The next evolutionary milestone in business management philosophy is something thought leaders are calling “social business.” A social business leverages the new social nature of media to engage and connect customers, employees and partners, increasing the company’s productivity and efficiency. A social business also removes traditional boundaries by encouraging transparency and allowing widespread access to its information and experts. Finally, social businesses are nimble, anticipating the changing landscape and preparing to take advantage of evolving opportunities.

Sound familiar? Not to go all hipster on you, but dairy farms have been operating this way for years. “Embracing and cultivating a spirit of collaboration and community,” as IBM puts it, is something dairy farmers have done since the beginning of time. At first, it was out of necessity: After all, no one person can run a dairy. Then dairymen chose to be more transparent to help customers and the community understand how they care for their animals and the Earth. As for anticipating change — well, just spend 12 months milking cows and you’ve got that one down pat.

Now, as the industry turns its efforts to taking advantage of evolving opportunities — most prominently the fact that we’ve got to feed 34 percent more people by 2050 — dairy’s latest social collaboration goal is clear. As part of this effort, the dairy industry’s issues and reputation management teams are busy adding global food sustainability messages to their arsenal of pro-dairy speaking points. From Dairy Management Inc. to Global Dairy Platform and from Dairy Cares to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, we’re being reminded more and more frequently of the ways dairy foods help feed the world’s ever-growing population. And this is great timing, because the industry will continue to get pressure to make itself understood to an increasingly urban consumer (49 percent now, 70 percent by 2050, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization).

The complex political and social issues surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of food are only going to burn hotter in the years ahead as the globe struggles under the UN FAO-projected weight of 9.1 billion people by 2050. But the industry is well-positioned to serve the expanding market, aided by the social business messages that were a part of dairy’s approach long before it was cool.