As food producers do you connect with the broader community? I know many farmers, and for that matter, people in country Australia feel there is a disconnection between the farm and the plate.
In some ways there is a huge disconnection. Society as a whole has changed so rapidly that we are all grappling with the challenges in our daily lives. People have moved closer to large centers for work. Increased mechanization and efficiencies on farms mean less people have direct jobs in agriculture. So somewhere along the way a gap has opened between the farm and the people.
While we often talk about this disconnect, I reckon we often overlook there is a deep interest and support from the broader community for farming. In my work I’m often asked to speak about farming to the broader community. I always come away feeling there is a deep desire to understand more about farming, its challenges, its rewards, and more importantly I sense a real value for farming among the people I talk to.
One of the more important roles of the Sydney Royal Easter Show is to showcase agriculture to the broader urban communities. The livestock pavilions and the district exhibits are consistently rated as the most important attractions to the public.
So, as a farming community or as an individual producer, how can we connect to our consumers and meet their interest in our business? I guess there are plenty of ways that we do this. I did mention our traditional activities such as the Easter Show. But its just as important to see the local show as part of this connection.
Increasingly I see farmers sharing their stories through social media. There are Facebook pages, twitter accounts, and Instagram posts showing the variety of a day in Australian agriculture. I personally enjoy the blogs from the contributors from Central Station.
These are great ways of sharing stories. However I think the next step will be to show our skills as producers and business operators. I think this may happen through the connection of our farm data with other data sources.
If you think of the demand for traceability and food safety, there is a great story for us to share. The challenge is to link our on farm QA records with our industry systems like the NVD system and with processor information and present it to the consumer as a whole of life story.
This week a company called Aglive (www.aglive.com) showed me their progress in linking our on farm data with industry QA systems and processor information. I have to say I think systems like these will be part of how we connect with our consumers. True I think they will still want to see our stock at the show, read our stories and see our pictures on line. However I reckon these connections will become stronger as they start to see the things we do on farm with the data we capture being used to sow how clean and safe our food systems are.
I think the next few years will be pretty exciting, and hopefully see a narrowing of the gap between farms and consumers as we share what we do in new and engaging ways.
I'm often excited by the power of social media. The ability to share ideas, stories, pictures and information with other people, quickly and broadly is incredibly powerful. I like that we can connect with like minded people across the globe. As someone who enjoys sharing information, I've really come to value the tools that make social media so essential to sharing information and ideas.
At a training course designed to help producers use social media in their businesses, I was asked to describe how I saw the social media platform Twitter. My description is that Twitter is like your local pub. In physical terms we visit the pub to catch up with friends. To hear their stories and share in the events they have experienced. When you next drop into your pub, you'll notice that its not just your friends who you interact with. Most pubs will have other conversations occurring between groups of people. You may listen in tho those conversations, you may even join in. Generally this social interaction is rewarding and positive.
Occasionally the pub is less pleasant. Generally that happens when an individual starts to make trouble. Either through their attitude, their willingness to dominate conversations or to single someone else out for ridicule or even abuse. I guess when that happens it is pretty unpleasant and can have long term issues for everyone exposed to that aggression.
Pubs can also be unpleasant when you walk in and are immediately forced to listen to one or two noisy dominant people forcing everyone to listen to their opinions or agree with their view on the world. Its not pleasant, and its certainly not my idea of sharing or even good interaction.
So if you think of your pub, you can get a pretty good idea of twitter! As a platform twitter is a great way to share ideas and interact with your friends. I have great interaction across the world with friends who I share information with. And just like sitting in a pub catching up, our conversations - or in the case of twitter - my timeline is often influenced by other conversations happening at the same time.
Its good to see those other conversations. Its part of sharing knowledge and information. However I've noticed a disturbing trend in my twitter timelines. My timeline is now being filled with angry exchanges, aggressive assertions and domineering opinions by a small number of individuals.
These exchanges are often part of the agricultural conversations that I listen in to. Instead of sharing ideas or exchanging knowledge, or even just sharing a few stories, the individuals seem almost determined to attack each other personally on their views on everything from climate change to how to go about the business of farming. All of them claim to want to promote agriculture and the opportunities that can be had in agriculture. Yet really I'm starting to think, all they are doing is promoting a toxic environment that no one wants to be exposed to.
I'm not really sure why this is the case. I do know its having an impact on the way I listen to their conversations, and more importantly on the way I see those individuals. In a real pub I'd go somewhere else or stop going altogether. And I would probably decide to avoid dealing with those people in my day to day life.
The direct cross over with twitter is that I can choose to do that. I don't need to bully anyone into believing agriculture is a fantastic industry to be involved in. And I don't need to listen to people who want to bully others into thinking that way either. More importantly, what you say on twitter is a reflection of who you are, and I guess that means I don't really need to deal with those people in real life.
I reckon if you do want to advocate on how good your industry is, do it with positivity and with professionalism. You don't need to aggressively ram your views down people's throats. And if you are going to be aggressive in your approach, chances are its going to leave you in an empty pub wondering where everyone has gone!
I have to admit I get excited when I talk to people about social media and using it in business. When I say social media, most people seem to roll their eyes as if to say, whats the point, or suggest the only value in social media is to have an online gossip or waste time.
I reckon that is a big underestimation of the usefulness of social media, particularly in business. A quick look at some of the numbers in Australia, suggest that of the people who have internet access, 60% have a Facebook account. The average use of Facebook is about 4 times a day and most people use it every day. Other social media tools like Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube and Trip Advisor all have significant use by Australians in all walks of life.
The simple fact is, we are an age where people expect to access information and a connection with trusted sources of that information immediately. If it is sharing family pictures or searching for information on the weather or a place to eat, people are turning to social media to get that information.
This is the opportunity to tap into that demand. Smart businesses see social media as a way of connecting with their customers and potential customers in a way that has never really been an option in the past. It is pretty obvious that people want to connect with businesses and products. They like to see images and stories of business and products they support doing well in the marketplace.
The best social media strategies encourage clients and other people to engage with a business. That engagement needs to lead to a recognition of the business as a 'go to' for information and ideas.
Well, thats what I am trying to achieve with RaynerAg and I have been teaching businesses how to do this in their own social media programs.
What does surprise me is how little though people give to the things they post and share on social media. I've seen all sorts of things from tweets that contain swear words, to nasty comments, negative observations or criticism of businesses or government policy. It seems some people confuse their ability to share their thoughts with the the impact their thoughts might have on their businesses recognition as a 'go to' source of information and ideas.
I reckon it is very unlikely that people are going to go looking for advice or to support a product when they see a series of negative posts or comments.
Many people think it is just common sense that you don't post negative material or comments. Yet every day I see them on Twitter, Facebook or on other sites. So I reckon there is a gap between common sense and what really happens!
Ideally when I am teaching businesses how to use social media as part of their brand awareness, I want them to see the excitement that comes from sharing ideas and information across a much broader range of people than they could access from traditional advertising. I really hope they become businesses that develop a reputation for information that is trusted and useful. More importantly I want to help businesses or individuals avoid posting something that makes me ask "Did you just tweet that?"
I'm very passionate about sharing information, ideas and advice which can help producers run their businesses in a better way. I was told once by a farmer that there are not many ways in which you can save $100, but if you can find 100 ways to save $1 you will come out in front!
I reckon that's not a bad piece of advice. Finding ways to save a dollar or to be more efficient with the money you invest in your business is a rewarding part of my job. I also get a big lift when I can share an experience or an idea I've seen somewhere which can be used to make an impact on someones operation or to solve a new problem.
In the last few years I've been using social media to share some of those ideas, experiences and images. I reckon one of the great things with Twitter or Facebook is the chance to share events as they are happening. Good decisions come about from accurate and timely information. I reckon if I can highlight cattle in a paddock, or an event as it happens, then I've helped producers access that information more quickly and efficiently which might help them make a better decision for their business.
The other great thing with social media has been a chance to connect with new people who have ideas and experiences with similar challenges to the producers I work with. Being able to share ideas and experiences isn't just good for decision making, but its also important to keep us connected.
In the last few months I've delivered several workshops with producers to work through the opportunities to connect and share their experiences and ideas through social media. While I've really enjoyed the workshops, I've got so much more pleasure seeing and reading their stories long after the workshops. It helps me feel connected and involved and every now and then it gives me an idea which I know I can use to help someone else.
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