Iowa Soybean Association treasurer and past Communications Squad participant Dave Walton uses Instagram as one of many methods to engage consumers about his farm. (Graphic: Iowa Soybean Association)
5 tips for farmers getting started on social media
May 13, 2021 | Katie James
Of all the issues farmers and ranchers face daily, advocating for agriculture and livestock production amidst consumer misconceptions is always on the menu. Be it inaccuracies surrounding animal ag’s impact on climate change, the use of hormones or the gone-but-not-forgotten narrative on “pink slime”, the need for farmer communicators has never been greater.
The Animal Ag Alliance’s virtual conference this year showcased a panel of seasoned ag advocates sharing stories and advice for other agriculturalists.
The panel included:
1: Pick a platform and stick with it
Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and more, it can feel overwhelming to consider a social media presence.
“I stick to LinkedIn when I’m doing outreach or education. That takes away anonymity as people have to own up to their profiles,” Strauch said.
For Hageman, whose digital audience nears 12,000, outreach is about meeting people where it’s trendy. Be it Instagram or Facebook, both platforms provide her an opportunity to use humor and pop culture to engage with people outside of agriculture.
“I like to create memes people can relate to when I’m educating about beef,” Hageman said. “If you’re just starting out, take time to look at what other people are posting on your chosen platform and learn from them.”
“It’s no accident that when we practice what we say, we end up being more clear and concise,” Strauch said. “Some of us are very good at our technical skills, not public speaking or social media, so my best advice is practice, practice, practice.”
Strauch isn’t the only one who sees value in practice. Osterholt said it took her several years to create a successful blog. Now, her Pinterest page alone boasts over 20,000 followers.
“It’s a magical combination of practice and consistency,” she said. “You have to keep creating. These platform algorithms like new content so get out there and with the right combination of data trends and luck, you’ll expand your audience.”
What comes after selecting a social media platform and sharing content?
“After I write a new blog post, the first thing I do is start promoting it,” continued Osterholt. “I share it on Pinterest, I network with other bloggers and I research words and phrases that help my blog build authority with Google.”
Whether it’s launching an Instagram account or Facebook page, promoting the posts with friends and family and asking them to share it is a great way to start building an audience.
Farmers can also leverage organizations like the Iowa Soybean Association to amplify content. Tagging commodity groups or other brands in posts is an effective way to latch on to an already-established audience base.
4: Listen, Listen, Listen
The impact activists can have in the digital realm is no secret. But for Buzzard, whose Instagram account reaches more than 10,000 people, listening to these voices can be a powerful tool in sharing the message of agriculture.
“In the past, I’ve lambasted brands who take anti-ag positions,” Buzzard said. “While those posts did get me good traffic, it did nothing to narrow the gap between producers and grocery shoppers.”
Keeping the big picture in mind and sticking to defined goals is a good way to stay above angry reactions, she said.
“The next time I saw something anti-agriculture, like some details outlined in the Green New Deal, I took a different route,” she continued. “I wrote a post welcoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to my ranch so she could speak with me and other cattle producers directly.”
While the congresswoman has yet to respond to the invitation, the post did capture the attention of Fox News, NBC and other media outlets.
5: Stay true to your intentions
“You have to ask yourself what your intentions are,” Hageman said. “Do you want to rile people up or do you want to preach beyond the choir?”
Hageman says it’s easy to get defensive and respond passionately to people sharing false messages about agriculture. This can be resolved by simply not engaging with people who just want to cause problems.
“Ignore the instigators,” she continued. “Above all, make sure your real message is getting across. People will see it and share it and whoever wants to have a real discussion about it, will.”
Those onlookers are the people often referred to as the “moveable middle.”
“It’s going to look better on you when you respond well and people see your kindness,” Hageman said.
Additional social media guidance and a network of farming peers in their own learning journeys can be found by joining the ISA Communications Squad. The social media task force hosts six farmers this year, each launching or furthering their own accounts on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.
Farmers interested in participating in the 2022 Communications Squad can contact Katie James, ISA public relations manager.