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By MaryBeth Matzek
MAA Editor
With the majority of consumers getting their news and information from Facebook and Twitter, Don Schindler believes it’s now more important than ever for farmers to embrace social media.
Schindler isn’t just saying that because he’s a digital strategist and executive social media trainer with Dairy Management Inc.; he comes from a family of farmers.
“Farmers need to build and maintain trust with their customers. This trust has eroded. Not because of what farmers are doing – it’s because most people aren’t connected to farming and agriculture,” he said. “And most people trust the Internet — specifically social media — for their news and information. If farmers aren’t online then who is building trust with their customers, who is telling the farmer’s story?”
Anti-ag organizations were early social media adapters and have used it to their advantage to post and share inaccurate stories and messages that put modern agriculture in a negative light. Schindler said farmers need to counter those negative images and information with news and stories from their own farms. 

Since social media has so many platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to just name a few – Schindler said farmers should start with Facebook since it has the most users.
As to what to share, he keeps it simple: “What I tell farmers is to share what you love to do. The daily tasks you have are interesting and exotic to the average city person,” said Schindler, adding that farmers can easily photograph or videotape activities from their farms.
“Share something about what’s going on at your farm that day. Maybe it’s crops being planted or a newborn calf – newborn calf pictures do very well on Instagram and Facebook – just be out there sharing information,” he said. “It helps connect consumers to what you’re doing.”
When sharing information online, Schindler recommended farmers think about what they would say if they were giving a tour of their farm and keep the terms basic. 
“The farmer should see themselves as helping the customer understand that everything they do for their animals and the land is trying to make a better product for the customer,” he said. “When they take on the tone of a guide and they want the customer to succeed in their quest for good food then it helps get rid of the stern educator persona that gets defensive when questioned about their practices.”
In addition to recommending that farmers share information from their own farm, Schindler also said it’s vital for farmers to share positive industry stories. Depending on the type of farm, there are industry websites and state checkoffs where farmers can find information to share. For example, the Dairy Amplification Center at http://bit.ly/dairyampcenter is updated daily with different news stories while www.dairygood.com --  another dairy specific site -- has a popular web series called Acres and Avenues.
Schindler admitted some farmers may be wary when it comes to sharing information on Facebook since they’re not professional writers or marketers, but he said that being authentic is more valuable than carefully chosen words and well-crafted phrases.
 “By sharing videos and photos on these networks, those images can do a lot of the talking for you. I do think that people are a lot more forgiving on these social networks when it comes to writing,” he said. “The more polished and proper the post is, the more they question who actually wrote the piece – if it was a farmer or a marketer. And we know how much people trust marketers.”
Schindler has worked with farmers across the country when it comes to social media and knows some view it as a daunting challenge. He said farmers only need to post a few times a week, not everyday and that Facebook allows users to preschedule their posts. 
“That way you can set some up on Sunday night for that week if you want,” he said, adding that farmers can also turn over the farm’s Facebook page to a family member or a trusted employee to regularly update.
“That’s why I’m in this business. I want to help the farmer use their voice because that’s who the customer really wants to talk to,” he said. “We need so many more voices. And it’s not just the farmers. It’s everyone in ag -- from the large food companies to the coops to the processors. Everyone needs to get involved in sharing our common messages that customers can trust their food and the way it’s produced. It’s everyone’s job since everyone now has a voice on social media.”

Facebook pages to keep an eye on
Unsure of where to start when it comes to social media? Social media expert Don Schindler has some recommendations of great Facebook pages for farmers to look at and get ideas from. Please note they are all dairy specific since that’s the market he normally works with.
  • Carrie Mess: www.facebook.com/DairyCarrie   
  • Tim and Emily Zweber: www.facebook.com/Zweberfarms
  • Will Gilmer: www.facebook.com/GDFmilk
  • Ryan Bright: www.facebook.com/thefarmerbright
  • Sadie Frericks: www.facebook.com/dairygoodlife
  • Krista Stauffer: www.facebook.com/StaufferDairy
  • Milk Source LLC: www.facebook.com/MilkSourceLLC
  •  Jenni Tilton-Flood: www.facebook.com/FloodBrothersFarm
  • The Dairy Girl Network: www.facebook.com/DairyGirlNetwork
  • Ask The Farmers: www.facebook.com/AskTheFarmers
Once a farmer starts a Facebook page, he or she should start following other farmers, and state and national ag organizations. Schindler said the people running those pages will see that and will likely follow your page back, helping to boost its profile.
 


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