Opinion: Are our social media networks as valuable as we think?

Agriculture needs to evolve its networks beyond others in the sector

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The agri-food industry was one of the first industries to embrace social media.

Our sector was actively using social media a decade ago when social media platforms were just taking off for business purposes. Social media opened doors for many of us, to connect with people we would have otherwise never had the chance to socialize with.

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Our sector was quick to adapt to Facebook and Twitter and now, to Instagram and Snapchat. We’re open to embracing new social media platforms as our friends and colleagues join new platforms.

Social media is part of our modern language and culture.

What has changed though, is how social media has evolved since we first began using it.

Social media provides the heartbeat to many issues and topics and provides access to opinions and perspectives that we need to continue to hear — even if those opinions or thoughts aren’t favourable to our industry.

If used correctly, our social media channels are like a focus group that companies and brands typically pay hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for. These social media channels are free for us to use to gauge thoughts and opinions — if you’ve cultivated the right diverse social media network..

The way our agri-food industry uses social media is where we need to change.

When the most prominent and popular social media platforms first began, we used them as a networking tool.

As conversations began and time progressed, they became more industry-focused, more detailed in nature and for our agri-food sector, more commodity specific. We started using social media channels for knowledge transfer.

We created industry specific hashtags like #CdnAg and #OntAg; we shared notes and highlights from events with event-specific hashtags and we compared ideas and thoughts on timely and trending topics… even if we held different standpoints.

With consumers taking to social media platforms more and more, brands are adjusting their communications efforts to engage with these consumer target audiences in a specific way. As a result, how our agri-food sector uses social media needs to evolve in the same way. We need to use social media as an educational engagement tool.

While we love to share updates from our farms and businesses about plant conditions for other farmers to see and learn from, what if we spent time taking the consumer along in our updates and made the focus about the consumer??

How do we engage with consumers though if all our followers and the people we follow, hail from the agri-food sector and within the same agri-food circles? Diversifying our social media accounts will be key to using them as an educational tool.

Here are seven ideas to start cultivating a more diverse social media network:

  • Follow local reporters, both ag and non-ag, from your community and beyond – a random tweet or post may spark their interest to one day profile you as a local business or become their go-to ‘food expert.’
  • Follow your local municipality, businesses, organizations, and schools within your community, search out your community hashtag and add these to your tweets/posts – you never know when they may want to engage with a local farm to feature a school tour, farm visit or engage with you on important topics relevant to your business.
  • Follow provincial or Canadian organizations that are close to your personal interests outside of agriculture and food — if you are an active marathon runner, you’ve been impacted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation or Sick Kids Hospital, follow these businesses and organizations so they know you’re involved beyond the farm.
  • Engage and participate in conversations that are non-ag related if they are trending across Canada — engaging in conversations outside of farming and with fellow Canadians will help you see how consumers are discussing and reacting to other topics. It will also help to learn different views and perspectives on these issues.
  • Check in with friends’ updates on Facebook, especially around times when food related topics are trending — this will help gauge reaction to a topic and whether or not you should engage directly with them to answer any questions or misconceptions they may be discussing.
  • Follow brands you use on the farm or in the house that are non-ag related — you never know when a company like Maytag may want to feature how many loads of laundry are done on the farm!
  • Follow municipal, provincial and federal politicians and/or mainstream media outlets you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of following — you never know who is going to follow you back,be listening and perhaps ask you what you have to say on a topic.

I think of these tips often with my own personal social media feeds. I’ve been followed back by people I could only have dreamed of being followed by. The first for me years ago was, @CBC on Twitter, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A bit nerdy? Maybe. But the point is that someone behind that social media account is now seeing and hearing my thoughts (if the algorithm allows of course).

Social media isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon either. If anything, it is going to continue to evolve and we as an industry must evolve with it.

Christina Crowley-Arklie works in social media in agri-food, is the digital media strategist and founder behind Crowley + Arklie Strategy & Co., is a former political staffer, dairy farmer’s daughter and has spent her life in agriculture. Twitter: @CrowleyArklie

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