10 Social Media Endeavors Within the Agricultural Industry

Farming and ranching organizations are using to social media to drive agricutlural advocacy campaigns to help support and promote the industry—and they are doing a fantastic job!  Agricultural social media campaigns range from pure advocacy efforts to tools to promote transparency and accountability.

Not only are agricultural orgnaizations using social media, farmers and ranchers are too.  They are tweeting, posting pictures and vidoes online, and also turning to forums and message boards to discuss farming best practices and techniques.  This trend has been picked up by national media during the past several months and people are noticing the grassroots-level impacts.  The Associated Press, publshed an article on July 8 noting how farmers and ranchers are using Twitter to advocate for the industry, and Forbes noted how commodity traders are using farmer-generated social media to look “for clues about crops and information about the markets in which they trade”.

To enhance the already immergent grassroots movement within the agricultural industry, organizations such as the AgChat Foundation and the Maryland Grain Producers Association are training farmers and ranchers to use social media connect with consumers and to also serve as “spokespersons” for the industry.  The AgChat Foundation holds weekly Twitter-based, hashtag-driven chats to discuss agricultural issues and to answer questions from the public.  #AgChat is very active and continues to grow week by week.

As time progresses, an industry known for traditionalism and an aging workforce is changing perceptions through personble,  relevant messages in channels that are highly frequented and visible to the public.  It is the industry’s responibility to use these tools and techniques, along with strategic communications and creative messaging and positioning, to effectively reach out an educate consumers, school children, disinterested publics, and even advocates, among the many audiences.

The oppourtunities are endless, and the time is now!  Over the next year or two, be on the lookout of agriculture in the digital space.

The following is  a highlight of 10 recent social media endovours within the industry.  Enjoy!

Social Media

(1) I Love Farmers, a California-based, student run endeavor, is using hip and edgy branding and social media channels to “create a conversation among our peers about our food, our farmers and our future.” The students are using digital and social media to educate the public about where their food comes from and to promote the industry.  The website also has a series of associated blogs.

(2) Princess Kay, crowned by the Minnesota Dairy Farmers serves as a spokesperson to consumers “conducting media interviews, making classroom visits to educate students about the dairy industry, giving speeches to various organizations and making public appearances at promotions or events”.  This year Princess Kay has turned to Facebook to spread her message.  She has 1,123 Facebook fans and uses the social network to connect with her audience, integrating offline events and digital messages.

(3) Gilmer Dairy Farm, located in Alabama, is using a wide-range of social media channels to connect and communicate with its customers and the general public.  Gilmer Dairy has a very active YouTube channel, Twitter account, Facebook page, and blog.  The YouTube channel has 66 video uploads, with over 60,000 views!  Gilmer Dairy is helping to bridge the gap between farm and plate, educating consumers about dairy production and agriculture.

(4) Butter-fy Yourself is a very interesting application on Facebook, developed by the Midwest Dairy Association.  Through Butter-fy Yourself, anyone can go online and make a butter sculpture (such as the butter statues popular at state fairs).  I particularly like this application because it’s different and unique, and also because spreads awareness of the Midwest Dairy brand long after the state fair is over—both to publics that are familiar with the brand, and also those who are not.

(5) AgBoards Network is a series of very popular, very active online forums for farmers, ranchers, and businesses to discuss agricultural-related issues.  HayBoard is the most popular, with hundreds of active threads and thousands of posts.  Forums, as social media, are very useful for communicating information and creating discussion amongst a large audience.  For example, when I was younger and raised lambs for county livestock shows, I used a forum called MyLamb.org (which is still in existence and very active) to learn about animal care and production practices—everything from feeds and antibiotics to exercise and show ring techniques.

“The AgBoards Network, creators of HayTalk.com amongst other farming sites, have expanded their network of agriculture web communities with the release of RowCropTalk.com, AgMeet.com, and AgLoop.com, a new social network aimed at both farmers and businesses in the agriculture industry.

“The new websites now stand beside a lineup of other popular farming forums created by AgBoards: TractorFocus.com, RanchingForums.com, and HayTalk.com.

“Most exciting is the release of AgLoop.com, a social network aimed at farmers and agriculture businesses. AgLoop has been called the “Facebook of Agriculture” and provides users with an opportunity to create an in-depth profile of themselves or their business. The site affords users a place not just to chat and post photos, but build personal and professional connections that can be invaluable in the future.”

User-generated

(6) Keep it Rural, a campaign by AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, has created a series of video and photo contests to spread the word of the industry.  Each contest has associated cash prizes, a great incentive to get people to participate.  Below is the first place winner from last year.  Entries from the contest are on the campaign’s YouTube channel and have all received thousands of views.

(7) The American Farmland Trust, Best Farmers Markets campaign, was quite a success! The campaign utilized online and offline techniques, and also capitalized on the National Farmers Market Day to help drive traffic to the campaign.

“The contest is designed to raise national awareness about the importance of supporting fresh food from local farms and farmers. Market shoppers will vote to support their favorite farmers market starting June 1 until midnight on August 31, 2010. People can vote for as many participating farmers markets as they choose, but can only vote for each market once.”

Accountability: Farm to Home

(8) Findthefarmer.com is a website to promote and support the Stone –Buhr, all-purpose flour company.  This website promotes the highest level of accountability and actually lets consumers go online, and based on the “Best By Date” printed on the bag, determine which farmer grew the wheat in their bag of flour.  The website shows which part of the country the wheat was grown, and it also features a “meet the farmer” feature with videos featuring the actual farmers.

“Stone-Buhr has created a simple, easy-to-use website for you to locate the family farms that grow the grain that we mill to make your flour. A family farm is a farm owned and operated by a family, and passed down from generation to generation. We believe it is important to support these multi-generational farmers who are producing quality wheat in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

(9) Dole Organic Program is also allows consumers to “visit the farm” of where their food was produced by referencing the DPC sticker located on the purchased fruit.  The website includes pictures of the farmers, a location of the farm on Google Earth, and even has copies of the farm’s USDA certificates (among others).

(10) The Kansas Beef Council partnered with the ResourcefulMommy blog to host and promote a Kansas Beef Council Twitter Party Thursday.  This promotional/advocacy event was a great idea because it leveraged the network of the ResourcfulMommy blog to promote the beef industry through BBQ tips and tricks.  Even though the event was a “Twitter party”, it featured recognized chefs and it also included prizes.  In addition, all registrants are listed on the event page so people can connect with others who are interested in attending the event.  Through the comment portion of on the event page, it is evident that the event was quite successful with almost 100 participants, and since the event is hosted online, all activity and conversation can be easily shared with each participant’s network.  Events like these require little monetary resources and can be easily replicated to other outlets across the web.

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3 Reasons Why Mobile Technology is Helping Farmers in Kenya

Farming in Kenya is a huge part of the nation’s livelihood.  Almost 75 percent of working Kenyans make their living by farming and agriculture is a $9.32 billion industry.  In Kenya, like most other developing countries, agricultural production is limited in terms of financing and education. Farmers rarely have access to credit, and most do not understand basic farming cycles or have access to long-term weather forecasts.  Because of these factors, most farmers do not produce the yields they should and are thus under producing and missing out on obtainable profit.

This is an on-going trend in the agriculture industry.  However, companies like Syngenta are spending time and resources to “create value for resource-poor small farmers in developing countries through innovation in sustainable agriculture and the activation of value chains”.  And most importantly, they are using technology to do so.

In Kenya, the Syngenta Foundation has established Kilimo Salama, a program aimed to “to support smallholder farmers in dealing with weather risks by developing and piloting agricultural microinsurance products.”  The project is a partnership between Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance and Safaricom (a Kenyan mobile phone company).

Basically, in Kenya, farmers have an easy, low risk option to purchase crop insurance through SMS technology.

The process is fairly simple and easy to understand, this is how it works:

  1. Purchase product with 5 percent premium built in
  2. Receipt sent via SMS to farmer’s cell phone
  3. Tailored farm advice messages throughout the year sent directly to farmer’s cell phone
  4. Insurance payouts based on season’s weather (and other factors).  If a payout is necessary, a SMS will be sent to farmer’s phone letting them know they are eligible.  Farmer returns to place of purchase to get money.

The founders of the program had the mindset of “Creative thinking, innovative solutions and strategic partnerships are all key for tackling the challenges and problems of the 21 century.”

The Kilimo Salama, or “safe agriculture” program satisifies the mindset – it is creative, innovative, strategic.  I would argue this program works for the following three reasons.

  1. Partnerships help extend reach
    Kilimo Salama’s parternships are what make it successful.  Each of the three partners brings something different to the table.  Syngenta Foundation drives the efforts, UAP provides the insurance, and Safaricom insures the program runs smoothly.  Shared products and services, man power, network of followers, and established communities help to extend reach and make the program successful.
  2. Incentives farmers to plant and increase productivity
    An easy to use program incentives farmers to plant more because it minimizes risk. With already limited resources, farmers can purchase crop insurance at the point of sale for a minimal price.  Also, if payouts are needed there isn’t a lot of associated paperwork and farmers know exactly how and where they are going to receive their funds. The program extends the community-based lifestyle and allows farmers to make business decisions through people they trust, in a location they trust.
  3. Improved communication and education
    Not only does the program aim to provide insurance to farmers, it also serves as an extended form of communication to rural farmers.  If a farmer registers for the program, they will also receive SMS alerts about changes in weather, better farming practices, etc.  The program is bridging the gap and providing small farmers the necessary information and education to stay competitive and make profit.  Furthermore, the program utilizes widely-used forms of communication to streamline efforts and “shows that even a simple tool like a mobile phone can make a big difference in the lives of many”.

In my mind, the program is great because in rural Kenya, Kilimo Salama is the “new social network”.  Through SMS technology, farmers in rural Kenya no longer have to rely on obtaining and sharing information with the guy next door. 

  • SMS is the new community gathering. 
  • SMS is the new source of information and peace of mind. 
  • SMS is a means for farmers to connect with a larger network of people.  

The program is creating a dynamic social network that reduces risk and increases the livelihood of farmers in Kenya through partnerships, incentives, and improved communication and education.

[This blog was originally drafted as a class assignment for a graduate-level course in global communications and social media at Georgetown University.  To read the class blog, click here.]

Harley-Davidson in India: Is Social Media Necessary?

The auto industry in India is quite popular and increasingly progressive….a concept hard to imagine considering the cultural stigma of India being poverty stricken, needing organizations like the Akshaya Patra Foundation (among the many) to feed the millions of children that go hungry each and every day.  Yes, much of India is very poor, but much is very wealthy, with many living stable and luxurious lives.

When it comes to India’s auto industry, it isn’t hard to believe that its thriving considering India’s GDP is ranked number 5 in the world, according CIA World Fact Book.  Due to the wealth,  influx of money, and a growing infrastructure and middle class, many automakers are beginning to invest in India—especially  after a year of record growth by many companies, such as Fiat, Suzuki, and Mahindra Two Wheelers, among others.  However, as strategy+business reports, “Automobile market penetration [in India] has remained low because most cars are still too expensive for the vast majority of Indian motor vehicle buyers.”

The penetration has remained low for good reasons, but companies such as Harley-Davidson have noticed the opportunity for niche marketing in India and have began to introduce a line of luxury motorcycles into India’s marketplace.

Within India, Harley-Davidson hopes to create a strong brand presence and following, and furthermore establish a motorcycle culture in India that will attract riders from across the world.  But how are they going to do it, especially in a new market?  Harley-Davidson’s current mindset is to create strong one-on-one, customer-dealer connections with their audience to promote their product.  However, in the future with increased market competition in India, and with such aggressive goals, how will they succeed?

Harley-Davidson has a website dedicated to the marketplace in India, however they have not established any kind of market-specific social media campaign.  Other emergent auto brands in India, such as Tata Nano have dived into social media, creating multifaceted social media campaigns, successfully positioning and establishing an online brand presence.  Most importantly, they have reached out and the audience has responded in the best way possible— they are begging for more.  Those in India are excited and those in other countries are asking when it will be available elsewhere.

Social media is has worked for Tata Nano, but some would argue that within the Indian marketplace, social media isn’t necessary for strong, globally recognized brands like Harley-Davidson, for the following reasons:

  1. Indians favor brand names
    According to a research study by Synovate, people in India 3 to 4 prefer to buy luxury brands with logos, compared to those with no logos.  Harley-Davidson not only has a recognized logo, they also have a globally associated sense of wealth and luxury.  Secondly, since Harley currently not available in India, the product launch will cause quite the buzz and therefore, why should the company spend extra money and man power on digital marketing?  Shouldn’t the brand name carry itself?
  2. The market is so small, direct mail advertising would prove profitable
    By nature of the product offering, Harley-Davidson will not target the vast majority of India’s population, thus a widespread marketing campaign wouldn’t be necessary.  Direct mail advertising would spend money on those that would actually buy the product, and would ultimately have a stronger, personalized connection with the customer.  Spend money where you are going to make money, sounds logical, right?

However, in relation to the bigger picture, I would argue the contrary.  For Harley to achieve product launch objectives and “attract riders from across the world”, they need to think on a larger scale. That is where social media comes into play, for the following reasons:

  1. Expand reach and share the Harley-Davidson story
    Harley should create a country-specific social media campaign to target those in India, allowing the company to shape marketing messages to the culture of the country.  Furthermore, Harley could use social media as a platform for Indians to share their Harley-Davidson story to other Indians.  Make the message personable and easy to access.  Also through larger brand campaigns, Harley could leverage the India-based campaign to further share the Indian riding experience with the world.  Start local, go global.
  2. Gauge overall reaction
    Harley could use social media to monitor reaction and gauge sentiment of their audience, and ultimately tailor their marketing based on audience demands.  Furthermore once Harley learns what works in India, they could replicate the same ideas to surrounding countries to further expand their brand and following.
  3. Maintain exclusivity of brand
    Harley could use social media to further maintain exclusivity of their brand by providing an outlet for people to dream about driving and owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  Social media is a long-term endeavor and will keep the buzz going long after the campaign concludes.

As discussed, social media is necessary in India’s competitive auto industry for brands to differentiate themselves among the many, to be competitive in the marketplace, and to further overall marketing and advertising efforts.  In the short run, Harley might be able to do without social media but it would be a wise decision to think otherwise.

Harley-Davidson’s has a great strategy of one-on-one dealer-customer relations—but to remain competitive—they should emulate the mindset in the digital space and expand upon traditional connections and relationships.  Other brands should do the same.

[This blog was originally drafted as a class assignment for a graduate-level course in global communications and social media at Georgetown University.  To read the class blog, click here.]

Help Fight Illegal Immigration … From Your Living Room

Border security is a huge issue…duh.  Come on, recent news coverage and debate about border security and immigration has sparked multinational discussion, legislative action, and establishment of various new initiatives to help fight—or just deal with—an issue that has long-ranging effects for all involved parties.

This issue takes lots of man power, lots of time, lots of money, everyone can agree.

I was born and raised in South Texas, just a several hours away from the border.  A quick drive down Highway 77 towards Mexico and you will not only see dozens of Border Patrol vehicles, you will also see them in helicopters, on four-wheelers driving the fence lines, and you will also pass through several security checkpoints.  Most recently, to help combat efforts, they have even placed a series of face recognition cameras up-and-down the highway to help identify suspects.  

There is only so much the government can do.  And from a citizen’s standpoint, aside from alerting officials (via 911), there has never been a proactive, widely-recognized, widely-accessible means of citizen enforcement….until now, well kind of.

BlueServo, a Texas-based firm, has joined forces with the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition to form a public-private partnership to create a “real-time surveillance program designed to empower the public to proactively participate in fighting border crime.”

Yes, they are using a combination of federally-funded grand money and social media to fight illegal immigration and promote border security.  Really, seriously?

Sounds like a great idea… expand man power with fairly cheap resources and help combat crime.  However, the concept they have developed, in my mind, isn’t very feasible and isn’t worth the 2+ million investment, for the following reasons.

  1. Engagement: Who wants to stare at a screen for hours waiting for some action?
  2. Accessibility: Only people with internet (not mobile friendly) access can access the website, and it also requires registration and disclosure of personal information.
  3. Reality: Once illegal immigrants know where the cameras are placed, they will avoid or destroy them…. duh.

Although I think it’s a fail, many of BlueServo’s Facebook page think it’s the most awesome invention ever.  And according to Compete.com, they have about 15,000 unique viewers a month – thought not nearly as high as they should be.

This campaign is lacking in many areas, however I feel that a well designed and well executed, social and new media initiative could work wonders and prove valuable for Mexico, US, and the government and law officials of both countries, for the following reasons:

  1. Empower citizens: People want contribute the overall effort.  An easy to use, effective, cross-cultural means of social and new media could be the tool citizens utilize to help make a difference.  If they know their voice (anonymous) is heard, they will reach out and help.
  2. Deter crime: With more eyes open, there are more resources and more players are in the game.
  3. Educate citizens: Communicate to people risks of illegal immigration and the associated crime. Use local resources (schools and community centers) to spread the initiative and increase its scope and reach.

This idea isn’t too far-fetched.  Law enforcement officials on the US-Canada border have implemented a text message-based “tip” system for citizens to report suspicious activity.  And according to another article, “Agents already make nearly 90 percent of their contacts based on tips from the public and other law enforcement agencies.”

People will communicate if you give them a means (a practical means) to do so.  Utilizing a mobile-based system would allow people to make tips from anywhere, and will furthermore give people a sense of mind and comfort knowing they have alerted an official who will address the issue.

Question is: in the world of internet-based communications and social media, what system or application would be best for combating this issue?  I think location-based technology is where it’s at.  Users will not only be notifying officials, they will also be giving them their exact location.  It’s easy and it’s streamlined.

Or maybe that isn’t the answer.  What do you think?  Does BlueServo work?  Would you watch a live feed of the Mexico-Texas border from your living room? Or is that just a bunch of garbage?

[This blog was originally drafted as a class assignment for a graduate-level course in global communications and social media at Georgetown University.  To read the class blog, click here.]

The State of the Internet

Weekly #11: The Key to Winning in 2012

After reading several articles about Candidate Obama, including an article in Infonomics Magazine and Edelman’s Social Pulpit, I have a greater understanding of what happened behind the scenes in regards to online activism and the use of technology during the campaign.

All can agree that Team Obama did a great job mobilizing support during the campaign.  As noted in the articles, Obama used a system of customer relationship management (CRM) to the highest extent, a system which formed the backbone of the digital campaign and enabled them to integrate and streamline an enormous amount of functionality and information.

An article in Mother Jones by Michael Silberman, presents an interesting concept:  “The next campaign managers must decide: Follow the online-offline hybrid model used by Obama in 2008, or use technology in new ways to scale grassroots and field organizing beyond what has yet been possible.”

I think campaign 2012 will need to implement a robust online/offline strategy and while technology will be key, it will not be the ultimate driving force.  I also believe campaign 2012 will be structured very similar to Obama 2008, and very similar to what was mentioned in the two articles I noted previously.

Public relations firms will work off the Obama model and will make it even better.  There will be a high focus on digital communications and mobile applications, among whatever other trends and technologies emerge along the way.

I can talk technology all day, but I think the candidate to win in 2012 will be successful based on politics and establishing a connection with voters on a personal level.  Uniqueness of campaign messages will be essential: candidates will need to find/focus on provocative messaging to distinguish themselves from the competition and ultimately resonate in the mind of the voter.

Every candidate will have the same technology (to some extent) and they will all implement the same digital strategies (to some extent, again).  It is hard to predict what will be the key to winning considering it is still so early in the game.

What do you think?

Weekly# 10 – Milblogs

In the age of increased information sharing, it is hard to draw the line and determine when content should or should not be accessible online.  This week’s blog post is intended to address the controversial topic about war coverage: is seeing and reading about war online a good thing or a bad thing?

Until this blog post, I had never even thought about the issue.  For numerous reasons, it is hard for me to make a personal connection with what is happening day-in and day-out on the frontlines and to picture war as reality.  This sounds really bad, but it is the truth, and I think many other Americans feel the same.  It is hard to make a connection with something you do not understand.  And I think that is where miliblogging comes into play… it is a way to share information about the war to people who don’t know what is really happening.

Michael Yon phrased it nicely in his blog, “The longer I stayed, the better I understood things. And I began to realize that Americans need to see these things in order to understand what is happening here and come to a more informed judgment of whether this struggle is “worth” the cost, in money and lives. No one can make that determination without a balanced set of facts.”

Images and video content from war might be graphic, but it is reality, it is happening every day.  Americans are enduring this for us and we have an intrinsic right, duty and a privilege to know what is happening, not only for a personal peace of mind and enlightenment, but also in respect for those who are fighting for us.

When it comes to graphic content (particularly shootings) there is a line to be crossed… but who gets to decide how much is too much?