Have you tweeted, posted something to YouTube, or updated your Facebook status lately? These terms are not teen and tween gibberish. These applications, each a form of social media, are having a profound impact on your dairy business, even if you don’t know it yet.
Much like a megaphone, social media applications let users broadcast a message to thousands of people in an instant. You can upload a photo, send video footage and tell your friends what you’re doing or share thoughts on a subject instantaneously. It’s much faster than sending an e-mail or making a phone call. And, it allows you to connect with people you might not communicate with regularly.
Statistics on social media use are astounding. There are 300 million Facebook users, 17 million Twitter users, and 20 hours of YouTube video are uploaded every minute of every day.
Here is a look at why the dairy industry should use social media to reconnect with consumers.
Social media is powerful
More and more people are turning to the Internet for their news and information. And, the social media provide real information in real time, says David Pelzer, senior vice president of industry image and relations at Dairy Management, Inc., which manages the national dairy-checkoff program.
For example, earlier this year when a US Airways flight crashed into the Hudson River, within 10 minutes of the aircraft touching the water, a consumer-generated photo and headline were circulating on Twitter. One eyewitness, @jkrums, posted “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.”
This was before traditional news outlets broke the story and 36 minutes before US Airways made a statement.
You may argue that this is merely a fad. But it’s not going away. “Even if it is a fad, we (as an industry) will be out much more if we don’t embrace social media while it’s popular and use it to our full advantage,” says Ray Prock Jr., owner of Ray-Lin Dairy in Denair, Calif.
Admittedly there is plenty of noise when it comes to social media. Twitter users send 2 million tweets per day. While studies show 40 percent of it is noise (e.g., what someone ate for lunch), the majority is newsworthy information.
Activists love social media
Animal-rights activists have found social media a beneficial tool to spread their propaganda and misinformation about agriculture.
Since January 2009, the Humane Society of the United States has increased its Twitter following 25-fold. In the same time period, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals upped its Facebook fans list 26-fold, reports Cause Matters Corp.
According to Twitterholic.com, Ellen DeGeneres, an active advocate for the Humane Society of the United States, is ranked No. 2 on Twitter for the number of followers — 3,202,820.
If nearly six in 10 Americans younger than 30 say they get most of their national and international news online, and the activists are the only ones who are online, then consumers have only one choice, says Dino Giacomazzi, manager of Giacomazzi Dairy in Hanford, Calif. “We need to use social media to allow consumers access to the real story.”
Put a face on the plate
“If we don’t get out there and tell people what we’re doing, who do you think is going to?” asks Barbara Martin, co-owner of Tony Martin Dairy in Lemoore, Calif. The majority of consumers are three to four generations removed from the farm and don’t know where their food comes from. There is no connection to the farm.
Martin uses Facebook to communicate regularly with family and friends about the dairy industry. “When I first started using Facebook, I would post facts about milk, and I would get questions back from people I had been friends with for years. I made the assumption that they knew,” says Martin.
“I’ve had many conversations with people on Twitter who actually thought there were antibiotics in milk,” says Prock. He tweets daily about what he’s doing on the dairy, and now has more than 1,500 followers, 60 percent of whom are not employed in agriculture.
Shannon Seifert, owner of Orange Patch Dairy in Sleepy Eye, Minn., uses a digital video camera to shoot videos around the dairy and load them on YouTube. Her most recent video was on making hay and the importance of quality feeds.
Seifert has also used social media to connect with parents of preschoolers who visited the farm this year. “We gave each of the kids a flyer to take home with our blog on it. The kids can go online and track the life of “Joey” the calf, whom they met in person.” She says quite a few people have followed “Joey’s” progress.
People are hungry for information about food, says Michele Payn-Knoper, principal of Cause-Matters Corp., a professional agricultural speaker and social media advocate. She notes the day the Los Angeles Times food section began following her on Twitter, it really hit home to her what a powerful tool Twitter could be for agriculture.
Social media let consumers engage with those who produce the food that they consume. On Twitter, for example, a message exchange can take place between a consumer who is interested in how livestock are cared for on a farm and a farmer who actually works with the animals on a daily basis.
“You never know when you may give someone a nugget that will change the way they look at food production or act as a defense mechanism when an anti-agriculture group attacks,” says Payn-Knoper.
It’s a whole lot easier to spend 30 to 45 minutes a day utilizing Facebook or Twitter to communicate with consumers than it is to stand in the grocery store for eight hours a day, notes Prock.
Like many others, Prock, Martin and Giacomazzi tweet regularly from their cell phones while working on the dairy.
It’s as simple as letting people know what you’re doing and that we care about our animals, community and family, says Martin. Tools like these put a face back on the farmer, and shows that we are real and that we do care. If we could get every dairyman to have 20 or 30 followers on Twitter, this would be huge, notes Martin.
“The speed information travels with social media is amazing,” she says, recalling the day a tornado touched down somewhere in the Midwest and someone was tweeting a play-by-play description of what was happening with the tornado. “It was like you were right there.”
Find a way to integrate social media into your life and into your schedule, says Giacomazzi. “I have to keep the cows eating, feed them, milk them, pay my bills and I have to advocate for my industry,” he says. “It has to become a necessary part of my job and my routine because no one out there is doing it for me.
“The public has changed its perception. Consumers don’t want to hear from trade associations; they want to know we’re people and we’re taking care of our animals to the best of our abilities. They want to be assured they can buy something from us that’s being treated fairly, handled properly, that it’s safe and that it’s good. That information doesn’t work coming from a trade association. The message has to be delivered by the people on the ground, doing the work and taking care of the animals.
“Right now, we’re all distracted by milk prices. But any of us who hope to be around in the future have to get involved and put a face on our product,” says Giacomazzi. “The animal-welfare battle is at our door. And, if we’re going to win the battle, we need to give access to our customers. Social media is one way to give them access to our operations. If we don’t get involved, we may lose our ability to choose how we farm.”
This is exactly why earlier this year the dairy checkoff launched myDairy, a new program to mobilize dairy producers and industry leaders to help tell the positive on-farm story of milk production through the social media. (For more information on myDairy, see the sidebar below.)
myDairy, a social media program for dairy advocates
Building a strong, positive online presence for the dairy industry helps counter negative attacks and maintains public confidence in dairy foods and the people who produce them. myDairy encourages dairy enthusiastis to use the social media applications they are most comfortable with to share their personal dairy stories with consumers. This program has mobilized dairy enthusiasts across the country. For more information or to join the program, contact myDairy@rosedmi.com.
Social media and you
Social media is having a profound impact on your dairy business. The advent of this new technology has opened up a direct line between consumers and the farm gate.
Plus, social media has opened another means of direct communication between farmers.
“I started using Twitter earlier this year to connect with consumers. What I didn’t expect was the opportunity to better connect with farmers. I now correspond with farmers from across the country on a regular basis,” says Ray Prock, Jr., owner of Ray-Lin Dairy in Denair, Calif.
“Social media has given agriculture a water cooler of sorts to talk about our jobs,” he adds. “I can get a first-hand look at the corn crop in Nebraska from the farmer who is growing the crop. It happens in real-time, instead of waiting for a crop progress report to be released by USDA.”
Access to information like this plays a role when Prock makes feed-purchase decisions for his dairy.
In addition, the media tools mean that users can quickly compare notes on new technology, weather and farming practices. “Twitter is a fast and simple way to check with other farmers who have experience on an issue that might be perplexing you,” notes Prock. “It’s much easier than e-mail.”