I Thought I Wanted To Be An Agtivist…I Was Wrong

Three years ago, next month, I was introduced to social media by Ray Prock. We were attending an animal health and welfare committee meeting in Sacramento. After talking with Ray, I envisioned an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to engage with consumers, to correct misconceptions and answer questions. I wanted to be an advocate for agriculture. I was at a point where I felt threatened…by regulations, anti-agriculture groups…I wanted to stand on a chair and deliver my story via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Buzz,…I wanted my voice to be heard.

For about a month I worked diligently to target people who were giving out information that was false and misleading. I tried to enter into discussions and had many debates…some becoming very exciting. I noticed several other people in social media getting attention for their efforts. They were confrontational, they stirred up emotions, they were getting mentioned in industry publications, they focused on ‘popular’ people and ignored the ‘average’…”they must be doing it right” I thought to myself. These individuals were activists for agriculture. Perhaps my idea of being an advocate was wrong. I amped up my approach and based upon what I saw some others doing, I began to thrive off my passion. I sought facts, talking points, aggressively defended agriculture and began to shower as many social media platforms as I could with my presence…but something did not feel right.

It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity. – Mahatma Gandhi

I was getting numerous re-tweets on Twitter, likes on Facebook and likes on my blog…people agreed with me! It was exciting and drove me to get even more involved and post even more. I was regularly engaging in heated discussions, getting positive feedback from “friends,” thinking I was doing the right thing…but personally I felt unsettled about what I was doing and how I was doing it.  Then I attended a Twitter conference in Seattle, Washington and I began to realize what I had been missing…social media is not a contest of who posts more or has more followers…it is not about quantity, it is about quality. It was at this conference that I began to realize the difference between ‘preaching to the choir’ and reaching beyond.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. – Steve Jobs

My major epiphany occurred after meeting Jeff Pulver, when Ray and I were invited to speak at his conference in San Francisco captured in part by “A Cowboy & A Dairyman Experience SFO.” Presenter after presenter shared about connections made, lessons learned, relationships started and the amazing realization of being able to meet strangers online, recognize shared interests and passions and then, in some instances, be able to connect with them in real life. The people I met were making a personal difference by being themselves…imagine that. It hit me like a ton of bricks. If I wanted to make a positive difference, I needed to start by listening, learning and caring about the people who I was meeting in social media; putting others before self and genuinely caring about how others feel and think.

You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Yes, being an agvitist certainly drew activity and attention, but it was reaction from the ‘choir’ and I had been pushing away and offending those who I was trying to connect with.

It was this realization that caused me to do an about face and begin focusing on being myself, listening and learning from others and sharing my story when asked, not before.

But communication is two-sided – vital and profound communication makes demands also on those who are to receive it… demands in the sense of concentration, of genuine effort to receive what is being communicated. – Roger Sessions

I made the conscious decision to do my best to become an agvocate. However, to me, being an agvocate is a process and a journey, not a title that can be achieved. Agvocating is neither being offensive or defensive; it is an action that relies upon listening and learning…seeking understanding of others perspectives. Being an agvocate is being yourself, sharing personal experiences and emotions, forgetting about being ‘polished’ and speaking from the heart, not ‘talking points.’

Do I get the ‘pat on the back’ and ‘spotlight’ from the agricultural crowd like I used to…no.

Am I making new friends, having more conversations, getting more emails and phone calls from folks outside of agriculture that I have only met through social media…yes.

Clubs are so lame. Nobody even dances at these clubs. They stand around and get drunk and they schmooze. There is no enjoyment factor. – Shia LaBeouf

Social media for me has evolved from being ‘work’ to being fun and enjoyable…growing new relationships is an enriching experience.

My shield has been laid down and my sword sheathed.

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