Agriculture has certainly found a home on the internet. Many farmers have enthusiastically taken to social media, some of which have gained very significant followings. But these aren’t your typical “internet famous” celebs. They don’t get corporate PR packages, they don’t get paid promotions, and they don’t get sponsorships from Fortune 500 companies. What they have is a genuine passion for what they do and sharing it with the rest of the world. On face value this seems quaint, almost simple enough. But the jungle that is cyberspace has shown this is no easy task — at times even an uphill battle.
If you’ve spent time around any social media ag community you’ve probably noticed some shared movements. For example, this month was a celebration of all things dairy with many producers sharing their photos under #februdairy. While this inspired a lot of positivity and great discussions, it didn’t take very long before activists made it their mission to sabotage these posts.
You see, last month the #veganuary was trending across various platforms. If you aren’t among the vegan community you may have missed it: They had their promotional thing and that was that. But when farmers wanted to get in on the fun, activists immediately began policing the hashtag and spamming every pro-dairy personality using it.
A few notable Instagram and Facebook dairy farmers were especially attacked, harassed, and threatened with violence for what they shared. Keep in mind, these were feel-good posts promoting positivity and fun, educational information. They weren’t anti-anything; they were simply there to share a view into the everyday lives of dairy farmers.
According to the anti-animal agriculture activists, posts of farmers enjoying their work and their healthy, content animals shouldn’t exist. This community does not seek to contribute any fruitful, civil discussion or reach common ground. Instead, like a broken record, they repeatedly ask tongue-in-cheek questions (i.e. “So what happens to the bull calves?” A question every dairy farmer on the social platform has already answered) and shout their emotional anthropomorphic narratives in a slew of comments that are nothing less than hateful and angry.
These hostile comment sections may steer a lot of agriculturalists from having a social media presence. We know that the majority of consumers support, or are at least interested in, the story of agriculture. Fact is, for the large majority we have an opportunity to reach, educate and give a positive view of agriculture. While it can be difficult to believe at times, the truly anti-agriculture folks are the minority.
Agriculture is truly an area where “any publicity is good publicity” does not apply. This isn’t just the animal-rights crowd. It’s the anti-biosciences, anti-agribusiness, anti-GMO, anti-agrotechnology, etc. mindsets that all must be taken very seriously and responded to. The unfortunate reality of today is that no matter your ag business, there are people who are willing to fight against it.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop. In fact, it challenges us to continue to share our stories, completely unphased, forever positive and remind others we have nothing to hide. We want to put faces and positive attitudes to our industries. Remember, there is a larger audience out there, an unaware, undecided one that is still waiting to hear our stories and have us answer their questions. Here are a few quick tips when sharing your ag stories on social media.
- Hashtag it. Know what hashtags to use that will help get your message to the right audience. Is this something for #agtwitter? Making a great recipe from that homebred steer? #nutrition #eatbeef Fun ones to get great engagements are the national “holidays” such as National Agriculture Day, World Milk Day, National Corn On The Cob Day, and so forth. Pick any product, and I can almost guarantee it has some kind of celebration. I’ve even seen some farmers get really creative with the current Chinese year of the pig.
- Moderate your comments. Answer sincere questions, even if they seem really obvious to you. But keep aware of who’s just there to troll and not contribute anything genuine. Remember, blocking and deleting are wonderful features. Though some commenters might say otherwise, there is no shame in using these tools when someone is only looking to cause trouble and otherwise spam your content. Remember these are your accounts. You decide what kind of behavior will and will not be tolerated.
- Personalize. A great way to educate is to mix facts with a dash of personal experience. Share snapshots of what goes on in your daily life while explaining why you do certain things. Think things like the view from a combine, the silhouettes of the grain bins, or eyes through the wires of a fence, which don’t pop up all the time on the regular person’s feed! These are eye-catching and make a great starting point.
- Get interactive. Don’t be shy about asking your followers for their input. Ask if they have any questions and let them know you acknowledge their comments. I’ve seen a ton of great feedback when folks have asked for help naming animals!
Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.