But first, a song: (which I find slightly annoying, but it does deal with the subject at hand)
There is something that I have thought for some time that I have not been able to put into effective words. So, before the Fellows of VALOR Class II take over the posting duties to this blog, here is one last failed attempt.
At nearly every ag industry meeting – dairy coop, commodity group, financial group, whatever – there is at least one breakout session titled something along the lines of “telling our story” where attendees are told of the importance of being engaged and visible on various social media. Somehow, through effective utilization of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, a blog, and whatever the next social media outlet is where all the cool kids go, the message that farmers and others involved in the worlds oldest profession (or maybe second oldest…rather like a “chicken or egg” question…) care about the environment/animal welfare/the community or whatever the cause du jour turns out to be. The theory being that public discourse is increased and ag’s image is positively impacted when we saturate the interwebs and allow everyone a glimpse into something that they have lost touch with.
So, everyone at the session nods sagely and agrees about what makes a good post, or what a great job John/Jane Doe, the rockstar ag blogger is doing. Twitter accounts are created, LinkedIn profiles crafted, and everyone follows/friends everyone else in attendance and the breakout adjourns with everyone committed to doing their part to help move the needle of public perception.
I call BS.
As does a new study from the researchers at Pew.
While the study deals with Edward Snowden, and some of the findings could possibly be skewed slightly given the subject (i.e. do I really want to speak on the internet about electronic surveillance?). A few findings I found interesting and I think hold true regardless of the topic:
- Only half as many people were willing to discuss the Snowden story online as opposed to in person.
- Social media users were less likely to share opinions in face to face settings.
- Social media did little to increase users access to information.
So, what does it all mean? It means we are missing the point.
Engagement in Social Media is purported to increase the sphere of people you are connected with, and thus, more and more people gain an understanding of – in this example – agriculture. But are those people the ones that need to be connected with, or, are we just speaking into an echo chamber of like-minded followers?
I have had a chance to talk (in person) to some of the “rockstars” of ag social media. When asked to point to an example of a time when they felt that they moved the needle of public perception, it involves old-fashioned, face to face interaction. (granted, my sample size is small)
Social Media is a crutch that allows us to sit back an congratulate ourselves at the great job we are doing “tearing down silos” while in actuality all that has happened is that the silo has been built higher to hold more like-minded people. It is the “real world” that offers meaningful interaction with diverse mindsets and backgrounds. If you want to improve the perception of agriculture, or whatever else is important to you, live a life worthy of emulation so that these encounters leave meaningful, positive impressions.
Do you disagree? Research suggests that you will remain silent here…
I had hoped to work this nice haunting song from the last century into this post, but have failed. Since it is stuck in my head now, I include it anyway.
So where is the irony?