Are We Strategic About Our Strategy?

The way we communicate is faster than ever before, with the growing popularity of real-time communication through multiple new social platforms and smart phones new travels faster than ever before. If a prominent celebrity or brand makes a misstep in this faster paced communication model everyone knows nearly instantly what or who blundered. Bad customer service; well the world now knows your employees are human and can have bad days too.

One of the rapid communication forms is Social Media, and Agriculture just like everyone else has a huge learning curve to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing society. The Agricultural industry is quickly seeing its communication efforts morph into something never experienced. Suddenly the customer’s voice is being amplified through the use of new platforms and we are rushing to keep up. However in that haste I think we are losing sight of something very important; strategy.

Strategy is what helps us know how to best apply the various tools we use to communicate. To build strategies in social media that help us move forward, we have to actively listen — I mean looking for opportunities to join the conversations and build mutually beneficial relationships. Think of a how radar and sonar works signals are broadcast to see what comes back giving those using the tools more knowledge about what they can’t see. Social Listening is very similar by using listening tools to learn what conversations are happening, who is having the conversations and how to join those conversations. The tools to act on what we find are critical, but if we are not setting strategic direction, we’re just setting ourselves up to get nowhere fast because nobody knows what conversations each other is having online and possibly even in real person. It is one thing to know how to use the platforms and another completely different thing knowing how to effectively use the platforms to engage in conversations.

Anyone can use social media however not everyone can be a Social Media Manger. This was pointed out in the recent article “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25“, the subsequent reaction was an avalanche of comments with dissenting opinions yet the author was nowhere to be seen with another response post or comments to explain herself. One of the best responses to the post was from Agriculture’s own Kelly Rivard, here is an excerpt from her blog:

“Foreword: I am a social media professional, although my title is technically “coordinator.” In many ways, I am a manager of social media, and I am an administrator on many outlets. I’m writing this as an expanded version of a comment I left on this NexGen post, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.” As a social media coordinator that IS under 25, I disagree with this. I wish no ill will to the writer, and I hope that the backlash is a good learning experience for her to grow from. Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have been learned the hard way, and while it’s never fun, I also understand that some things need to get shaky and fall apart, for me to become more solid and resolved on the other side.

My name is Kelly. I graduated in June ’12 with an Interactive Media degree from a liberal arts college that most of you have never heard of. I’m living the dream, working as a Social Media coordinator for the ad agency of my dreams.

However, when presented with the idea that social media managers should only be under 25, I disagree. Whole-heartedly.

Familiarity with tools is NOT everything. Growing up in the age of the social media evolution is NOT everything. When you manage social media outlets, you are “the face” of that organization, that company, that brand, or community. You are the first line of PR that the general public has and you are responsible for managing those outlets accordingly. You have to know how to integrate yourself into that brand’s culture, you have to understand the values, goals, and challenges that have built that culture. You have to be able to react on a moment’s notice, make judgement calls on community policy, and have an instinct for what may not be acceptable interactions on your social venues.

It isn’t a matter of sitting down on Facebook and sharing a status. It isn’t just sending out a tweet to placate the masses now and then.”


Using social platforms to “tell the story of agriculture” is very important and showing others how to use those platforms is vital. As we move forward we need to not just tell Agriculture to use social media and “tell your stories”, we also need to help them strategically use Social Media to find the customers who truly want to engage in conversations. Let’s take the time to build relationships with those who truly have an interest in learning more about how and why each farmer chooses to farm the way they do. As Kelly says communications is more than just sending out a tweet, posting a status update, or pinning a picture.

Are we looking for the right conversations and finding our supporters?

Over the last few years farmers and ranchers using new ways to engage is one of the biggest advancements we have made in moving communication of how food is grown forward.  I am left to wonder though are we actually finding the customers who truly want to build mutually beneficial relationships? Or are we just engaging in battle with our loudest naysayers?



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  1. Just Farmers says:

    Please share your thoughts on strategy.

  2. Robin Rastani says:

    Ray- Nice post. It's in between the lines here, but I want to state it firmly. One needs to "SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND"… only then can we engage in a deeper conversation. As advocates, we will get no where fast educating consumers. Instead, have a discussion with them and keep an open mind.

    Thanks again, Ray!

  3. Good timing. I was talking with Janice Person about this yesterday. You seen the movie Fight Club? Well in that movie Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt/Ed Norton) sets up clubs or "franchises" across the U.S. Think a giant spider web of fighters. There needs to be franchises of ag bloggers. I vote Janice as The Hub of activity; she is Tyler Durden, if you will. I will gladly be involved in this project.

  4. To clarify.

    Each blogger will have no more than 10 "Blogs I follow" in their blog roll. These bloggers should be chosen (assigned?) strategically according to the bloggers audience. So, Megan Brown will reach different people than say, Ryan Goodman, or Jan Hoadley, or Ray Prock. Each will reach a different audience but all bloggers will be connected to at least one (or three?) other bloggers withing the spider web. Right now, ag bloggers are all over the place. Some are connected with people who haven't updated the blog in a year, or even two! This cannot happen if agvocates/agnerds/agvalanche will share the message of our agriculture.

    Did I miss anything?

  5. Mark Lathrop says:

    Great comfort to see the Agriculture community has brilliant leaders guiding them through the Social Media Jungle. You guys are on the cutting edge! Keep up the great work Ray, Mike and Jeff!

  6. Mike Haley says:

    Ray Prock has some interesting thoughts in this article, reminds me of a discussion that Darin Grimm and I had the other day.

  7. Darin Grimm says:

    I'm not sure about the conversation Mike Haley was referring to that brought me here but this was a good read. Maybe a bit short on specific agvocacy success stories, but great in theory.

    • Mike Haley says:

      This phrase is a large part of what I was referring to as several of the discussions we have had in the past week revolve around it. " As we move forward we need to not just tell Agriculture to use social media and “tell your stories”, we also need to help them strategically use Social Media to find the customers who truly want to engage in conversations. "

    • Darin Grimm says:

      So, everyone reading this blog is very much on the leading edge.. Based on some recent training experiences, I am guessing that close to 99% of the ag population that has the potential to become very effective advocates is completely clueless about how to even turn on twitter, or think of Facebook as a tool, in-depth discussions about finding customers seem to get mostly blank stares.. One step at a time… Although there is certainly a clear need for the training you guys want to do as well, lots of work to be done!

    • Ray Prock says:

      Darin I think a good example of what I am thinking is teaching a person to drive a car. The physical teaching of how to operate the equipment is not enough, the rules of the road also have to be taught. Figuring out how to get somewhere is also a vital part of driver education so the new drivers know how to get where they want to go. So the basic concept of the thought behind this post is "How do we get where we want to go, without getting lost?".

    • Jeff Fowle says:

      Continuing on Ray's example….

      Agvocacy is just like a road trip, there are many different routes to take to reach your objective. Some may be quick, some scenic, some may have a lot of construction….

      There is no 'silver bullet' or single way to best agvocate, just like there isn't a single route to reach a destination.

  8. Marcus Hollmann says:

    One strategy is to have a broad, grass root-like approach to 'agvocacy'. We in ag need to reply and lead on many different levels, including engaging with the consumer/public. But, we also can't leave the field open to the loudest naysayers – we won't convince them; but at the same time, many open-minded people are silently reading these public posts. This needs to happen in many places/scenarios, while being attractive to various different personality types – certainly one approach does not fit all people we are trying to reach and engage with.

    Nonetheless, this grassroot strategy puts us between the rock and the hard place. We still need to be unified – the greatest grassroot movement will go nowhere without some organization. Unfortunately, there is a lot of discrepancy amongst us in ag on how to deal with current (actual and perceived) pressure to change. Prime example is the gestation crate debate. Some of us are ready to move on to topics were we can have more meaningful interactions, whereas others like the NPPC are not open to (m)any discussions about alternatives. The result is that we in ag as a whole often make one step forward and two steps back, simply, because we lack an overlying strategy. Not sure where the answers to that quandary are….

    • Pete Blauwiekel says:

      Not sure the bash against NPPC is justified IMO. I think NPPC's stance on the issue is there are alternatives to gestation stalls, but adoption of those alternatives should be up to individual producers. Feel free to chime in if I'm wrong.

    • Marcus Hollmann says:

      Ok, I think I worded that wrong… Some of the NPPC comments have been somewhat unfortunate lately. Personally, I have no objections to gestation crates, and I completely agree with leaving the choice of production method up to the producer. The real question in my mind becomes 'at what price?'. I watched the senatorial hearing of the egg producers a few days ago. The impression that builds more and more in my head is that 1) the large producers are adopting (enriched cages/more space per bird), because they have the capital and commitment to upgrade, 2) they consequently have a vested interest to make those new building codes mandatory to level the playing field (cost of production), and 3) HSUS not only knows this, but also forces this development/consolidation (presumably they think it's easier to deal with large cooperations once the small and midsized farms and family farms have vanished).

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