Everyone wants to be part of a community and have like-minded people with whom they can share the good and the bad that is part of everyday life. Many pork producers are representing both their states and their collective career choice while banding together at the National Pork Industry Forum  in Florida this week, working together to make important decisions about research, education and promotional efforts that will impact the entire pork industry. Face-to-face meetings like Pork Forum, state producer meetings and World Pork Expo are great opportunities to band together to “talk pigs.” Nobody understands what it’s like to be a pork producer quite like another pork producer. At the same time, nobody can share the real story about what it’s like to be a pork producer nearly as well as—you guessed it, an actual pork producer. Don’t you wish you could continue those pork-friendly conversations long after the meetings are over? If you aren’t already doing so, maybe now is the time to consider reaching out to share your story through social media.
At the recent AgChat Foundation’s  Upper Midwest Regional Conference in Rochester, MN, the focus was on building community and advocating for agriculture through social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blog posts. The meeting attendees were primarily farmers and ranchers from surrounding states, coming together to learn how to use social media tools, both to reach out and support each other, and to share the many positive stories that there are to tell about how food is produced on the farm. The common theme throughout the conference was a confidence-building message. As Katie Pinke , a North Dakota farm wife and seasoned blogger explained, “Some people are immersed in social media, some are just getting started. I was motivated to engage and start talking about my experiences on the farm because I found lots of negativity about agriculture in social media. I started feeling a sense of urgency to tell my story because I wanted to try to be a part of the conversation.” Pinke decided she wanted to share the positive story about agriculture as a way of protecting the agricultural way of life for her young daughters. She wants them to have the option to be the sixth generation on her family’s farm.
Speakers like Emily Zweber , a dairy farmer from Elko, MN, shared tips producers could take home and use to create their own Facebook fan page for their farms. She noted that the experiences gained from participating in social media may not always be positive, but that even some of the negative comments can open the door for sharing information. “I think that 90% of all negative engagement that we have had on our farm’s Facebook fan page ends up being a question or misunderstanding that the person just didn’t know how to phrase better,” she said.
Speakers also talked about using social media to make new friends within agriculture, too. It’s a good way to work together to both share common experiences and, if necessary, defend a way of life. Pinke talked about having online friends in agriculture who act as “ag ninjas,” defending the real story behind agriculture. Zweber added, “If you build the (online) community, it will work to defend you if necessary.”
A number of pork producers are active on social media, using the outlet to both network with other producers and reach out to the non-agricultural public. If you are looking for some ideas on how Facebook can be a “friend” to agriculture, check out the Liberty Swine Farms , or (jumping species), the Zweber Farms, LLC Facebook fan pages . What has your experience been working with social media? Do you regularly tweet, blog or post content online as an agricultural advocate? Share your story with us in the comment section, or email [email protected] . And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and click “like” on the National Hog Farmer Facebook page while you are at it!