Despite the misperceptions or misinformation consumers have about dairy farming, producers have the power to set the record straight, says Donna Moenning, vice president of industry image and relations for Midwest Dairy Association (MDA). She spoke at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) annual business conference earlier this week in Madison, Wis.
Today, consumers have opinions about nearly everything farmers do — from food safety and animal care, to the environment and nutrition. Those opinions may not reflect reality, Moenning says, so you need to initiate conversations to set consumers straight on what today’s dairy farms are all about.
Moenning urges producers to remember their “speech-making 101” class. First, figure out who the audience is with whom dairy producers want to speak.
“Don’t go after the extreme activists,” cautions Moenning. “You’re not going to change their minds.”
Rather, she said producers need to connect with local neighbors, friends from their children’s schools, church members and others.
“Before you go out and tell them what you do, remember that it all boils down to trust,” Moenning notes. “It’s about putting people’s minds at ease to create trust. They have to trust you before they’ll listen to you.”
Second, you need to know what messages to deliver to consumers.
“With consumers, you need to frame your conversations so it relates back to ‘me,’” Moenning explains. “Consumers want to know how, what you’re talking about, relates to them and their lives.”
Use organizations such as MDA and PDPW to help you craft those messages so the industry speaks with one voice to consumers. Other credible sources for consumers — medical and health organizations, doctors and veterinarians, academics, financial industry analysts and even regular employees from dairy operations — can help, too. Just be sure everyone is offering accurate, credible advice so consumers are not confused by mixed messages.
This is important because consumers need to hear and see information five different places before they believe it, Moenning points out. At the same time, you need to be careful about the words you choose. Simple, non-jargon words and phrases that respect yet explain today’s farming operations to consumers are the best choices, she mentioned.
Finally, dairy producers need to know how to deliver those messages via the right media to consumers. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and personal farm blogs may not be every producers’ communication or technical bailiwick. However, if Facebook was a nation, it would be the third most populated country in the world. Moenning says dairy producers can’t ignore the power of this and other new social media.
“And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then they say a video is worth an entire library,” Moenning adds. “All this new social media is a people-driven economy and you have the power to make it work.”
To that end, dairy producers are encouraged to sign up for “My Dairy Toolkit” developed by Dairy Management, Inc. It can help producers learn how to effectively use new social media to become advocates for the dairy industry.