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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Tips to Make Your Blog More Visual

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This was written for an agriculture audience, but is very applicable to rabbits as well.

Many in agriculture have been inspired to tell their story through groups like the AgChat Foundation. So you’ve decided you’re interested, you have a digital camera or video capability but what next?

In either case be aware of lighting. Too dark photos don’t show your topic off well. Remember that with camera settings they see the light as it is rather than adjusting as our eyes do. Sometimes photos late in the evening can look like it’s dark.

At the same time lighting can be a factor during the strong light of mid day – if you’re shooting livestock this can bring unwanted shadows. For other things, such as a combine or tractor in the field, bright light can be a good thing. If your image has a lot of white – such as Charolais cattle, sheep, white rabbits or some dairy cattle – you might get better results in the morning before 10 or so or in the afternoons after 4 – this allows you to position so the light is behind you. This also comes into play if you’re shooting winter pictures with snow that reflects light.

If you’re shooting a video beware of movement. If you’re walking to the barn and multitasking it may save you time but changing backgrounds can leave some viewers dizzy! Background is also important for still photos – with people and livestock pay attention to background so there’s no poles, trees or other objects appearing to come from the subject’s head!

Know when to come in close and when to back off. A field at harvest or planting may warrant a ‘big’ shot while one of a baby chick or an ear of corn means getting close. For close up shots use the macro setting on the digital camera – there’s a setting often depicted with a little flower, then you scroll to adjust and the lens will zoom in on tight shots like an ear of corn. Be sure to change it back so your other shots aren’t fuzzy! Also with macro shots it’s even more important to shoot steady. A blurred image can result from unsteady hands so brace yourself on a doorway, ledge or other solid surface if you have to.

For video consider an inexpensive tripod that eliminates all ‘bounce’ from your final video. As much as can be watch the noise interference in the sound and pick a video location that is quiet enough to hear what you’re saying. There may be some situations – such as dairy calves bawling at feeding time that it can be a benefit but mostly you want the viewer to be able to hear you!

Good photos show off your farm and are not difficult to get. It allows transparency without trespass. Farmers and agvocates need to be a part of the conversation about food and farming. Photos and videos are a way to do that in a very visible way.

  • agchat.org/
  • www.trufflemedia.com/home/blogs/trufflemediaadmin
  • www.causematters.com/
    • Pay attention to lighting and background.
    • Use a mix of “big” and close up shots depending on your subject.
    • Use photos in combination with other social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook

    Did you know photos and videos allow consumers to see farming as it is, and allows for increased transparency between farm and consumer’s plates. It’s a way to share the world of agriculture with consumers.

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.

4 books to help your blog

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Many people like what a blog can do in the terms of traffic but not so much in the maintenance. It can be an effort to keep it interesting and fresh. Here are four books worth investing in to help your blog.

No One Cares What You Had For Lunch – 100 Ideas for Your Blog by Margaret Mason – This isn’t a big involved book, but brings forth a host of great ideas that every person reading can use in a unique way. If you use each idea just three times in a year there’s nearly a year of blogs!

Content Rules – How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and more) that Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business. Long title, lots of information! Mix it up – video in a blog, asking questions and so much more. Lots of ideas here that with a little creativity could be great for farm and rabbit blogs!

Likeable Social Media goes a bit beyond blogging alone but worthwhile to getting people to listen. If we get more listening there is more support when it comes to zoning battles and other issues.

Will Write For Food – The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir and more. Some great tips to connecting “outside the choir”. People love to talk food – and what does farming of all types do but produce food. Especially for those with meat rabbits – talk meat dinners! Cooking tips, meal ideas, what works, what doesn’t…you’ll be surprised how many love to eat rabbit and are looking for information! Connect with a great meal and it creates demand for rabbit not only in your area but everywhere.

The investment here is less than a few bags of feed. The investment can mean an increased demand and decreased speed bumps for all who raise rabbits. That’s worth a look!

Friend Or Foe

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By Mark Klaus

Remember the “good ole’ days”, those days in which we proudly displayed our animal enterprises for the entire world to see? I know I certainly do.

As a very young man on our farm in Iowa, I had many agricultural enterprises. The cattle and hogs bought me my first transportation and paid for my college tuition. I also had what I considered my “hobby” animals which did not contribute much to my bottom line, but contributed greatly to the family’s table.

Infrequent visitors to our family’s farm, mostly consisting of church pamphlet distributors and vacuum cleaning salespersons were almost certain to inquire about the animals located on the farm. The barnyard smells they were perhaps unaccustomed to, as well as the various noises sparked their interest. Being quite proud of the great care I gave to my animals, I would proudly give these individuals a tour and explain what my daily chores consisted of.

I would not even consider such activity today.

I am certain Animal Rights Extremists existed in those “good ole’ days”, however I was largely naive to their activities and the threat they pose. The lack of technologies such as pinhole cameras now affordable to many and probably more importantly editing software made my naive behavior far less risky than it is in today’s world.

I’m an agriculture advocate, and try to stay on top of the actions of Animal Rights extremist groups. I also do a bit of writing on the subject for an agricultural publication.

Although I fully realized that all animal interests are threatened by the various national Animal Rights organizations and some local groups, the widely publicized Dollarhite and Belle cases sparked my interest regarding the threats faced by the rabbit industry.

For full disclosure, I must first state that I do not current own any rabbits. My total experience with rabbits was a project as a youngster raising a handful of animals which later were placed on the dinner table. The thinning of the local rabbit population for consumption completes my knowledge of rabbits. In short, I am indeed no expert on proper rabbit husbandry.

Nonetheless, my interest was sparked after hearing of the Belle case, and I decided to hear what the “rabbit world” was saying on social media regarding the case.

I remained a silent observer for many days, gaining a better understanding of the issue, and what was seen as the biggest threats to rabbit owners. Occasionally I asked a question regarding something I was unfamiliar and inexperienced with. However, soon the discussion led itself down a path in which I could remain silent no longer.

The discussion developed into an all-out attack on more “mainstream” animal agriculture, a topic I am very familiar with. Quite simply, I was shocked at what I was reading. What had appeared for weeks to be a group greatly opposed to the animal rights movement suddenly appeared to me to be furthering their agenda. The same inflammatory terms and misinformation spread by these groups was being repeated by this very group that was so vocally opposed to them.

I withdrew from the conversation, concerned that by remaining in the discussion I was doing nothing but distracting from the group’s mission. Shortly after, I came to realize something that I feel as animal owners we all must recognize.

We all have been influenced to some extent by the very same animal rights organizations we oppose. Refusing to acknowledge this is what leads to the disconnect between animal interests in what could be a more united group to oppose the threats we all face as animal owners.

Perhaps a cattle rancher may not understand the threats faced by rabbit owners, and may fall victim to misinformation presented by Animal Rights extremists, thinly veiled as a mainstream media report.

Maybe the recent events in Ohio concerning exotic animals has led many to believe that taking away animal ownership rights of individuals with proper knowledge of the care of such animals is a good thing, again helping to further the agenda of the animal rights machine.

Lastly, as I observed by a few rabbit enthusiasts on social media, belief in the misinformation spread by animal rights extremists regarding more mainstream agriculture exists also.

As a first step, perhaps as animal owners we should first attempt to have discussions with others regarding the issues and concerns they have in their own enterprises. Gain knowledge from those with experience rather than accepting what you feel you know, which may have come from an unreliable source.

I will leave you with a rather simple question. In regards to fellow animal owners versus animal rights extremists, which is our friend, and which is our foe?

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