machine compared to most of us social media agvocates, so why recreate the wheel? Whenever you are reading their content, pay attention to the keywords they are using. You can then use these keywords in your own blog posts. Think of it this way, if you use the same keywords, your blog post is more likely to come up in searches whenever PETA articles come up. Linking to their information, while we don’t want to promote it, is also a great way to become further linked to them in searches.

4. Be more trustworthy than they are

I am sure we have all felt the harsh tone PETA tends to have when on social media, like they are trying to push an agenda. That is exactly what we don’t want to do to consumers. Pushing an agenda just turns consumers off unless they are completely on board with your opinions. It is important that you appear trustworthy and transparent. You need to be an agvocate that is there to help people get reliable answers to their questions. Don’t be afraid to tell them the truth, transparency lends credibility.

5. Comment on their posts

I know this is really hard to do, but if you can stomach it, you should comment on their information. Engage people on social media that appear to be against an agricultural practice. You may not convince them, but there are others watching that are on the fence about what to believe. You need to be calm in your conversation and do not push an agenda, just give your stories and facts. You are not after the trust of the person you are engaging, but rather the silent hundreds that are listening.

Why it is Important to be Transparent as an Agvocate

agriculture, transparency

Chico Locker and Sausage Co. Inc. is a good example of being transparent.

I was a part of a conversation last week that discussed transparency and whether we, as social media agvocates, should tell consumers everything about agriculture. Whether we should tell them the “gritty” truth or just keep it a secret.

My answer… we NEED to tell consumers everything because they need to know what agriculture is all about.

This is especially important to us social media agvocates because we are the leading form of pro-agriculture information for consumers. Below are the three reasons I think we should tell consumers everything.

1. They demand the truth

Every consumer I have ever talked to wants to know the truth about where their food comes from. If we don’t give it to them, what does that say? It is like a big flashing sign that says “agriculture has a big secret that it doesn’t want you to know.” Consumers demand and should expect the truth from agriculture. If you want to tell people how you butcher animals, like Chico Locker Sausage, go right ahead. If you want to tell people why dehorning cattle is important, like Dairy Carrie, go right ahead. Consumers want to know and who are we to tell them they can’t.

2. If we don’t, who will?

This is actually the scariest question social media agvocates combat every day. If we don’t tell consumers what agriculture is all about, then who will give them the information. If you actually google “dehorning cattle,” there are quite a few examples of the bad information that can creep into google searches. Being transparent also makes social media agvocates more credible to consumers because consumers don’t feel like they are being lied to.

3. Are you hiding something you are ashamed of?

Everything that I have ever been taught in agriculture has been shown to me with the greatest amount of pride. If there is something we as social media agvocates are not willing to tell everyone about, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing that thing in the first place. If you are doing something that you think could be harmful to agriculture, you need to stop doing it NOW. That secret, that distrust is exactly what has gotten us to where we are today. Where consumers do not trust where their food comes from. If you can’t talk about it, then don’t do the act in the first place.

I think you can tell that I really think social media agvocates should be telling the truth about everything they do. After all, the main reason to be a social media agvocate is to answer common question consumers have about the food they eat. If we are not ready to answer those question, then we shouldn’t be social media agvocates in the first place.

5 Easy Steps to be “You” in a Blog Post

Top_5One of the hardest things to do when you are blogging is learning to be yourself. This was really hard for me when I first started this blog because I really wanted to tell the entire story instead of being myself. Check out these 5 easy steps you can do to make your personality come alive in your blog posts.

1. Write and don’t stop

The first thing I do when I blog is I just start writing. I keep going until I am done with the main points I want to write. I don’t stop for punctuation changes or or for mispellings. I just keep writing. This really forces you to be yourself and get all of your points down in your own voice.

2. Make initial revisions

After I am all done writing my blog, I go back and review. I find all of the mistakes I can find in the punctuation and grammar. I look up all of the information I want to include in the post and add in any links I want to add to increase engagement.

3. Find pictures that represent you

Next I scour the web to find pictures that represent my post and myself. Since I like to think I am a funny person (I don’t know if I really am), I tend to choose pictures that are funny representations of the blog post, just like the picture for number three.

4. Sleep on it

This is the most important thing when writing a blog post, you need to “sleep on it.” Before you publish your blog post you should give your mind a rest so it can stop from getting all jumbled up in your  blog post. There are a lot of times where I will sleep on a blog post and come back the next morning and find a glaring problem with the post. It is too easy to get caught up in the small things and miss the big picture right in front of you.

5. Revise and Post

Once you wake up in the morning, take another look at your blog. Make sure everything sounds good and that your entire blog post makes sense to you and your reader. Above all, check to make sure it represents who you want to represent in your blog. If you want to be funny, is your blog post funny? If you want to seem responsible, does your blog post give a sense of responsibility? Once you know “you” are in the blog post, feel free to post it.

These five easy steps will make blog writing easier and allow you to actually be “you” in a blog post. Being yourself in a blog post will make your blog post seem more genuine and resonate with your audience.