Engaging social media is crucial to affecting public opinion
In a unique partnership among the Washington Post, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the "Future of Food: Food Security in the 21st Century" was debated and dissected in a 5½-hour conference in June.
More than 300 on-site participants—and untold more through their computer screens and mobile devices nationwide—watched the live event from the first-floor conference room of the Washington Post in downtown Washington, D.C.
At issue: how to feed an expected 9 billion people by the year 2050 in a world that already struggles to feed 7 billion.
Some food advocates have touted locally produced, organic production as the key to improved productivity and nutrition. Those in commercial agriculture, on the other hand, argue that increased productivity through technology and efficient land use will be the only way to feed the equivalent of the population of nearly two more Chinas by 2050.
Who wins the debate will set food policy—who produces it and how—for decades to come. An equally big problem is how the message is framed and projected to the public.
Social media is now the medium of that message, creating a blaring cacophony. "Activists have more than a voice—they have a platform," says Matt Vander Laan, executive vice president of the Edelman public relations agency. "Out-of-context facts can become explosive media issues in a heartbeat.
"Major media companies, like the Washington Post Company, now play the role of sorting through the ‘noise’ and amplifying the most important issues. They own mighty megaphones and can help propel important issues into the national consciousness," he says.
Having access to these "noise sorters" is crucial to dairy farmers hoping to be part of the conversation. "In working to increase awareness and understanding of dairy’s contributions to food security, we wanted a media partner that could reach key thought leaders and influential consumers," says Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc.
"The Washington Post and Slate, an online news magazine, have a unique set of media outlets that reach different thought leaders and consumer groups," he says. "They also represent a highly credible and world-renowned company that can drive topic content that in turn is covered by other media."
At the other end of this grassroots cyber-conversation are the nation’s dairy farmers. Most consumers are several generations removed from the farm, and modern dairy practices don’t fit with the image of farms that they have in their head.
Dairy farmers must therefore become part of the conversation. They must not only tell their story, but truly listen to consumer concerns.
Vander Laan, Gallagher and Chris Policinski, president of Land O’Lakes, will participate in a panel discussion on Nov. 6 at the 2012 Elite Producer Business Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.
Vander Laan will detail the new media landscape. Gallagher will describe how dairy checkoff programs are using the new media and how farmers can get involved. And Policinski will discuss how Land O’Lakes engages social media to promote and defend its brand, which is among the largest in the country.