“Cows on factory farms are hooked up to milking machines 24 hours a day.”
“Cows have to have babies to give milk; they are bred so many times that their uterus collapses after having several babies a year.”
“Dairy cows only live 2 years. A cow would normally live until they are in their 20s.”
These are actual comments left on my blog or Facebook page. From my perspective as a dairy farmer, when I look at them I worry about how someone who believes these things to be fact remembers to inhale after they exhale. And, these are the people who want to tell me how to run my farm?
Our customers are not dumb; they are disconnected.
The people who left these comments are educated about dairy farming. They saw information, they learned, and now they are sharing what they learned. The problem is that people providing information on the Internet to our customers aren’t farmers. For the last 20 years, activists have been using the Internet to share their message and their version of what we do as the facts. As the comments above show, their strategy works.
When was the last time you pulled out your Encyclopaedia Britannica to look up information? The Encyclopaedia Britannica company stopped printing books in 2010 to focus on its online content.
I learned that from Google and Wikipedia. Today, our customers learn online. When they have a direct question, they go to Google and ask. Google finds an answer to their question by scanning millions of websites looking for key words and phrases matching the question.
There are entire companies dedicated to “search engine optimization” (SEO), focusing on making a website the first link that comes up when we go to the Internet to find something.
Google pulls up the websites it thinks will do the best job at answering the question in a list. Our customers click on a link that grabs their attention – most likely one of the first five options – and they are pulled into a website or news article giving them an answer to their question. It may or may not be the right answer, but if it sounds believable, how are our customers supposed to know?
Want to learn what people are wondering about? Ask Google. Google even helps ask the question, by filling out popular queries after you write a few words.
Our customers are not stupid, they are disconnected and that’s not their fault.
So how does the dairy industry start to change where people get their information? How do we make sure our information is out there for people to find and learn from?
The first step is making sure we show up to the game. We must be online with the right information, and that information must be shared in compelling ways to generate interest in learning more.
My answer for these questions is that more dairy farmers need to join the blogging world. I will share more on this in next month’s column.
Carrie Mess farms in partnership with her husband Patrick and his parents on their 100-cow, 300-acre dairy farm near Lake Mills, Wis. She also speaks to agricultural organizations, empowering farmers to tell their own stories through social media.
“Dairy Carrie” can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie, at dairycarrie.com.