People. Perseverance. Progress.
Together, these 3 parts represent the ingredients needed to truly reach out to consumer audiences and explain the real facts and truth about food and farming. These components were also the focus of the AgChat Foundation’s conference I attended last week in Kansas City, Missouri. I attended with 2 other Ontario pals and joined a room full of people who all had one thing in common; we all took an active interest in ‘Ag-vocating’.
Farmers, ranchers, agricultural-business professionals and students were all united to learn from some of the experts and each other as to how we can best get our message out there and reach new audiences. It was a great few days away from home to finally meet up (tweet-up!) with some folks that I had only ever interacted with online. A fun few days, to say the least. I’m definitely still learning a lot about improving my communication skills, but it’s awesome to know that I have a network of people across North America that are more than happy to answer my questions and point me in the right direction.
We touched on a lot of different areas, and had many breakout sessions to choose from so I have highlighted the standout pieces from the event.
Opening Keynote: Vance Crowe on Growing Your Tribe
Follow on twitter: Vance Crowe
“Our tribes needs explorers”
Vance…what can I say? The guy has a personality that fills a room and everyone was hanging on to his every word. He’s had quite the career, but now works for Monsanto as their Director of Millennial Engagement. Vance’s presentation really got me thinking about the way our agricultural community communicates to consumers. He challenged us to take a completely different approach to the way we built our audiences both on and offline. This new perspective really clicked with me.
And this is where I admit that he’s right. I find myself, and very often other ag-communicators, tending to ‘preach to the choir’. We don’t always put ourselves out there or force ourselves into uncharted territory. But this is where we need to be. Nothing is going to change if we play it safe and stay in our comfortable sphere of agricultural peers.
Vance urged us to venture to the edges of our curiosity. He highlighted a lot of different folks on social media that had completely different backgrounds and areas of expertise, but were also connected to agriculture in some way. He urged us to expand our social realms and reach out to people that we had never really connected with before. My goal for the upcoming year will be to do just that. Instead of continuing to ‘preach to the choir’, I will pledge my personal goal to reach out to at least 25 new people online
I did some hunting around online and found a really cool video of him presenting to the University of Florida. For the social media junkies out there, this presentation is a good one. Titled, ‘Crossing Over the Mountain: How memes are created, spread, mutate, and become culture when they thrive’
Focus Session on Social Media Crisis Response
Kind of a bittersweet session for me because on one hand, it’s unfortunate that we’ve reached this point where farmers and ranchers need to be on constant alert for an online crisis. However, it’s also great that we are being proactive and preparing ourselves for a worst case scenario. Over the last couple years, agriculture’s reputation has taken a beating from undercover activists who take secret footage and then manipulate and post the videos to the masses. Most of the footage is completely taken out of context, while in some cases there are real problems that need to be addressed on farms.
Social media crisis’ are not limited to farmers and ranchers though, and also not limited solely to those in animal agriculture. These viral stories can stem from farm accidents like barn fires, or natural disasters. They can also target the processing sector and include occurrences like food safety recalls.
During the session, we practiced with a few ‘what-if’ scenarios that were completely different from one another. It’s important to note that your response should match the type of crisis that could potentially develop. I also learned that it’s important to have an expert or a team of experts ready to publicly speak and back up any/all of the actions you took. The best example for this would be an animal welfare situation where your veterinarian would be an excellent spokesperson because they are very credible and would not be biased in their response.
You need a crisis plan, no matter the level of production. – Don Schindler
Key Steps to a Response
- Investigate – Spend your time and energy responding to the people who are willing to listen and engage. Do not waste time on those who don’t.
- Ask Questions – First, make sure you understand what they are saying. It might not be as bad as it looks. Get some clarity.
- Respond with Empathy – Put yourself in their shoes and then respond. You need to demonstrate that you have shared values and it matters to you just as much.
- Take it Offline – Often, it’s best to get the conversation offline. If you have the channels available, like a hotline, use them.
The Best Defense is a Good Offence
- Have a positive profile already built up online. This will give you a solid platform to work with and to also draw support from.
- Have a plan ready to go. Know who your experts are to call upon if needed. Also have messaging ready to go and an easy way to distribute the messaging for all employees.
- Practice makes perfect. Go over some what-if situations ahead of time and practice how you will respond in those scenarios.
And finally…I’ll leave you with this treat. I’ve been following online and listening to the Shark Farmer podcast for a while now, but finally got to meet Rob in person and watch his interview with a Barb, who is the beauty/brains behind the Chick Wire-which you also need to check out!
Follow the podcast here: Sharkfarmer Podcast
Rob and Barb lit up the stage with a one-of-a-kind live recording of a dual podcast. Listen to it here: http://sharkfarmer.libsyn.com/030-the-sharkwire-podcast
(photo courtesy of The Chick Wire)
Huge thank you to Dairy Farmers of Ontario for making this possible for myself, Kristen & Amy to attend!
Follow DFO on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DairyOntario
Or check out the best calendar out there! Milk calendar 2017