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.

 

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.

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