It’s no secret farmers are under attack from people who spread misinformation and untruths about agriculture. The Internet is a haven for activists, whether they are talking about animal rights or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In order to help tell the real story about agriculture, it’s time for farmers to engage in social media.

Farmers can counter misinformation by adding a “tool” to their toolbox — and I am not talking about another wrench or screwdriver. I am talking about farmers using social media “tools” to help them tell their story. Fewer and fewer people are getting their news from what have been considered traditional media outlets, such as radio, TV and newspapers. More and more people are relying on websites and social media to get their information.

It’s more important than ever that farmers become involved in social media now.

Why? It seems there is a small segment of the population that thinks it knows better than farmers how to care for livestock. Activists may be small in number, but they are influential. It’s hard to grasp the seriousness of activists’ actions unless you are exposed to their agenda, which is to influence and change what consumers can and cannot buy. Putting out misinformation to consumers and food companies is an attempt to further the agenda.

We, as farmers, are only 2% of the population, which makes it difficult for the public to hear us. This is why I am involved in social media, and why you should be, too. I believe we need to be heard, and social media allows us to reach an audience we would never be able to reach otherwise. You have heard the old adage, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Farmers need to put away the WD-40 and “squeak.” I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility and duty to tell our side of the story. This is done not by rants, but with respectful conversations. Conversations with consumers and food companies about what we do and why we do it.

Tools for the Social Media “Toolbox”

Tool No. 1: Facebook. If you don’t have a personal Facebook page, now is the time to set one up. Next, set up a Facebook fan page for your farm. It’s a great way to share what you are doing on your farm. Post pictures, short videos (you can use a smartphone) and stories about what is happening on your farm and why it’s happening. Of course, you need followers for your Facebook pages. Invite all of your friends and the families from your personal Facebook page to “like” your farm page. Your follower list will grow, resulting in a larger audience. You are creating a social community on Facebook by sharing information, asking questions and responding to comments. Check out the Social Media Guide prepared by the Ohio Farm Bureau for more details on how to set up a social media strategy for your farm.

Tool No. 2: Twitter. Tweets are short messages consisting of up to 140 characters. You can tweet a message to a specific person, organization or company. The first step is to set up a Twitter account. All Twitter accounts, or “handles,” start with the character “@.” The “@” is followed by a Twitter name (or user name). In addition, tweets use hashtags. A hashtag starts with the symbol “#.” Think of hashtags as a way to sort or categorize tweets. As an example: tweets that included “#MNPorkcongress” were used in tweets that pertained to the Minnesota Pork Congress. Hashtags allowed users to read all tweets that pertained to the #MNPorkCongress, no matter who tweeted them. Personally, one of the things I like best about Twitter is that I can follow people who may be at a conference I was not able to attend. They will tweet messages or pictures about what is happening at the conference. As you engage in social media, you will find that you like and use different social media tools for different reasons. For me, Twitter gives me access to a wide array of people, businesses and organizations with interests and backgrounds that I want to follow.

Tool No. 3: Blog. Think of a blog as an online diary. Blogging gives you the opportunity to write about anything you want, including what happens on your farm. One word of caution — blogging is time-consuming. While tweets and Facebook status updates are shorter in length, blogs are longer and more in-depth. Blogs can refer readers to external links on other websites for more information about a topic. The keys to a good blog are quality content and concise writing. Quality content comes when your writing focuses on answering the question, “What value does my blog give my readers?” Anyone can blog. You don’t need a communication or journalism degree. Be authentic and write from your heart. Use this list of farmer bloggers, www.causematters.com/ag-resources/farm-ranch-blogs, to see what other farmers blog about. Ready to start? Use the site I referenced when I started my blog — FARMnWIFE Blogging Basics

These are just a few of the social media tools farmers can use. You don’t need to use them all. The most important thing is to just do something! Challenge yourself to commit to a certain number of minutes per week to engage in some sort of social media.

If you have any question about how to use social media, you can find me at Facebook, www.facebook.com/minnesotafarmer; Twitter, @MinnFarmer Blog: www.mnfarmliving.com; or email, wpatsche@gmail.com.