It's no secret farmers are under attack from people who spread misinformation and untruths about agriculture. The Internet is a haven for activists, whether they are talking about animal rights or GMOs. It's time for farmers to engage in social media.
Farmers can counter misinformation by adding a "tool" to their toolbox. And I am not talking about another wrench or screwdriver. I am talking about using social media "tools" to help them tell their story. Fewer and fewer people are getting their news from what is considered traditional methods such as radio, TV and newspaper. More and more are relying on the Internet, websites and social media to get their information.
It's more important than ever that farmers become involved in social media now. Why? We have a small segment of the population who think they know better than farmers how to care for their animals. Activists may be small in numbers, but they are influential. It's hard to grasp the seriousness of these activists unless you are exposed to their agenda. Their agenda is to influence and change what consumers can and cannot buy. They do this by putting out misinformation to consumers and food companies.
We, as farmers, are only 2% of the population, which makes it difficult for the public to hear us. This is why I am involved in social media and why you should be too. We need to be heard and social media allows you to reach an audience you would never be able to reach otherwise. You have heard the old adage, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." Farmers need to put away the WD-40 and "squeak". I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility and duty to tell our side of the story. This is done not by rants, but with respectful conversations. Conversations with consumers and food companies about what we do and why we do it.
Social media tools
Tool #1 - Facebook. If you don't have a personal Facebook page, now is the time to set one up. Next, setup a fan page for your farm. It's a great way to share what you are doing on your farm. Post pictures, short videos (use a smartphone) and stories of what is happening on your farm and why you are doing it. Lastly, you need followers for your Facebook pages. Invite all your friends and families from your personal Facebook page to "like" your farm page. Your follower list will grow resulting in a larger audience. You are creating a social community on Facebook by sharing information, asking questions and responding to comments. Check out the Social Media Guide  for more details on how to setup social media.
Tool #2 - Twitter. Tweets are short messages consisting of up to 140 characters. You can tweet a message to a specific person, organization or company. First thing is to setup a twitter account. All twitter accounts start with the character "@". The "@" is followed by a twitter name (or user name). In addition, tweets use hashtags. A hashtag starts with the symbol "#". Think of hashtags as a way to sort or categorize tweets. For example - tweets that included "#MNPorkcongress" were used in tweets that pertained to the Minnesota Pork Congress. Hashtags allowed users to read all tweets that pertained to the #MNPorkCongress, no matter who tweeted them. Personally, one of my favorite things I like about twitter is I can follow people who may be at a conference I was not able to attend. They will tweet messages or pictures about what is happening at the conference. As you engage in social media, you will find that you like and use different social media tools for different reasons. For me, twitter gives me access to a wide array of people, businesses or organizations with interests and backgrounds that I want to follow.
Tool #3 - Blog. Think of a blog as an online diary. Blogging gives you the opportunity to write about anything you want, including what happens on your farm. One word of caution - blogging is time consuming. While tweets and Facebook status updates are shorter in length, blogs are longer and more indepth. Blogs can refer readers to external links on other websites for more information about a topic. The key to a good blog is quality content and concise writing. Quality content is answering the question, "What value does my blog give my readers?"
Anyone can blog. You don't need a communication or journalism degree to blog. Be authentic and write from your heart. Use this list of farmer bloggers  to see what other farmers blog about. Ready to start? Use the site I referenced when I started my blog - FARMnWIFE Blogging Basics .
These are just a few of the social media tools farmers can use. You don't need to use them all. The most important thing is to just do something! Challenge yourself to commit to a certain number of minutes per week to engage in some sort of social media.
If you have any question about how to use social media, you can find me at Facebook: www.facebook.com/minnesotafarmer Twitter: @MinnFarmer Blog: www.mnfarmliving.com or email: [email protected]