Be my friend. Follow my blog. Check out my status update. Did you see what I tweeted last night? Wait…what?
Social media is blowing up in our faces and is becoming a part of daily life for many people – farmers included.
“I try to put in an hour or so a day using social media,” says Matt Widboom, who farms with his father near Windom, MN, and is a member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. “It depends on the day and if there’s a hot issue to be spreading the word on.”
Widboom grows 1,200 acres of corn  and soybeans  and also finishes 1,000 head of cattle. He started using social media to connect with friends on Facebook , and now sees it as an opportunity to share the positive story of agriculture.
“As an ag community we’ve known for a long time we need to be able to talk about our industry in a positive way,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve ever been under attack directly and indirectly as much as we are now. We need to take advantage and counter-punch, and we can very quickly get out of the negative light anti-ag groups put us in.”
Putting that message out there can come in several formats. You can post a status update on Facebook to share with your virtual friends. You can tweet a short message (no more than 140 characters) on Twitter , and use hash tags (#) to help people who may be searching that topic. You can post a video to YouTube , the second most-used search engine behind Google. This may all sound a bit daunting, but it’s pretty simple (see sidebar).
Tricia Braid Terry, communications director for Illinois Corn Growers and Corn Marketing Board and also part of a family farm outside of Funks Grove, IL, uses “social media as a barometer to find out what ag’s hot button issues are, to get a feel for what’s being said and what people’s questions and opinions are.”
Terry also uses Twitter to get her ag messages out to her over 4,000 followers on the social media site. Others use video.
Communication via video
"I have a Flip camera I carry with me,” says Widboom. “You can easily shoot video and post it to show positive ag events.”
Troy Hadrick, a fifth-generation rancher from Vale, SD, spends an hour or two each day (not in succession) checking blogs, anti-ag pages and using social media and had quite an experience with YouTube. Earlier in 2010, Yellow Tail wine opted to donate money to the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) – one of the biggest anti-agriculture organizations in the U.S.
“I heard about that and opened my cupboard and sure enough, we had a bottle of Yellow Tail in there; I’m pretty sure it was a gift,” Hadrick says. “So, I took my Flip camera out, set it on a fence post, turned it on and walked out in front and told my story.”
More than 20,000 video  views later, Hadrick feels like his story was heard.
“I knew what I wanted to say and it came from the heart,” he says. “I told my story, and if a couple hundred people had watched it, I’d have been tickled. They way it took off and the way people helped share the message was incredible. I even got a call from an Australian radio broadcaster wanting to interview me.
“What other tool would give me the opportunity to never leave home and have people all over the world watch my story? It made an impact on a lot of people.”
Hadrick and his wife also have a blog (http://www.advocatesforag.blogspot.com ) where they speak up about ag issues and share other ag stories that can impact their farming operations. The blog allows them to put their personal views out there. One of the best things social media can do is to put people back in the issues.
“That’s what’s core: remembering there are people behind the issues we talk about day to day,” Terry says. “We in ag haven’t done a great job of humanizing ourselves and the work we do. That’s what non-farmers are interested in.
“They’re seeking information; they’re hungry for it, so let’s move the coffee shop to the laptop,” she adds. “I encourage people to make it personal. You have to be a person before people will consider your opinions something to find value in.”
Widboom agrees with creating that virtual coffee shop. “I think online communications are much like a coffee shop,” he says. “I hope if you’re at a coffee shop and you hear something wrong, you step forward, introduce yourself and say something about how agriculture production really is. Online it’s the same thing, whether it’s a blog rebuttal or a comment on a video. It’s a general mentality of being proud of what we do. We can’t hope someone else will take care of shedding that positive light.
“All of agriculture needs to take advantage of communicating facts and truths in social media – and communications in general,” Widboom says.
Social media tools allow crop producers, ranchers and every other farmer the chance to have their say and let people know how agriculture really operates.
“Agriculture isn’t a 9-5 job. At no other point in history have we been able to never leave the ranch and still talk to consumers 1,000 miles away, show them pictures and tell stories through video,” Hadrick says. “Social media is an incredible tool and completely free. With some time and an Internet connection, you can get out there to the whole world.”
Sign Up To Speak Out
Starting in on social media is easy – really. Most people have an e-mail address, but if you don’t, start there. You can get a free e-mail account at http://www.yahoo.com  or http://www.gmail.com  (and many other places). Once you’ve signed up there, you’re halfway to becoming socially active.
Facebook is free, and claims it always will be. Go to www.facebook.comand it will bring you to the signup page. You enter your name, e-mail, birthday and choose a password and you’re in. Then it’s up to you how active you want to be. You can “friend” people and “like” ag-friendly (or not-so-friendly) pages to follow what they’re saying. At first, just look around. Do some searches, see what’s out there. Then, if you feel up to it, update your status (what’s on your mind?).
Twitter is also free. Go to www.twitter.com, and you’ll see a yellow button that says “Sign Up.” Click on that and enter your name, e-mail and choose a password. You’ll also choose a “handle.” That will be what followers and others on Twitter see you as; the name associated with your “tweets.” Once that information is in, you can start tweeting. Twitter limits you to 140 characters (including any spaces).
You can “follow” people on Twitter, and their tweets will appear in a feed to you. You can “retweet” their posts with the click of a button, or tweet your own.
If you prefer, search Twitter using the hash tag to find information on specific topics such as: #corn, #ethanol, #atrazine, etc. Go to http://www.twitter.com/search  and put in some terms to see what people are saying.
Do you have a pocket-sized video camera or video capabilities on your cell phone? If so, take advantage of YouTube; again, a free tool. Go to www.youtube.comto create an account (look in the upper right corner). You’ll choose your username (just like on Twitter), and provide your e-mail address and other simple info, then you’ll be ready to upload your videos. Following simple directions from YouTube, you can be online in minutes. Take videos of harvest, planting, scouting or just of you telling your ag story.
So, sign up. Lurk around, read messages, posts and tweets. Then speak up. Say your piece, post your video and share your information. An investment of even 15 minutes can make a huge impact. If you’re still unsure of social media, also check out http://www.agchat.org . There’s a plethora of information on using social media.
You can find Corn & Soybean Digest online at www.youtube.com/cornsoybeandigest , http://www.twitter.com/csdigest , http://www.facebook.com  (search Corn & Soybean Digest) or at http://www.csdigest.com  or http://www.letstalkag.com .