March 14, 2016

NEW MEDIA & AGRICULTURE: From Felfies to Agvocating, Agriculture Can Harvest Benefits of Social Media

In an era when one billion people are starting conversations on Facebook, 320 million people are checking the latest news on Twitter and 300 hours of new video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, social media is giving agriculture a voice and influence.

The rapid development of social media platforms gives the specialty crop industry the ability to speak directly to the public, informing consumers about food production and encouraging them to become agriculture advocates.  Whether it’s using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you now have the ability to publish your own stories without going through the previous gatekeepers—the media.

Pew Research recently reported that more than 30 percent of Americans use Facebook as their main source for news.  That’s 96 million people who could potentially hear your message.  As social media sites become the news powerhouse, the question should no longer be: “Is social media right for your business?”  Instead, you should be asking: “How can I use social media in the right way for my business?”



As The Golden State dries up and Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak is putting consumers on high alert, social media provides a channel allowing the agriculture industry to educate the public on hot topics such as water supply and food safety.  Through online interactions, the conversation about nutrition, science and farming can be shaped.  Most importantly, the misinformation about topics surrounding agriculture and food can be countered.

Approximately 98 percent of the U.S. population is not in food production.  These consumers need experts with firsthand experience to help them understand today’s farming practices, where their produce comes from and the legislative issues that can potentially impact the food they consume.

Sharing stories and powerful facts about food production can encourage consumers, food companies and other farmers to get involved in agricultural issues.  With social media, a story can go viral in seconds and the impact is tenfold.  With one tweet on Twitter, you can tell your side of the story and potentially create a whole host of agriculture advocates, or agvocates.  Social networks allow you to talk to the public—before someone else does.

Activists are increasingly starting to harness the power of social media and use its impact to influence their audiences.  For example, Erin Ehnle—who grew up on her family’s corn and soybean farm—launched a Facebook page called “Keeping it Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl,” where she posts her own farm photos, designed with hard-hitting facts about agriculture.  Her page had 200 likes the first week and 1,000 by the 10-day mark.  She now boasts nearly 30,000 Facebook page likes. (Page likes are the number of fans who follow your page.)

“There’s so much disconnect between consumers and farmers and so much negativity toward agriculture, so my goal was to get consumers’ attention,” said Ehnle. “I’ve posted some controversial images about GMOs, productivity and how far we’ve come, and some people will go off on rants about chemicals or anything political.  But everybody seems to respect the farming lifestyle and the hard work farmers do.  We make up the greatest industry in the world, and I believe we need to invest in our legacy and protect our future.”



Who doesn’t love images of gorgeous, colorful crops that are grown in never-ending fields below a golden sunset?  Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook give you the chance to show consumers exactly where and how their food is grown.

Research published on eMarketer reports that photos posted on Facebook receive an 87 percent interaction rate from fans.  No other post type—including links, videos and status updates—received more than a 4 percent interaction rate.  Social media can help businesses develop a relationship with their customer base by allowing them to share their experiences through compelling images that tell their organization’s story.

In 2014, farmer selfies—better known as “felfies”—had the internet going crazy.  Why?  Because it put a face to farming.  Consumers like to have a sense of the people behind the products they buy.  The quick action of snapping a photo of yourself with your smartphone and uploading it to Facebook and Instagram gives you a fast and easy way to connect with shoppers.  Additionally, social media is an affordable way to market your product to customers that you would never have been able to reach before.  If you are selling directly to consumers, building awareness for what you offer is crucial.

The Facebook page for Tanimura & Antle (T&A), a Western Growers member, averaged a total of two likes per post in 2010.  Today, the company page garners anywhere from 100 to 600 “likes” each post, an average of 30 people sharing T&A’s post on their own personal page and dozens of comments per post.  (Post likes is when a user gives your post a thumbs up.)  On a monthly basis, T&A’s Facebook postings see double the amount of engagement with its 14,000 followers than companies with more than 100,000 followers.

“People like to have an inside look at where their food is coming from. They like to connect with those responsible for producing their food,” said Ashley Pipkin, T&A’s sales and marketing manager. “If we don’t show them and tell them about what we do, they’re going to make their own assumptions and opinions based off of what they read on the internet.  We like to show them everything from seed to shelf and those type of posts tend to be the most popular.”



Farming and social media have a lot in common—the biggest commonality being cultivation.  Before taking the plunge into the social media sphere, here are some things to consider:


•   Pick Your Crop

     Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Tumblr. Pinterest. Instagram. YouTube. With so many different social media platforms out there, you need to choose the right network that fits your needs.  Each platform serves different audiences and caters to different types of posts.  You may have short news items that can be tweeted on Twitter or an impactful video that is best shared through YouTube.  Figuring out who you want to engage and what content you want to share will help you determine which social media platforms best suits you.


•   Cultivate, Cultivate, Cultivate

     You can’t just plant your seed and expect it to grow.  It’s the same situation for social media.  Once you create a Facebook page or Twitter account, you have to keep it supplied with meaningful content.  Every photo, story, blog post or video made by your organization will continue to generate page views and awareness in the future.  Share agricultural messages, post videos of your operation, share important farm facts and post photos of your farm.  “Everything we post is live and current.  Our field supervisors or even harvest employees will send us a picture or video of something cool that happened that day and we post it; it’s that simple.  There is complete transparency and I think our followers appreciate that,” said Pipkin.


•   Give it Time to Grow

     It takes time to develop a strong social media following.  First, you need to “listen.”  Observe online conversations through social media networks to maintain a clear and current understanding of what is relevant and of interest to the community.  Then you can add content that resonates with your target audience based off of what you have heard through “listening.”



Mark Zuckerberg makes updates to Facebook on a daily basis, new smart phone apps are being developed every minute and innovative social media platforms are being rolled out multiple times a year.  Is it possible for issues affecting the agriculture industry to be solved by social media?

Unlocking social media’s full potential can lead to greater efficiency in developments such as food safety programs, on-farm technology and sustainability efforts.  Beyond that, it gives industries like agriculture a voice.  Conversations are happening about food and farm, and sensationalism is replacing science.  Social media is giving you the opportunity to influence public opinion and weigh in on the discussion. Take it.