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To hashtag or not to hashtag?

Peter Barhydt Published on 11 March 2014

Stephen Weststeyn, a third-generation dairy farm owner in northern California who milks 4,000 cows; Brenda Hastings, an Ohio farmer with 400 head; and Ryan Bright, a fifth-generation dairy farmer, would all likely say “to hashtag.”

They see the benefits of social media right now and believe it will become even more important in the near future. And they’re right. Social media is defying all preconceived notions and boundaries and, like most technologies, human beings are adapting it to their own needs and going beyond what it was originally designed to do.

“A lot of people might think social media is a fun distraction,” Weststeyn says, “but I’ve found it to be a great tool. You can connect with producers from across the country and share information. It’s helpful in shaping my outlook on corn prices and feed issues … gives me a broader view of the industry.”

The fact is that dairy producers are an energetic and fast-growing community in social media, and they are engaging in and moving the conversation about dairy. They interact with one another, share best practices and their experiences with techniques and products, and engage personally with consumers.

It might seem like the last thing someone working seven days a week would want to spend time doing, but social media facilitates interactions throughout this community that cannot happen any other way.

That is one important reason Weststeyn and others have made social media a part of their daily lives with other dairy producers, providing advice to producers and creating a dialogue with the end user, the consumer, about the basics of dairy production.

“People are growing more disconnected from agriculture, with less people being involved in dairy farming than ever before,” observes Weststeyn. “Social media changes this. It gives consumers an opportunity to connect with the people growing their food. I hope more dairy farmers realize this and start engaging.”

Brenda Hastings and her family milk about 400 cows in Ohio, and she uses social media to share information about what they do on their farm. “There are plenty of people and organizations out there sharing untrue and negative stories about animal agriculture. It’s important that dairy farmers have a voice so accurate information is available to people searching for it.”

Dairy producers are a smart, savvy group that understands public relations better than almost any other industry. It’s not surprising to see them at the forefront of taking social media out of the friends-and-family realm and pushing it into the realm of good business practices. So how do dairy producers take the next step, and what might that look like?

The most successful dairy producers on social media are those that use it both for gathering information and advocating for their industry. They are not using just one channel; they are using multiple channels.

So the next logical step is to expand the channels used: Post, tweet and blog – but how about Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat or others? And jump outside of your own blog, page, or Twitter account to make certain you are following other producers in the industry.

hash tag symbol

Ryan Bright, a fifth-generation dairy farmer, commented: “The reason I got into social media was to share my point of view on dairy farm and agriculture issues with whoever would listen online. I am amazed daily by the information I have learned about the dairy and ag industry as well as practices of producers in other states and around the world.”

Choose a message and use your social media network to talk about it, show it and drive it home consistently.

That means content every day that is specific to your message, that means engaging in conversations with people halfway around the world on a timely basis, and that means not just dabbling but really getting in there and understanding how it is used to the fullest extent possible.

Social media should be part of an overall marketing strategy that is taken seriously. Many dairy producers feel they are in the best position to shape the image of their industry. They are absolutely correct. We have all seen stories about agriculture being reported by people who have no knowledge of the industry.

Social media allows dairy producers to respond to those stories directly to the consumer. They are changing the dialogue about dairy farming and highlighting the benefits of the dairy industry.

Brenda Hastings may have discovered the keys to doing this successfully. Brenda uses social media to share information about what they do on her farm and to spread the word about the benefits of consuming dairy.

“When I blog, post on Facebook or tweet, my target audience is people outside of agriculture. Primarily moms like me. I try to write about topics people want to learn about, are in the news or things I have received lots of questions about.”

And people are paying attention. Her blog was recently voted one of the “Top 50 Farm Blogs.” She has nearly 1,000 likes on Facebook and over 1,000 followers on Twitter. And her audience is growing daily.

Not only is it important to try new social media websites and connect with ever-expanding audiences, but it is also important to use new tactics on social media networks.

Brenda, Stephen and Ryan all have a great Twitter presence, but it may be time for individuals to hashtag together. Coming together under one hashtag expands the conversation exponentially and can push it to become national or global.

Over the past few years, thousands of agriculture advocates, farmers and urbanites who want to know more about farm life have found remarkable success working together to discuss agricultural-related topics on Twitter by using specific hashtags. It is time for the dairy industry to break out of this general discussion and create its own hashtag.

Younger producers know that sharing information on social media with other producers benefits everyone. But they are not alone. The fastest-growing segment on Twitter today? A recent report targeted ages 55 to 65. Social media will continue to surprise us all. The possibilities and potential benefits are endless.

So do we hashtag? The industry is well established on many social media channels, and that foundation is only growing stronger. As young men and women become leaders in the industry, they bring social media with them, not as a toy, but as a valuable part of their overall sales, marketing and profitability tools. PD

Peter Barhydt
Aberdeen Associates Inc.

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