How to get into social media without it taking over your life

I’ve been talking to lots of farmers in preparation for the free social media workshop I’m running at the Australian Dairy Conference on February 24 and three things seem to hold them back from getting into blogging or Twitter:

  • I don’t have time or want to make that kind of commitment
  • I don’t know where to start/not good with computers
  • I don’t want to “put myself out there”

They’re three really good reasons not to jump in the deep end and write a blog but there are two much easier ways to participate in online discussions.

1. Get a Twitter account, upload a profile and start making tweets and contacts
2. Comment on other blogs

Facebook is also very popular (especially with young people) but I’d recommend dabblers leave that until later if it appeals.

How to make use of Twitter

Victorian dairy farmer and UDV Vice President, Ron Paynter, recently wrote of his experiences with Twitter on dairy forum Udderly Fantastic and allowed me to use this excerpt:

“I’d heard of Twitter, and despised the concept of people slavishly following the every banal scrap of information from some air headed celebrity who only survives off the oxygen that being continually noticed gives them. Honestly, who cares what Kim Kardashthingy had for breakfast. I had recognised that during emergencies like the Qld floods, Twitter had played a part in keeping people informed, then later in the year, we had that powerful image of a massive social movement, co-ordinated through Twitter being instrumental in the Egyptian Government change.

Still, despite these clues about the potential of the ‘tweet’, I was a non-believer. Didn’t need it! No time to set up an account or learn a new way of communicating. Besides, what can you say that is at all useful in less than 140 characters?

“What changed was a ‘call to arms’ from some people already involved in Twitter. On a Tuesday night, between 8 and 10 pm, there was going to be a ‘Twitter Forum’ on issues around animal welfare in our industry. We needed people, real farmers, on Twitter to put our case forward and not allow the discussion to be hijacked by activists or the uninformed. So, @payntacow was born and @payntacow, along with several other new conscripts joined in on #agchatoz, the discussion forum location to see what transpired.

There was no abuse, no searing accusations, no threats of coming around and giving you a fat lip . The discussion, formed around six or seven key moderated questions, was sensible and civil and the activists were notable in their absence. The people who were there were interested, some had opinions, some were happy to lurk and learn, but all were supportive and looking for information or genuine debate. I was so impressed by the thoughtful fellow twitterers I met, that I went back to the #agchatoz forum the next week, and have kept on coming back.

Access to a smartphone or tablet like an iPad makes tweeting as easy as checking your watch. Twitter people who I am following include dairy identities such as Milkmaidmarian, Graeme Nicoll, Esther Price and Lynne Strong. Twitter lets you expand the source of ideas well outside your local area though. I’m following an ag teacher in QLD who is passionate about agriculture, a dairyman in Arizona, and a vegan activist in the US. Each day, there are new people or groups to follow if you think they may have something of merit to listen to, and each day, I pick up followers who want to listen to my views. It’s a really  interesting ongoing conversation that you can pick up on whenever you have a spare minute and phone handy.

“So, I’ve fessed up. I am a twitterer. And I was wrong about tweeting as being shallow and not interesting. What Twitter provides is a rapid way of sharing ideas and information, and the chance to have a real dialogue about the ideas, albeit in 140 character chunks.

I really believe that as an industry, we need to be involved in the discussions. I’d encourage anyone who can try Twitter to give it a go.”

Twitter’s limit of 140 characters is its strength. It’s easy to contribute in short bursts of time and you can still make more complex points by using it as a signpost to other information. In fact, Twitter is the number one way people find my blog.
Comment on other blogs
Commenting on other people’s blogs is a fantastic way to dip your toe in the water of social media without committing. It takes as much or as little time as you like and you can add valuable new information or perspectives right where the discussion is already happening.
Just a few words of advice:
• Of course, be polite, thoughtful and add to the discussion
• Save your energy for forums where people are genuinely interested in different points of view (I tried reasoning with activists and learnt my lesson the hard way).
Anyone is free to attend my workshop, Blogging and Twitter Made Simple, (even if you’re not registered for the conference) on February 24 at Ellinbank. We’ll get you up and running online whether you want to dip your toe in the water or jump in at the deep end!

How transparent should farmers be?

There is no counter argument out there. Could it be because there is no humane practice?

Can’t take your word for it. You need to explain your practices and where your product goes. What happens to your male calves? Etc.

Show me! Tell me! I would like to keep consuming dairy.

The campaign against you is growing.

Honestly. I’m very open to being educated. It was an FYI. “You” = “dairy industry”.

One of your biggest hurdles is that like the cattle industry, u appear secretive. Transparency might be too late.

These tweets from a journalist with a self-proclaimed “love for our living planet and my opposition to her corporate destruction” has made an understandable choice: to believe a charity dedicated to the welfare of animals rather than an “industry”. Yes, although 98 per cent of Australian dairy farms are family farms where cows roam free, the perception is that we act as an industry in perpetrating animal cruelty on factory farms in the name of profit.

Why do I say it’s understandable? Do a little test to see for yourself. Google “bobby calf”.

Animal welfare organisations dominate the results. The people who live and breathe animal care – farmers – are missing. Our voices are not being heard.

I don’t really believe that Animals Australia campaigns will cause a noticeable drop in milk consumption because Aussies love to drink milk but these activists and their followers have worked hard to win the attention of policy makers.

Some of their views are valid, some are ludicrous, and some of the policymakers may well be swayed to adopt them. If we want to be able to operate farms free from a tangle of compliance or, worse, mandatory practices that are actually bad for animal welfare, we must learn from our detractors.

Animals Australia knows that science and logic do not resonate when it comes to animal welfare. Emotions quite rightly do because animal welfare only triumphs when the custodians hold the care of their animals close to their hearts. And because everyone knows that politicians are quick to follow popular opinion, we cannot be satisfied with lobbying in Canberra. We’ve got to tell the story like it is to anyone who will listen.

Tonight, Twitter forum AgChatOz will host a discussion on bobby calf welfare and other dairy practices. I will be there (baby bedtime permitting) and I hope lots of other dairy farmers will be too.