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They called it ‘Mythbusting 101’

By Staff | Jan 2, 2014

LAURIE JOHNS, public relations manager for the Iowa farm Bureau Federation, offered tips to women farmers on how to use social media to tell their story on the farm to urban consumers

ANKENY – Even in a farm state like Iowa, farmers comprise only 4 percent of the population. That’s why learning how to dispel myths and tell ag’s story effectively has become important.

“More people learn about farming from Google than from real farmers,” said Laurie Johns, public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, who spoke at a November Iowa Agri Women meeting in Ankeny.

“The opportunity for effective communication,” she said, “lies between what the ag industry is talking about and what your audience is asking about.”

Today, people’s key sources of information about food and farming come from friends and family, followed by websites and the local television news, Johns said. Telling agriculture’s story through these channels can help build stronger connections between farmers and consumers.

“Gaining people’s trust is a key way to maintain your social license to operate,” said Johns, who grew up on a Wright County farm. “Shared values are three to five times more important in building trust than demonstrating technical competence.”

Common ground

Shared values include compassion, responsibility, respect, fairness and truth, Johns said. These values especially resonate with women ages 25 to 54, who make many purchasing decisions within their households and are the focus of IFBF’s consumer messages.

These women are focused on safe, healthy food; food grown with fewer herbicides and pesticides; transparency in food production; and the humane treatment of farm animals.

“Busy, working moms care about health and fitness,” Johns said, “handle the grocery shopping for their household and enjoy connecting online. The last thing they are focused on is farmers’ profitability.”

While farmers’ return on investment isn’t top of mind for most consumers, they are interested in animal well-being, especially when it comes to their pets. Americans spend $42 billion a year on weight-loss products, but they spend $52 billion on pet care, said Johns, adding that the public’s views of animals have changed dramatically in the past 60 years.

“The 1950s dog lived outdoors, herded livestock, ate table scraps, protected the family and often had limited veterinary care,” she said. “The 2013 dog provides companionship, has its own clothing, plays at dog parks, stays in dog hotels, maybe visits an animal psychologist and faces obesity issues.

“It’s not uncommon for owners to spend $38,000 on their dog over the course of the animal’s 14-year lifespan.”

To find common ground among farmers and consumers in this culture, the IFBF created an animal shelter outreach program that allows county Farm Bureaus to receive matching funds and publicity when donating to local animal shelters.

The IFBF also supports Iowa Farm Animal Care (www.iowafarmanimalcare.org), a network of veterinarians, animal behavior scientists and farmers committed to addressing Iowans’ questions regarding farm animal care and sharing the vision that every Iowa farm animal receives proper, humane animal care.

Farmers can also use social media and conversations with their friends and neighbors to highlight the shared value of animal well-being.

“As you tell your story, emphasize that you believe in the humane care of all animals, and share examples from your farm,” Johns said.

Take action

Just as people’s connections with animals have changed during the past 60 years, so has Americans’ relationship with food.

In the 1950s, American shoppers were served by local grocers, fewer choices were available, food production and meal preparation were more labor intensive and 9.7 of Americans were obese.

In 2013 America, supermarkets stock thousands of choices, fast food is everywhere, many Americans only spend 17 minutes a week exercising and two-thirds of the population is obese.

Being aware of these changes can help farmers better position their messages about food and farming to address consumers’ concerns, said Johns, who offers these tips:

  • Get personal. The most effective messages make an emotive, personal impact.

“To do this, start and end every message, interview or editorial with your own personal story,” Johns said. “For example, note how many years you’ve been farming, and explain what you do on your farm and why you farm this way.”

  • Localize the story. From water quality to ethanol to genetically-modified crops, many hot topics in agriculture have a national or international impact.

Personalize these issues by adding one’s perspective to the conversation.

“When you explain how these types of issues affect your farm, it localizes the story,” Johns said.

  • Find common values. Since consumers are concerned about health, nutritious food and animal well-being, find ways to focus on these shared values in your messages about farming and food, Johns said.
  • Share compelling images. Including photos in a blog, or posting photos through social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter can help consumers connect with farming.

“These images need to be interesting to your audience,” Johns said. “Show your family working on the farm, or share a pretty scene of a buffer strip on your farm and explain how this enhances conservation.”

  • Seek solutions. When addressing issues like water quality, show what you’re doing to address the challenge, Johns said.

“If you have the chance to do a media interview, for example, make your last statement a personalized comment that brings the focus back to your own experience on your farm.”

Finally, stay focused on influencing the reasonable majority, rather than activists.

“The reasonable majority is our target audience, and they want to hear from you,” Johns said.

SIDEBAR

Making connections in a skeptical world

By DARCY DOUGHERTY MAULSBY

yettergirl@yahoo.com

DES MOINES – As more farmers look for ways to tell their story in the digital age, the tools available to get the job done are exploding.

“There are so many options with social media today,” said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian from Duarte, Calif., who spoke November at the 2013 National Conference for Women in Sustainable Agriculture in Des Moines.

“Smartphones are making it easier than ever to access social media,” Palmer said, “which can save you a lot of time.”

Palmer offered tips in using various social media sites, including:

  • Facebook. This popular social media site offers a powerful way to connect with like-minded people, Palmer said. Post compelling farm photos to invite conversations about food and agriculture. Also, post regularly, but don’t get carried away. “People get tired of seeing too many posts each day from one person,” said Palmer, who prefers to post two to three times per week.
  • Twitter. Palmer said this is her favorite social media tool, since it’s a good platform to share informational tidbits including links to blog posts, relevant articles and pictures.

“Select a Twitter handle that clearly identifies who you are,” said Palmer, whose handle is @SharonPalmerRD.

Also, considering hosting a Twitter party, which offers a fun, online venue for meeting customers, launching a new product or getting people talking.

Simply pick the time and the hashtag, and invite people to the conversation.

Palmer said she has hosted Twitter parties ranging from whole grains to tips on encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. A Twitter party is easy to put together and has the potential to generate hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets in just a couple of hours, Palmer said.

  • LinkedIn. This social networking boasts more than 76 million users and is mainly used for professional networking, said Palmer, who encourages farmers to create a LinkedIn profile.

“LinkedIn offers a good way to connect with colleagues in your industry,” Palmer said, “and get advice from other entrepreneurs.”

  • Pinterest. This online “bulletin board” has become wildly popular, especially among American Pinterest users, who spend an average of 77 minutes on the site each time they log on.

“Pinterest is all about pictures, and it’s a tool for connecting and organizing things you love,” Palmer said.

Try creating one board for your farm, or add multiple Pinterest boards related to your areas of interest.

Also, look at other people’s Pinterest boards and select items you’d like to re-pin, or share, through your Pinterest board. A good example is Griggs Dakota Farm (www.pinterest.com/griggsdakota/pins/).

Fred and Jane Lukens, who live on a fifth-generation family farm, use Pinterest to share stories of farming practices, rural life and food production.

Their various Pinterest boards feature landscape photos of the North Dakota skyline and historic photos from their family’s farm.

“Remember, most people live in urban areas,” Palmer said. “They love to see photos of rural and farm life.

“Things you think are common, everyday occurrences are interesting to many people.”

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