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Advocating for agriculture, otherwise known as agvocating has become a trend in the past several years. 

With fewer and fewer agricultural workers every year and as Americans continue to move from rural to urban areas the American population’s understanding of agriculture and where their food comes from has steadily dropped. In many areas of this country, people are fundamentally disconnected from the way their food is produced.

Agriculture communicators are trying to successfully communicate the many messages of agriculture and food production using social media to combat the detrimental and costly messages being spread by anti-agriculture organizations.

Why Agvocacy is Important
For most families, food is one of their top expenditures each month – just behind housing and transportation costs. Still, a 2011 study by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance found 72 percent of consumers knew nothing or very little about farming or ranching.  While not everyone farms, everyone does eat and wear clothes, so it’s important that more people understand where their food comes from.  

There is a lot of misinformation and propaganda found on social media. It just takes one person who knows little to nothing about the agriculture industry to start a frenzy. One of the most recent posts I’ve seen was a picture of a farmer pulling calf with the headline “this farmer is strangling this calf inside its mother.”

In 2012, social media attacks about Pink Slime were able to bring ground beef sales down to a ten year low and put Beef Products, Inc. and AFA Foods, companies with limited social media literacy out of business.  Read - Pink Slimed: The Beef Industry Learns The Importance Of Social Media Literacy

As more and more pressure is put on farmers and ranchers to produce the food needed to support a growing global population as a humanitarian issue; agvocacy will not only be critical to sustaining agricultural practices around the world, it will also become a necessity of national security.

During a congressional hearing late last year, John Negroponte, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and then Director of National Intelligence, explained that the need for more food “could affect political stability” and could “fuel further instability in the Middle East.” 

“The world must increase food production by 50 to 60 percent to satisfy expected global population growth and changing consumption patterns by 2050,” he said.

Unfortunately many agvocacy discussions on social media are only reaching other farmers, ranchers and agvocates.  A study by Meghan Cline at Oklahoma State University found that “agvocates are mainly preaching to the choir by seeking out like-minded individuals and organizations,” and not reaching the target audience, consumers without a connection to agriculture.

The study further states, “to successfully agvocate, agriculturalists must first understand who is receiving the benefit of the information. The utilization of social media has altered the dynamics of how communicators, agricultural communicators included, connect with their audiences.  Therefore, an understanding of who and what organizations American consumers rely on for agricultural information is imperative to the agricultural communications industry.”

Reaching out and actively searching for users that do not share the same mindset about agricultural issues was only one of the recommendations Cline’s study made.  I also suggested: 
  1. Agvocates should try to reach people of different ethnic backgrounds.
  2. Agvocates should reach out to more people who are not located in the top agriculture producing states, engaging people who have   never worked/lived on a farm. The top 10 agricultural producing states are: California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
  3. Further research should be conducted to determine what actions are being taken by anti-agricultural organizations to harm the agricultural sector and what should be done to combat those actions.  At the time the study was conducted The Humane Society of the United States was determined to be the top agricultural threat.  Other threats included: the United States government, corporate farms/agribusinesses, mis/uninformed consumers, and Monsanto.

The studies list of other threats, interests me, because there seems to be some differences in perceptions even amongst our own industry -between small family farms and corporate farms; organic farmers and farmers who use Monsanto seeds and weed control products.

Nicole Kenney Rambo also found that true while attending the Women in Agriculture Conference hosted by University of Minnesota Extension.  She found that there were differences in perceptions between different animal industries.

She came to the conclusion that the differences were due to the level of the level of exposure the attendees had of the different industries.  Which tells me that agvocating to those in other industries is also important so we as a whole in the field of agriculture can be on the same page with our messages.  You can read Rambo’s story here - Agvocating: More than just sharing the story of agriculture.  

How to Find the Appropriate Agvocate Audience on Social Media
It’s well worth spending time thinking about who you need to connect and engage with on social media. Then think about who those people might be associated with.  For example, what people might be associated with The Humane Society of the United States. 

Then think about who these people are, which industries they work in, what they like, what they read, what motivates them, age ranges, personality traits, where they hang out, technical know-how, how likely they are to use social media.

Also identify who your target audience key influencers. These could be people that stand out within your communities, people that others listen to, people that create action (not necessarily those people with thousands of Twitter followers). They could be bloggers, journalists, or thought-leaders. People with game-changing opinion and ideas. People who challenge the norm.  This is often easy to find with a Google search.

Once you’ve profiled the people you want to connect with, you need to find them. This is an on-going process and takes a little time. This will give you a good idea of which social platforms you should have a presence on, so keep your mind open to niche sites instead of just Facebook and Twitter.

As for finding people, there are a bunch of tools you can use to help you find them on the main social networks:

Finding people on Twitter
  • Search.twitter.com is a favorite. It has a wide criteria range to search on, including location. Also use this tool to find the key influencers in your industry and browse their follower/following lists.
  • Twitterrel lets you find people talking about related topics.
  • Twellow is the Twitter equivalent of the Yellow Pages, a directory sorted by occupation.
  • Just Tweet It is a directory sorted by interest.
  • Tweepz help you find people nearby.
  • Also pay attention to hashtags being used for events, you could find some people there.


Finding people on Facebook 
  • Search for fan pages in your subject area and browse other fans there.
  • Once you’ve connected with some key influencers, browse their friends and connect with people that way.
  • When using the search function, filter your results to drill down to the people you’re looking for.
  • Keep an eye on the suggestions that pop up on your news stream.

Finding people on LinkedIn 
  • Search for the names of those people you’ve already identified by name using LinkedIn’s search box. Also make the most of the advanced search feature.
  • You can also use this search box to search for keywords that will be included in profiles. Make the most of using OR or AND in these searches to include a few keywords (OR allows you to look for any one of those terms in the profile, AND allows you to look for a number of words).
  • You can also search for people using their email addresses.
  • Join groups that fit your target audience’s interests or industry. Once you’ve been accepted as a member, browse the member lists.
  • Use the Questions and Answer function to start a conversation around your key subject area. 


Other Tips
  • Check out the activity on your competitor’s social media profile pages. If you notice that people are commenting, sharing, and engaging with content on a particular social media platform that your competitor is using, then that would be a good indicator that that’s where your target audience is.
  • Listen & Engage: Social media is a two-way street and timing is very important. Therefore, a successful social media strategy is more about listening than talking. Listening is not only a great communication skill for in-person conversations — it’s a golden skill in the social media sphere that you need to take time to do. When you effectively “listen” to the conversations that happen online and interject at the right time to the right person with the right type of message, the end result could be one of your postings going viral. Be sure to remember that when you are jumping into a conversation, you’ll want to add value to the conversation by offering advice, a resource, or providing a solution to a point. 



Do you have a tip that has worked for you to find your agvocate target audience? If so, please share your feedback in the comments. We value your feedback.


You may also like to read:  Overcoming Criticism - which all agvocates will eventually face.

 
 
I love connecting with people. I want to make my customers experience with Agri-Marketing Solutions as personal as I can and this blog is the perfect platform for that. Creating an online brand is about sharing the love you have for your product, service or business, and sharing it authentically from your heart. Blogging is the best way I know to connect with and serve clients. Your product descriptions, website pages and e-mails can never go as in-depth as your blog can and will. There is so much media noise today that it's more important than ever to let others know what makes you and your business unique. A blog will set you apart and grow your following. Your blog is truly your platform. Unlike other forms of social media that you can't control, your blog is yours. You decide what is on it at all times, how beautiful it is and how inspirational your posts are. 

Think about your blog as another segment of your marketing plan. A well-written blog drives visitors to your website, improves your SEO, gives a boost to your Google rankings, and allows editors, producers, gallery owners, and other influential people in your field to learn about you and your brand. 

Blogging can be incredibly valuable to a variety of people and for a variety of reasons and is not just for businesses. My personal blog Montana Ranch Girl (which I've not kept up due to being busy on our ranch/farm/feedlot and developing this business) has benefited me personally, professionally and financially. I was not buying or selling anything but what it did for me was incredible. 

I was able to reach billions of people to promote myself and the farm/ranch lifestyle which created some unique opportunities. I was very fortunate to be featured in Marie Claire France Magazine and to appear on Oprah via Skype. 

Blogs also enhance your professional image, establishing you as an authority in your field. In many ways blogs are the new resumes validating and illustrating to readers, employers, and your network, that you are skilled and knowledgeable. I received job offers and was able to further my freelance writing career because of it. Only 1 percent of Internet users actively create new content, while the other 99 percent simply view it. Blogging helps you stand out and separates you from the herd. Who wouldn't want to hire someone like that? 

Blogging through my cancer treatment also helped me become a better person. In a foggy chemo brain it forced me to organize my thoughts and learn. I had to teach myself what I didn't know and articulate myself in meaningful ways. Writing for me has always been one of the best ways to delve within myself facilitating self-awareness and is a great way to internalize something I've learned or experienced. 

Most importantly, I've also been able to create meaningful personal relationships through the blog with people I would have never met anywhere else. I met the most incredible woman who I speak to on a regular basis. When we met through my blog, I would have never dreamt that my son who is in the Army would someday be stationed just a half an hour from where she lives. My son has recently gone through a rough patch in his personal life and with cows I wasn't able to fly out to be with him, but my dear friend was able to be there for him as a surrogate mom. 

The powerful aspect about blogging is that any type of personality can do it effectively – introverts and extroverts alike, organized or chaotic personalities, with pictures or words, or a little of both. Blogging inspires. It can transform a life with a simple word of encouragement or a breathtaking photograph. 

Whatever your reason for starting a blog, Agri-Marketing Solutions is here to help get you started, please feel free to stop in to discuss your blog idea over a cup of coffee or send us a message, we are here to help you create a blog that opens doors for you.

 
 
With the next generation of millennial farmers and ranchers stepping up to fill the roles of retiring parents and grandparents, it is imperative for farms, ranches and agricultural services to have a website.  This new generation will farm and ranch in new ways with different demands. They view farming and ranching as more of a business than a lifestyle and view technology as the means to make the operation more efficient.  They also get most of their information online. Therefore, it’s vital to position yourself online with a strong, professional website that gives customers the impression you mean business and have the motivation to want to engage more with your business. 

Like many farmers and ranchers, you may believe your business cannot benefit from having a website or that a website is not within your budget. Or maybe you think because you don’t use a computer, neither do your potential customers. These are huge misconceptions! Any business that does not have a website is missing out on one of the most powerful marketing tools available to them. A website can be used to accomplish many different marketing strategies to help your business grow.  Without one you’re missing out on opportunities for customers to identify who  you are and if they want to spend money with you. 

1. YOUR FARM, RANCH OR BUSINESS WILL GAIN CREDIBILITY 
Even if you don’t plan to sell your products over the internet or via mail order, having a website describing your farm, your location, hours, seasonal availability and other information makes good business sense. More and more people use the internet as an all-purpose research tool in place of phone directories, maps and guidebooks. These days most people go online and research products and services before they make a purchase, if you don't have a website you are missing out on this potential business and sending them to your competitors that do.  

Your business gains credibility by having a website. A website gives you the opportunity to tell consumers why they should trust you and the testimonials and facts to back up those opportunities. It can also help to give the impression that your company is bigger and more successful than it may actually be. One of the great things about the internet is that the size of your company does not really matter. There is no reason that you can't get your site to rank in Google ahead of a large multinational competitor and funnel off some of their traffic. This is a big part of the reason that a website is even more important for a small business than a big one, it tends to level the playing field.   

While no website equals missed opportunities, a bad website can actually be worse since it literally makes your business look bad.  First impressions count and you want your first impression to be the best it can be because potential clients are passing judgement and making decisions about your business. Studies show that 48% of visitors use the design of your website to determine whether or not your entire business is credible and 94% of visitors leave poorly designed sites without engaging. If the design of your site is not professional, eye-catching, engaging and personable you will have no time in which to convince visitors to stay, let alone do business with you. 

2. A WEBSITE SAVES YOU MONEY 
If you don’t think you can afford to invest in website design, the real question should be; can you afford not to. Although the cost of designing a website varies, once it's up and running, a website for a small business generally costs under $100 a month and, in some cases, as little as $20. Compared to the cost of a newspaper ad and considering the potential market you can reach with a website, it is a very cost effective way to promote your business. Even something as basic and simple as a one-page website that explains your business and what it offers, provides value.  
 
3. WEBSITES HELP YOU TELL YOUR STORY AND CUSTOMERS INFORMED 
A website is also a terrific place to tell your story, a tried-and-true marketing strategy. Include a short “about us” section describing your farm’s history, goals and values. Remember that reporters and researchers rely on the internet too! Having an accessible, easy to navigate website can multiply your promotional opportunities.  Think of your website as being your online brochure or catalogue. It is much easier and quicker to update information about your products and services on your website than in print material, making it an effective way of letting your customers know about the arrival of new products, upcoming events, special promotions, or any new services you now offer. Unlike print ads which quickly become outdated, your website can provide current information and news. It also demonstrates that a business that is trying to provide the best possible customer experience. 

4. IT IS ALWAYS ACCESSIBLE 
A website is available to both your regular and potential customers 24/7/365 providing them with the convenience of researching and reviewing your products and services at any time.  

5. A WEBSITE MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO TARGET A WIDER MARKET 
Whether you provide products or services, your website will provide an alternative location to sell them to a wider market; even services can be made available globally.  Don't forget, even cars and houses sell online, why not livestock and crops? Being visible worldwide means you are very likely to gain more customers. The more customers and visitors you have, the more sales you will generate.  

6. IT PROVIDES A PLACE TO SHOWCASE YOUR WORK AND PRACTICES 
No matter what type of business you’re in, a website is a great place to showcase your work. By including an image gallery, as well as testimonials about your work, you can demonstrate what makes your farm or ranch unique. 

7. A WEBSITE SAVES YOU TIME 
Providing information to your customers takes time, whether it’s on the phone, face-to-face, in a brochure, or in emails. With a website you can provide lots of information about your products and services. Once your website is up and running, it is available to your customers indefinitely, saving you time.  

8. IT IMPROVES CUSTOMER SERVICE 
By including a FAQ page, adding articles or uploading newsletters to answer all your customers' questions you can keep them informed. What better way to provide them with value added services than by sharing industry information on your website. 

No matter what your business is, it is imperative to have a website. The more professional your website is, the more advantages you can gain.  Let Agri-Marketing Solutions help you develop an effective website solution for your business, tailored to your budget and prospective clients.  


  

 
 
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It’s that time of year again,  bull sale season!  Each day the mailman delivers another stack of bull sale catalogs and it's now to the point that we can't find the top of the conference table in our office. With so many choices, how do you make your bulls stand out above the rest? 

Everyone wants a surefire way to develop customer relationships that lead to higher sales and profits. And who wouldn’t want this? The truth is that there’s no one single way to do this.  Your bulls and breeding programs are multidimensional, as are your clients. So should be your marketing plan.  The most successful marketing uses a combination of approaches which requires a strategy. 

Here are some tips to help make your marketing rise above the rest. 

The best print ads use headlines, visuals and information that spotlights the reasons why a producer should come to your sale.  Design ads that create an emotional response.  Emotions are the core element that motivates consumers to buy goods and services.  Make sure your ads are clear and easy to read because what you say matters. The most effective ads are the ones that give the producer a reason to buy, use or find out more about a bull or your breeding program and that highlights important features.  Let your customer know how choosing to buy one of your bulls will positively impact their herd for years to come.  Emphasize value added-traits for your breed and market. 

One of the best or the worst impressions can be your sale catalog. Aim to make a visual impact with good photography, a clean layout design and easy to read text.  Don't over clutter pages with too many bulls per page.  Make it easy for your readers to navigate your catalog by putting a table of contents or a bull index in your catalog, a schedule of events for the day of your sale, terms and conditions, sale order and don't forget directions to the sale location and area lodging. 

Online catalogs should also be readily available to post on your website, in social media or to be sent in e-mail.  The pages of your online catalog should fit into a standard computer screen which keeps the page from being cropped out of view. Include a zoom function so buyers can get a better look.  The catalog should include clear links or tabs so buyers can easily navigate from one section or page to the next.  Also include e-mail and forward links to encourage viewers to share your sale catalog. 

No matter what type of business you’re engaged in, social media is crucial if you want to stay ahead of the competition and generate more sales and customers.  Instead of going to search engines, a growing number of users prefer to make queries on social networks such as Facebook when searching for products or services. So make sure your farm or ranch has a Facebook page,  even your favorite bull can have his own page. 

But there’s more to using social media than setting up accounts on Twitter and Facebook and putting up posts and composing tweets. You need to be active and engaging, and offer information people are looking for. Without a definite plan, social media activities can be a waste of time.  

Therefore, in order to make an impact, you must first formulate and commit to a long-term strategy that includes an effective means for management and performance monitoring.  

The most obvious goal of using a social media strategy is to increase your business's presence and extend your reach. But there is much more you can achieve.  Including increasing traffic to your website, improving your credibility and bringing new buyers to your sale. 

What content should you post?  

The best content strategy is one that involves mixed content. There need to be posts that showcase your bulls, but others need to address the specific needs and interests of your target audience. If you’re only posting bland messages about your sale, people will likely tune out and avoid you in the future. Curate posts that are interesting, like news stories, how-to articles, videos and picture lists that are relevant to your industry and to your breeding program.   

Also talk directly to your audience and encourage people to interact with your brand continuously. After all it's all about building long term relationships with your buyers. You need to show your customers that you care about what each person has to say about your business.   

Presentation is as important in marketing cattle privately as it is in a public auction.  High quality videos and photos give you an edge up on others marketing the same type of cattle.  Make sure that videos and photos link to your website. 

Here are some ideas for social media posts. 

In addition to personal tours, video an on-site bull tour that guide potential customers through your facility and answers common questions about your bulls.  This gives potential buyers the chance to get a personal viewing and readily available data of each animal, maximizing the exposure for your cattle and creating interest in your program. 

While you can buy any genetics, you can't buy someone's management.  It is really easy to get caught up in the data, but remember these animals need to be sound and functional in the pasture. Buyers like to see cattle raised in similar conditions to their own management practices.  Show in your videos that your bulls will easily adapt to their new homes. 

Show your operations herd health protocols.  There's nothing worse than bringing a new bull home and having him not be healthy and the risk of infecting your buyers herd.  Let buyers know what you do to ensure that your bulls pass a Breeding Soundness Exam. 

Help buyers identify and understand EPD's and phenotypes and how specific traits can add value to your clients herd.  For example, while calving ease is important avoid stressing low birth weight bulls for cows because producers don't get paid for light birth weight calves.  Instead stress how the confirmation of the bull with average EPD's are better off for mature cows and greater profits for the producer.  Producers who sell calves at weaning are more interested in calving ease, heifer pregnancy, stay ability and weaning weight.  Producers who retain ownership through a feedlot and market to a packer are most interested in yearling weight and carcass traits. Help your clients produce the most profitable product without increasing cost of production by showing them how they may utilize multiple trait selection indexes. 

Show how you are increasing the accuracy of your EPD's on yearling bulls resulting in less risk, less change and more predictability in how your bulls will sire. 

Discuss how buying your bulls is beneficial to crossbreeding producers who raise commercial cattle or how your bulls are the best for different management practices. 

Show how you stand behind your bulls as a breeder.  Show how they last, will hold value, can add value to a herd for the next five years and how his daughters will impact a herd for the next twenty years.  Help your clients find everything they are looking for in a bull. 

Marketing is multifaceted and continuously ongoing. Look at it as a long term prospect with lots of contributing factors to bring attention to your cattle and get top dollar.  I hope these tips have helped and that you have great success at your upcoming sales.  


 
 
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In the world where we are so connected, we can also be so very disconnected from what truly sustains us. I recently posted this statistic from Agricultural Trends, Topics and Tomorrow to my Facebook page, "Only one percent of Americans are farmers and 85% of America is so far removed from agriculture, they do not understand what we do, even when we tell them." 

The value of agriculture cannot be taken lightly. Don’t get me wrong, business, accounting and computer sciences are important, but without agriculture fulfilling life’s most essential elements, none of these professions mean anything. In fact, no other industry can provide the necessities our population needs to survive and move forward except agriculture. Shelter, fiber for clothing, and most importantly, food for our ever growing population. 

With a declining number of farms and ranches as well as an increasing average age of farmers and ranchers this should have us all worried. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently told a group of Iowa farmers that all farmers and ranchers must highlight the positives associated with farming and rural life. 

“There’s lots of competition for these young people,” Vilsack said, "and farmers could be their own worst enemy when it comes to marketing their occupation and lifestyle to the next generation of agricultural producers. You have to make the case to young people that farming is something they ought to aspire to.” 

“There is not a more important job in the United States of America,” Vilsack said. “Why aren’t we marketing that?” 

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It’s important that the misperceptions about agriculture are stopped as soon as possible! Recent research from the University of Guelph has shown that animal welfare concerns have grown a staggering 300%. 

The simple fact is that there is a high possibility that there will be 9 billion people to feed, clothe and provide shelter for by 2050. And more than likely, this population explosion will need to be supported with fewer resources, fewer farmers and ranchers, fewer livestock, more regulations and less understanding of where our food comes from and what it takes to get it from the farm and ranch to your table. We can’t afford to have a population that doesn’t value agriculture or understand the overwhelming importance of this industry.  
 
Thankfully, many in the agriculture industry recognize the need for outreach and continue to work hard to educate and advocate for agriculture. And the good news is that your great stories exist, showing that as producers you care about animal welfare and food safety. 


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Consumers need to hear your story and about your farm practices! It is the responsibility of the entire food production sector, including farmers and ranchers to be proactive in explaining agricultural practices. Not someone else's misguided interpretation of them that becomes the consumers' reality. Agri-Marketing Solutions can help you weave your farm's story into the larger story of agriculture with openness, honesty, and transparency because we are farmers and ranchers ourselves. 

No matter what type of business activity you’re engaged in, social media is crucial if you want to stay ahead of the competition and misconceptions. There’s more to using social media than just setting up accounts on Twitter and Facebook and putting up posts and composing tweets. You need to be active and engaging and offer information people are looking for. Without a definite plan, social media activities can be a waste of time. Therefore, in order to make an impact, you must formulate a social media strategy with an effective means of management. 


Here are a few social media tips to help you tell your story. 

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  • Share photos of the livestock you raise or the crop you grow on Facebook or Twitter, discuss how and why you choose a specific crop or breed.  Tell how and why you use the seed corn you choose and the importance of fertilizing fields. 
  • Explain how hard you work to keep animals healthy and discuss the depths of knowledge needed to develop rations or treatment protocols for livestock. We actually had a guy apply for a job here in our feedlot the other day that when asked what he would use to treat Bovine Respiratory Disease responded, Brucellosis.  Even those who think they know livestock are unaware. 
  • Talk about the rich tradition of your farm or ranch and how hard your family has worked to make sure that hard earned heritage is not lost and how your story will continue with future generations. 
  • Discuss your farm practices that help keep food safe - drug withdrawal times before animals can go to slaughter and the safe storage of crops. 
  • Show consumers that you are feeding your family what is produced on your farm. 

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  • Show how your farm or ranch is a true environmental steward.  Show how your practices provide habitat for wildlife or what your water and soil conservation practices that are vital to the continuation of your operation. 

America’s farmers and ranchers are true professionals. It's about time the rest of the world knew it! 


Subscribe and stay tuned in for next weeks blog post on marketing your bull and replacement heifer sales.

 

    Author Jennifer Archibald

    Reflections of life and lessons learned in the fields of marketing and agriculture.  A place to shout from the roof tops our clients success and keep you up to date on industry trends.

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