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Advocating for agriculture, otherwise known as agvocating has become a trend in the past several years. 

With fewer and fewer agricultural workers every year and as Americans continue to move from rural to urban areas the American population’s understanding of agriculture and where their food comes from has steadily dropped. In many areas of this country, people are fundamentally disconnected from the way their food is produced.

Agriculture communicators are trying to successfully communicate the many messages of agriculture and food production using social media to combat the detrimental and costly messages being spread by anti-agriculture organizations.

Why Agvocacy is Important
For most families, food is one of their top expenditures each month – just behind housing and transportation costs. Still, a 2011 study by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance found 72 percent of consumers knew nothing or very little about farming or ranching.  While not everyone farms, everyone does eat and wear clothes, so it’s important that more people understand where their food comes from.  

There is a lot of misinformation and propaganda found on social media. It just takes one person who knows little to nothing about the agriculture industry to start a frenzy. One of the most recent posts I’ve seen was a picture of a farmer pulling calf with the headline “this farmer is strangling this calf inside its mother.”

In 2012, social media attacks about Pink Slime were able to bring ground beef sales down to a ten year low and put Beef Products, Inc. and AFA Foods, companies with limited social media literacy out of business.  Read - Pink Slimed: The Beef Industry Learns The Importance Of Social Media Literacy

As more and more pressure is put on farmers and ranchers to produce the food needed to support a growing global population as a humanitarian issue; agvocacy will not only be critical to sustaining agricultural practices around the world, it will also become a necessity of national security.

During a congressional hearing late last year, John Negroponte, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and then Director of National Intelligence, explained that the need for more food “could affect political stability” and could “fuel further instability in the Middle East.” 

“The world must increase food production by 50 to 60 percent to satisfy expected global population growth and changing consumption patterns by 2050,” he said.

Unfortunately many agvocacy discussions on social media are only reaching other farmers, ranchers and agvocates.  A study by Meghan Cline at Oklahoma State University found that “agvocates are mainly preaching to the choir by seeking out like-minded individuals and organizations,” and not reaching the target audience, consumers without a connection to agriculture.

The study further states, “to successfully agvocate, agriculturalists must first understand who is receiving the benefit of the information. The utilization of social media has altered the dynamics of how communicators, agricultural communicators included, connect with their audiences.  Therefore, an understanding of who and what organizations American consumers rely on for agricultural information is imperative to the agricultural communications industry.”

Reaching out and actively searching for users that do not share the same mindset about agricultural issues was only one of the recommendations Cline’s study made.  I also suggested: 
  1. Agvocates should try to reach people of different ethnic backgrounds.
  2. Agvocates should reach out to more people who are not located in the top agriculture producing states, engaging people who have   never worked/lived on a farm. The top 10 agricultural producing states are: California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
  3. Further research should be conducted to determine what actions are being taken by anti-agricultural organizations to harm the agricultural sector and what should be done to combat those actions.  At the time the study was conducted The Humane Society of the United States was determined to be the top agricultural threat.  Other threats included: the United States government, corporate farms/agribusinesses, mis/uninformed consumers, and Monsanto.

The studies list of other threats, interests me, because there seems to be some differences in perceptions even amongst our own industry -between small family farms and corporate farms; organic farmers and farmers who use Monsanto seeds and weed control products.

Nicole Kenney Rambo also found that true while attending the Women in Agriculture Conference hosted by University of Minnesota Extension.  She found that there were differences in perceptions between different animal industries.

She came to the conclusion that the differences were due to the level of the level of exposure the attendees had of the different industries.  Which tells me that agvocating to those in other industries is also important so we as a whole in the field of agriculture can be on the same page with our messages.  You can read Rambo’s story here - Agvocating: More than just sharing the story of agriculture.  

How to Find the Appropriate Agvocate Audience on Social Media
It’s well worth spending time thinking about who you need to connect and engage with on social media. Then think about who those people might be associated with.  For example, what people might be associated with The Humane Society of the United States. 

Then think about who these people are, which industries they work in, what they like, what they read, what motivates them, age ranges, personality traits, where they hang out, technical know-how, how likely they are to use social media.

Also identify who your target audience key influencers. These could be people that stand out within your communities, people that others listen to, people that create action (not necessarily those people with thousands of Twitter followers). They could be bloggers, journalists, or thought-leaders. People with game-changing opinion and ideas. People who challenge the norm.  This is often easy to find with a Google search.

Once you’ve profiled the people you want to connect with, you need to find them. This is an on-going process and takes a little time. This will give you a good idea of which social platforms you should have a presence on, so keep your mind open to niche sites instead of just Facebook and Twitter.

As for finding people, there are a bunch of tools you can use to help you find them on the main social networks:

Finding people on Twitter
  • Search.twitter.com is a favorite. It has a wide criteria range to search on, including location. Also use this tool to find the key influencers in your industry and browse their follower/following lists.
  • Twitterrel lets you find people talking about related topics.
  • Twellow is the Twitter equivalent of the Yellow Pages, a directory sorted by occupation.
  • Just Tweet It is a directory sorted by interest.
  • Tweepz help you find people nearby.
  • Also pay attention to hashtags being used for events, you could find some people there.


Finding people on Facebook 
  • Search for fan pages in your subject area and browse other fans there.
  • Once you’ve connected with some key influencers, browse their friends and connect with people that way.
  • When using the search function, filter your results to drill down to the people you’re looking for.
  • Keep an eye on the suggestions that pop up on your news stream.

Finding people on LinkedIn 
  • Search for the names of those people you’ve already identified by name using LinkedIn’s search box. Also make the most of the advanced search feature.
  • You can also use this search box to search for keywords that will be included in profiles. Make the most of using OR or AND in these searches to include a few keywords (OR allows you to look for any one of those terms in the profile, AND allows you to look for a number of words).
  • You can also search for people using their email addresses.
  • Join groups that fit your target audience’s interests or industry. Once you’ve been accepted as a member, browse the member lists.
  • Use the Questions and Answer function to start a conversation around your key subject area. 


Other Tips
  • Check out the activity on your competitor’s social media profile pages. If you notice that people are commenting, sharing, and engaging with content on a particular social media platform that your competitor is using, then that would be a good indicator that that’s where your target audience is.
  • Listen & Engage: Social media is a two-way street and timing is very important. Therefore, a successful social media strategy is more about listening than talking. Listening is not only a great communication skill for in-person conversations — it’s a golden skill in the social media sphere that you need to take time to do. When you effectively “listen” to the conversations that happen online and interject at the right time to the right person with the right type of message, the end result could be one of your postings going viral. Be sure to remember that when you are jumping into a conversation, you’ll want to add value to the conversation by offering advice, a resource, or providing a solution to a point. 



Do you have a tip that has worked for you to find your agvocate target audience? If so, please share your feedback in the comments. We value your feedback.


You may also like to read:  Overcoming Criticism - which all agvocates will eventually face.

 


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