By Kim Watson, editor Beef Today
Nothing gets the blood boiling like reading or seeing reports and videos that make sweeping yet negative generalizations about agriculture. They may say that what you do and produce on your farm is: bad for the environment, leads to obesity, detrimental to the economy. You may even find yourself shouting at the television or computer, "Hey that's not what I'm about."
Unfortunately, yelling at the computer monitor or TV won't help you tell your story. Instead there are effective ways to get your story out there using the Internet and social networking.
Activists and advocates of all sorts have learned to use these venues to promote an agenda. These venues include Web sites, blogs, online books, discussion boards and even just providing comments or responding to stories on the Internet. Like old fashioned "Letters to the Editor," these sites allow you to get your side heard, but with fewer filters and more freedom to say what you want to say.
That's where you need to be careful, says Daren Williams, National Cattlemen's Beef Association Communications Executive Director. You need to research and take time to craft the message you want to put our on the Web so that it truly relays your passion about agriculture without resorting to name calling or other ineffective attacks.
Several agriculture organizations recognize the importance of these opportunities for producers to tell their story on the Internet. For beef producers, Williams helps provide training through NCBA's Masters of Beef Advocacy program--a series of self-directed online courses in beef advocacy. "Graduates” who complete the six courses then join the MBA Alumni Association site, where they receive action alerts, talking points, fact sheets and tips for becoming an everyday advocate for the beef industry.
The dairy industry also offers programs and tools to help producers get their story out as well as provide alerts to what misinformation might be out there, says Stacey Stevens, Director of Nutrition and Industry Affairs at Dairy Management Inc.
Many individuals, groups and organizations have very different – and often, uninformed or just plain inaccurate – views of modern dairy farming, she says. These people are already actively and effectively using social media to share their viewpoints with a wider public audience.
"We need to provide a counter-balance to their views and producers should take part in those discussions," says Stevens. "That's part of why we created the myDairy program and toolkit."
Farm Bureau also gives its producers both the tools and training to help them advocate for agriculture, says Tracy Grondine, Director of Media Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
"We believe that helping farmers and ranchers actively engage in communication with consumers, policy makers and the media promotes a better understanding of agriculture and its importance," says Grondine. "Through AFBF blogs, as well as its Face Book and Twitter pages and other social media, our producers get to have a two-way dialogue with consumers everyday." At the consumer-focused section of AFBF's Website, you can access information on facts and figures to help you tell your farm's story.
Once you have your message researched and ready, here are some quick dos and don'ts to help you effectively tell your story.
- Understand the conversation before you jump in it. Do your research on the issue before jumping into the discussion. Carefully line out the talking points and the message you want to put out there.
- Watch for extremism dialogue. If you're responding to an activist's rhetoric, chances are your response is not going to sway them. Instead keep in mind your response will be read by consumers and others.
- Reach out to consumers.
- Check the tone of the post. Be emotional and passionate about what you do, but don't let it turn into mud slinging.
- Tell you story and leave it. Avoid getting into a back and forth discussion.
- Draft your comments in a word processing document then run a spell check. Once you have a good message, save it to post on other sites and customize to suit the discussion.
- Don't put down the venue. Just because you don't particularly like a certain Web site or news source, don't insult those readers who do. Instead focus on talking about the issue.
- Don't repeat the negatives of the original message. Instead focus on what you are doing within your own farm or ranch.
- Don't trivialize people's concerns. For example, if someone is concerned about global warming, and you don't personally believe that it's an issue, avoid a debate on whether or not global warming is occurring. Instead explain what you do at your farm or ranch that shows you care about the environment.
Real Examples of Being Effective
Williams offers some good real life example from comments that were posted on the Washington Post Web site regarding: For the Summer Barbecue, Some Meats Are Greener than Others" (Washington Post, Thursday, April 30). One comment below from A1965bigdog offers an example of what NOT to do when posting a comment on a story.
"The comment from A1965bigdog attacks 'green wackos' who are concerned about global warming calling them 'losers' and 'charlatans.' This writer makes some good points that get lost in his political rhetoric," he explains
Oh boy. Not only are the green wackos trying to keep us from using energy, now they want to try and dictate to us what we can and cannot eat. It seems they want us to become agrarian vegans who don't use modern conveniences. By God, even the Amish eat meat! Who the flip do these losers think they are???
However, back to the rant. The entire Albore Gorebal Whining thing is a croc. The Vostok Ice Core data clearly shows that temperature increases 800 years before CO2 levels rise, which destroys the entire CO2 induced Gorebal Whining, I mean Global Warming. It does, however, show that increasing temperature does cause CO2 solubility in water to fall. Cause and effect.
There are many other things as well, but I'm not in the mood to type it all up.
If you want to use energy, use it. If you want to eat beef, eat it. Don't let these charlatans fool you.
And last, but not least:
5/1/2009 5:50:58 PM
"Whatever your personal opinion about global warming and environmental activists, this approach only serves to further entrench them in their opinion that beef is bad for the environment and does not deliver the message that we CARE about the environment and are CAPABLE of producing beef in an environmentally sustainable way," explains Williams.
Compare that to this comment from ProudBeefSupporter regarding the same article:
The environment is a top priority to cattle producers. But the fact is that methane is produced as part of the normal digestive processes in animals. This is one reason millions of cattlemen's dollars have been invested in researching various environmental issues to ensure we are performing the best management practices we can. Research such as how to dispose of the manure and what factors increase or decrease the amount of methane released. Producers care for the environment not only because it is the right thing to do but because it is our environment too. Our families live and breathe the same air everyone else's does.
Cattle and other animals aren't the only contributors to the methane release. A variety of other sources produce greenhouse gas emissions. Like, most of the world's rice and all of U.S. rice is grown on flooded fields, which prevents atmospheric oxygen from entering soil. When rice is grown with no oxygen, the soil organic matter decomposes under anaerobic conditions and produces methane that escapes into the atmosphere. But I guess she didn't say she was going to be grilling rice this summer either. : )
5/1/2009 5:22:09 PM
Williams says, "In my opinion, this combination of the emotional (we care) and rational (we're capable) message does a better job of refuting the points made in the article and is much more likely to help consumers feel good about beef as an environmentally-conscious food choice."
For more information:
NCBA's Masters of Beef Advocacy program, send an e-mail to : firstname.lastname@example.org.
DMI's myDairy program, send e-mail to myDairy@rosedmi.com