Online Engagement

May 6, 2013 08:46 PM

**Extended comments are highlighted in blue.

Tell your story the right way

While it’s difficult, even uncomfortable, to engage consumers at the dairy case in your local grocery store, it has always been the first line of defense in combatting misinformation about how you make milk.

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On-line dairy resources, Extended story

Social media—Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—can make that socially uncomfortable experience a little easier. The more you use it, the more comfortable you will be in talking with others about the dairy industry. And you’ll be able to reach far more folks far more effectively in far less time.

But, as in any social situation, there are right ways and wrongs ways to go about it, says Jolene Griffin, director of industry communications for Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). She works on producer communication and helps lead the team that created, implemented and maintains DMI’s myDairy social media program for dairy advocates.

The wrong way is to immediately confront any anti-dairy message you see on the social media sites.

The right way involves prolonged engagement on these sites, letting others get to know you so that they trust and respect you as someone who is knowledgeable in your field. "You have to engage on a regular basis, not just about the dairy industry," Griffin says.

While that might seem like a huge time drain, checking your social media accounts once a day or several times a week can be sufficient, she says. The key is to become a regular, thoughtful, trusted contributor.

Simply sharing what you’ve done on the farm that day builds rapport with other readers. Recent consumer research shows that 30% to 50% of consumers feel they simply don’t know enough about current dairy farming practices to form an opinion.

Other research shows that consumers trust people "like themselves" more than they trust government or business officials. If you’re a regular social media contributor, when an anti-dairy or anti-animal post pops up, you will be the person "like themselves" that they trust, she says.

In your response, there are some definite best practices to keep in mind, Griffin says.

  • Stay on message. Address the issue at hand succinctly.
  • Be respectful and polite.
  • Be on the offensive. Explain why you do certain things in a certain way in terms non-farm people can understand. Don’t use jargon.
  • Personalize the message by using your own on-farm experience. Example: "We want our calves to be as healthy as they can be. We bottle feed our calves individually to make sure they receive good nutrition."
  • Take the time to craft a thoughtful response. Knee-jerk reactions are often regretted the next day.
  • Refer them or direct link to such sites as If you really get stuck, email Griffin at

In some cases, anti-animal advocates will try to start an on-line argument, accusing farmers of certain practices only because they’re profitable. Separating calves at birth and de-horning are often targeted as issues.

These are more difficult engagements, says Griffin. Using the above techniques might not win the argument with advocates (probably nothing will), but it will show others reading the posts who has the most credibility. That’s especially true if you have been a long-time, trusted member of the group.

Ultimately, you may have to agree to disagree, says Griffin.



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