Farmers Reach Out with Twitter

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President of AgChat Foundation Jeff VanderWerf, right, with Secretary Ryan Weeks. Photo by Board Director Jan Hoadley commemorating $50,000 raised to help ranchers after Atlas

On April 7, 2009 the first #agchat was held for those in agriculture to discuss issues on Twitter. By the summer of 2010 over 2,500 people from four continents and eight countries have participated in AgChat and the ‘sister chat’, #Foodchat held the third Tuesday of each month. In the time since, several worldwide efforts have been made including helping to raise over $50,000 for ranchers affected by Atlas storm.

Over 800 farmers are listed in the database of Twitter’s follow a farmer listing. Several of these farmers knew all had stories so organized the AgChat Foundation. Seeking to reach out and empower others in the agriculture community with more effective tools, the first Agvocacy 2.0 Conference was held in August 2010 with 50 participants and 30 volunteers traveling from coast to coast and border to border to Chicago. In August the conference will be over 100 people, with a larger focus on broadening our reach.

Twitter is a forum that some find more difficult to use in it’s brevity, but those brief comments, or Tweets, of under 140 characters make it ideal to agvocate. It allows the sharing of tidbits of information, photographs from the farm and telling others why we do what we do.

“Oh but people don’t care about what happens on my farm!” Yes they do! As food recalls increase, sensationalized videos come to the media and people are told we should fear our food people DO care what is happening on our farms! They want to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we see and glimpses of our life that is more than just work.

As people learn small things about what we do it takes away the fear. Many do not know what we do to care for the environment around us until we show them. Knowledge is power and for far too long we have let others tell our story.

With Twitter because it is short bits of information farmers can text with their cell phone and share a new calf, status of fields or what the day’s chores hold for you. Still there are some important tips, shared at the first Agvocacy 2.0 Conference by California rancher Jeff Fowle and dairy farmer Ray Prock.

Be yourself is important. Find common interests with others and expand your communication circle. This can be effective to find others in agriculture but ultimately social media is a great tool to connect with consumers.

It appeals to the social nature of people to connect with others. One key point is talking *with* someone not *at* them. We aren’t giving lectures!

Describe honestly what you do from your perspective. Beware of too much unnecessary information. What you had for lunch most probably don’t care about! Nor do most care how much your power bill is or other personal information. However, where it applies to food production it may be relevant.

Basic etiquette is important If someone posts something you want to share – or Re-Tweet – an RT in front of the message copies it word for word. If you change the message or drop words out relay it as “via (whomever)” to give credit.

Twitter is primarily to communicate rather than self promotion. Engage people! Share a blog, an online article relevant to your farm, respond to your followers. If you are new post a few times with an introduction to #AgChat and you will likely meet plenty of people willing to help you along.

Other hash tags direct your messages to groups of interested people that may not follow you directly. A few of these might be #food #meat #dairy or #farm. Have an avatar to make it personal.

Use caution connecting with other social tools to your Twitter account Some can hijack your account or flood with unwanted messages.

If we don’t tell our story others will. Twitter can be a great tool to connect with and educate the majority of the people who eat every day. Make it interesting and social media need not take a great deal of time if managed just like other farm chores.

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Say What You Mean – Nicely!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever said something and it been taken much differently than it was intended?

How about watching an online conversation disintegrate into name calling and drama? “But that’s not what I meant!”

Whether it’s online or face to face at a show or fair, keeping control of the conversation can be a challenge.

Or maybe you’re in a rush to get chores done and someone calls. “I’m kinda busy right now – call me back in a half hour.” Now the caller won’t see that you’re rushing to beat an incoming storm and want to get things done before it hits – and wrongly thinks you’re upset with them. Context means a great deal!

<Albert Mehrabian> stated that people form their perceptions in a conversation in three ways: 55% body language, 38%: tone of voice and 7% choice of words when talking about feelings or attitudes. This suggests that 93 percent of communication occurs through nonverbal behavior and tone; only 7 percent of communication takes place through the use of words – thus the “93/7″ Rule.”  – Overcoming Fake Talk **

Now think of that in another way – on social media. There is no way to see that 93% in most cases. Choosing words, striving for clear communication and responding, not reacting, take a higher role.

Communication is critical – whether it’s sharing information with a partner, spouse or youth about a task that needs completed or sharing with someone online about why you eat rabbit or why you chose the breed you chose, clear communication is important.

A few things to remember –

1. What you say is filtered through their experiences to become what they hear. What is intended may be much different than what is heard – if things get touchy, stop, think, ask for clarification.

2. We can’t control how someone takes our words, but we can choose our words carefully. “I wouldn’t use that buck in my herd” comes across much differently than “He’s horrible – cull him right now!” If someone is hearing the latter, reframe the conversation – clarify he might work for someone else but not in your herd.

3. Don’t take it personally! When you are dealing with an animal rights person, or someone who rabidly denounces the use of rabbits as meat or someone who has opposite views than you on pretty much any topic – you’re not going to convert them, no matter what you say. They’re not going to convert you. Stop, breathe, and simply say “I understand what you’re saying but do not agree. Thanks for sharing.” Then drop it. And I mean drop it – leave it alone, do not pick it back up. LEAVE the conversation. Nothing productive comes from bickering online. If they have a conversation meltdown – and many will – and get hateful, trust me, people see that and it speaks volumes. Don’t repay in kind, no matter how much you think they deserve it.

4. Increase listening skills. Observe conversations, and listen, listen, listen. Does it make a difference reading messages from people you know vs people you haven’t met face to face? Are you hearing them accurately? Is your perception filter altering what they say? Listening can be invaluable as you talk to others about rabbit promotion.

To hold REAL conversations, you must take responsibility for how you speak and interact with others. You can’t go around blaming everyone and everything else for your lack of results in creating REAL conversations that work!

This brings an important point – if communication detours look at your reaction, words, understanding. If any of the three need altered, breathe, do so and try again.

The results are worth it. Clear communication is critical.

 

**disclosure* I created a storefront and put a link to Overcoming Fake Talk in it so it’s easy to group with other helpful books and guides for those who may find it useful. Practicing clear communication is important to be understood but also to effectively share important information. A few pennies from the purchase help the PromoteTheRabbit website.

 

FluffyCows & Golden Opportunities

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Perhaps you’ve seen the internet sensation about Fluffy Cows. Many who have grown up around agriculture know them as market steers, club calves – beef! But the public has hit on it as something they weren’t aware of – and it’s opened doors. Or has it? What if it’s rabbits tomorrow? Can we stand the pressure? Not if we don’t prepare *now*!

Stay with me here folks! What seems like a great opportunity to talk about beef, livestock and agriculture is, for some, a huge opportunity to not just shoot themselves in the foot but set off a trip wire. We can change the conversation – we can teach people – or we can insult them and drive them away. Which would you do? Are you sure?

Let’s take some lessons on examples. Beef magazine questions whether it’s a good thing.

We need to refocus the message on the online forums and news stories reporting about “fluffy cows.” We need to introduce ourselves as the ranchers behind the beef consumers love and put the spotlight on the farm families in this industry.

Now this is a farm that’s been selling show stock, fitted for fairs, many pictures online. Not unlike show animals of any species. Someone saw it, and it went viral. This farm has been cast into viral publicity, the subject of television media, celebrity blog posts and much attention. They put some shirts up on their store – the first 50 were gone in 9 minutes! What a “problem” to have right? What an opportunity!

The farm itself knows there’s groups watching. PeTA is asking how people can eat those cute fluffy cows. Right next to the mashed potatoes or fries perhaps?

Phil Lautner tells BEEF Daily, “We are very vigilant that anti-animal agriculture groups try to turn conversations negative. With the #FluffyCow phenomenon it is our mission to keep the conversation about youth, family involvement and production. We feel it’s necessary to try and educate others about our way of life and what animal production is.”

MoreThan-1_0This is a fantastic example of taking a risk, reframing it, taking control and *using it*! It’s an awesome example of not letting others tell anyone what you do, or use your message for their use. They took the hash tag, a Facebook page and are leveraging to use it to teach much more than cute cows.

At the same time it’s concerning to see the negativity, not from vegans or animal rights but from within the agriculture community. How would you feel to hear or see something like city people are so stupid for not knowing these things – that city person that just bought burgers for the family?

Then there’s comments of how do they taste and more:

I didn’t know that they had cow show like they do dog shows.

“The cows, a cross between high-quality breeds”. Yum!!!

With all the beauty aids you spray, rub, comb in and wash these cows with, is the meat safe to eat?

They really have a show for each animal now, don’t they?

This is an ideal way to reach the public. With a Facebook page there is a contact point.

How can this be used for rabbits. Rex. Mini Rex. Show rabbits. Show and function. Rabbits are multipurpose and in a prime spot. We never now what will trip the public interest. But one thing is for sure – with beef shows in every state fair and most county fairs, if folks don’t know about them, they don’t know rabbits are shown too.

Don’t condemn them. Educate. Have a conversation. Teach them. Take some time with those folks with questions at the next show, or if you’re on the way to the ring say that nicely! “I’m sorry I need to get these rabbits to the show table – could you follow me or check back in a little bit?”

Fair season is coming. Publicity comes around and we can either use the example of this farm, or let the power be taken from us in the media. We better hope that we’re all half as prepared as this show cattle place! Watch and learn, take part in the conversation.

Pick out good examples and what not to do. It’s not rabbits in the spotlight, but we can sure learn by example what to do and what not to do.

Use Your Words – Effective Communication

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Social media brings an incredible opportunity to reach many more people than we could ordinarily reach. It also provides a huge opportunity for miscommunication. Consider this:

“…people form their perceptions in a conversation in three ways:55%:body language,38% tone of voice, and 7%: choice of words when talking about feelings or attitudes. This suggests that 93 percent of communication occurs through nonverbal behavior and tone; only 7% of communication takes place through the use of words – thus the “93/7 Rule.” – Overcoming Fake Talk

Think about that for a minute. Think about the last few interactions you’ve had with people face to face. Their body language, tone of voice – how much did that add to the exchange?

If 93% comes from body language, nonverbal behavior, tone – what happens when the only thing you have to base communication on is the 7% use of words? Drama fights? Misunderstandings? Meltdowns?

Those words – that communication – that takes a much bigger importance if you can’t *see* that 93%. We’ve all seen it – email lists, forums. Name calling, swearing, tirades.

Stop. Change your approach. Are you hearing effectively? Ask the person questions, verify what they mean. Don’t at this point put your opinion in – *listen* to their message. Listen, listen and listen some more.

Then respond. Not react – getting defensive isn’t responding. Responding leaves the option to agree to disagree.

Some people just want to argue. Animal extremists will hang onto insults and converting until their last breath. People who push “go vegan” will not listen to anything you say about the benefits of eating rabbit. Don’t waste your time.

Use the echo – after listening when you think you get it ask them “I hear you saying <whatever> – am I understanding you clearly?” This gives them a chance to correct it, or happily feel understood. Then, choosing your words carefully (remember it’s all they have to go on – they can’t hear your tone or body language either), form a response.

It takes extra effort, but effective communication is worth the effort.

5 Ways To Reach Out in Rabbit Promotion

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all want to promote rabbits. We want to insure we’ll be able to breed and show next year, or maybe expand our meat rabbit market, or sell rabbits for pets.

Many have looked at advertising, social media and other online aspects. Many see the legislation put forth that can affect rabbits, and some blindly support it under the guise it’s for *those* breeders or *that* species.

A minority of people raise the food we eat every day, and that which we feed our rabbits. A minority of people keep rabbits and the misinformation is extensive.

While we can do incredible things to promote the keeping of rabbits online, don’t ever underestimate the impact of promoting offline. Indirectly. In your community.

1. Be a good neighbor. Keep your rabbit area as clean as possible, dispose of manure regularly, keep flies controlled. The vast majority of people already do this – but we should continue to strive to do better as much as we can!

2. Pursue other activities. Maybe the kids are in soccer, or there’s a bake sale at church, or other things that you’re involved in. Those people already know the kind of person you are – but may not know you have rabbits. Be a good rabbit representative.

3. Share your rabbits. It might be some fiber from rabbits you use and wear or a photograph on your office desk. Don’t push rabbits, necessarily, but be open to questions when people have them.

4. Be the source of rabbit information. If you don’t know, don’t fake it – find someone who does. This goes for general as well as those who misrepresent breeds they don’t have and aren’t familiar with. This goes for your online activities also! Be approachable. When someone sees a rabbit they think of you.

5. Work on your social and communication skills. We all need to do this sometimes. We talk when we should listen, then misunderstand what someone is saying. Stop, learn better ways to communicate. “Homeschool” yourself on the topic if you need to.

Rabbit Photo Promotions

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople are visual creatures. We all are – and it’s worked against us for too long. Get those photos out rabbit folks!

With blogs, Pinterest, Facebook and a host of other social media platforms, there is a huge amount of publicity we can do that is *free* – and we should be doing it. Visual works!

Think it doesn’t? Quick – what do you think when you hear hog farm? Beef cattle? Dairy? For many the first images are horrific *visual* images put forth by animal rights organizations along with “go vegan” slogans. This has worked against agriculture, and left many in catch up mode trying to show their clean, well run operations that are not horror houses.

We cannot make the same mistake. Photos are something we can control. We can show our rabbits without leaving home. If you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can share photos easily but go beyond just conformation shots. Those are what we want to see as rabbit breeders, yes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut think of the rest of the world. Those who don’t raise rabbits. Think of the opportunities we have at least once a month to bring a smile to those who aren’t involved with rabbits. Break outside the box.

Take your clean rabbits and get some good photos. Get some casual photos – babies playing on their mother, or set up some unposed photos with props.

Now take those photos and go get familiar with Picmonkey.com – it’s free. You can use another photo editing program, but Picmonkey gives you a lot of options. Always put your name in the corner. Use your rabbitry name, or personal name if you prefer – but have it in a consistent place if possible. This insures that it isn’t taken to be used in places we don’t want it used, like certain organizations we probably wouldn’t want to be associated with.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can alter the exposure if the photo is a little too light or dark. You can crop it, rotate and even fix redeye issues under the touch up section (looks like a little lipstick). (Tip – for white rabbits and literal red eye use the people setting – for dark eyes that come out green use the “furball” setting.)

When you shoot some photos leave spaces – in the text setting you can add things for birthdays, holidays and other occasions. Some examples are on this page.

You can even go to the symbols and get creative – I put a clover “tattoo” in an ear for St. Patrick’s day. Of course it’s not on the real rabbit. Most people will realize that just like they realize their morning cereal doesn’t really talk to them. 🙂 If you look close above the Easter and St. Patrick’s day pictures is the same picture – with different ‘dressing.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGet creative. Post birthday greetings with rabbits in them to people on your wall and promote rabbits at every birthday. Make up some for holidays – look at the online listings of national <whatever> day or month and make some that are funny and play into that.

Make some serious, some funny, some just because (hey it’s Friday! or “it’s Monday already”).  Some examples – think up how you can use the same principles. Visual works! They get clicked on, shared, passed along to friends. And guess what…when it’s shared the friends friends all see rabbits. That’s free promotion and smiles we can’t reach on our own.

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If Social Media Saves Lives, Can’t We Promote Rabbits?

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This is a clip worth watching. As you do, notice how social media has made a difference, has engaged people and, yes, even saved lives in the tornadoes that raked Alabama two years ago.

Help people out. Share your interest. Share about rabbits in passing and it builds awareness without preaching to folks. When a ‘rabbit issue’ comes up maybe, just maybe, those folks will remember us and it won’t be just rabbit breeders speaking up.

This isn’t just about us. It’s not to sell more rabbits, although that might happen. Who can you reach out to and help? Maybe gardeners, if that’s your interest, and be a source for rabbit fertilizer. Think of your interests besides rabbits. If you don’t have any, it’s time to develop one. It will bring you new folks to talk to and remind you what it’s like to be new.

As you watch this video – it’s about 50 minutes – think of how we can apply that to what we do. The ideas are many!

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