How much listening to farmers is okay?

"Fonterra on Twitter" by Digital Jungle

Excerpt from “Fonterra on Twitter” by Digital Jungle

I don’t need to tell you how much of a stir a report tracing Twitter conversations surrounding Fonterra made when it was tweeted by farmer Shelby Anderson (@cupslinga) yesterday. The extensive 54-page document monitored just one week of Twitter conversations and looked to be a sample of what the social monitoring service could provide rather than a commissioned routine report. Still, as Shelby tweeted, it was a veeeerrry interesting report all the same. Continue reading

Today I have 5 minutes with Australia’s dairy elders

If you were given five minutes to address the Australian Dairy Conference, what would you say?

I have that honour today and was asked to speak about my experiences with social media. It’s not a lot of time, so I’ve opted for the “shock and awe” approach, beginning with a real-life case study showing how ordinary dairy farmers brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves won new friends in the face of scandal. I’ll close with a yet to be revealed threat and an offer to attend my social media workshop on Friday so we can deal with it together.

Before I take the podium, Neilson’s Courtney Sullivan will tell the conference that dairy has a great reputation in the wider community. Australian dairy foods are safe, nutritious and pure. That’s a priceless position of trust we should treasure and protect because it took decades to build and could be lost in the blink of an eye. If you’re not convinced, ask a beef farmer.

Farmers typically only appear in the media during drought, fire, flood, plague…or when a horrific case of animal abuse is uncovered. It’s hardly surprising then, that we are considered whingers and, in turn, city folk (including policy makers) have “no idea”. No longer. The rise of a new, grass-roots media (Twitter, blogs and Facebook) means we can tell our own stories. And what has amazed me is just how many ordinary Australians want to hear them.

Now, back to that question for you. If you had five minutes to speak at the ADC, what would you say?

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!

Live conference post: Why so few farmers blog, straight from the horse’s mouth

Animal activists accuse farmers of being secretive and I’ve just asked attendees at the Future Focused AgOz conference why they aren’t blogging their personal farm stories. Here were their responses:

  • Scary
  • Just want to get on with the business of farming – maybe it’s someone else’s job
  • Lots of farmers don’t realise that what they do is amazing, that it’s newsworthy. There’s a perception that the daily grind is not interesting and that we may not be capable of presenting the bigger picture
  • Is it worth it? Will anybody read the blog?
  • The confidence they have the skills
  • Don’t feel they need or want to do it
  • Need to find the farmers who are interested in blogging and who will present farming positively
  • A desire to maintain privacy. You’re letting them into your private place
  • Uncertainty about who you are writing to
  • Uncertainty of how to handle attacks.

As Lynne Strong says, there is a need for a circle of support people behind farmer bloggers. Maybe the agvocacy community needs to spread its wings beyond the net and reassure aspiring bloggers that they are not alone.