Ag advocates gain influence by refining message to be more open and understanding
From memes to media invites, agriculture advocates learned how to use distinctive communication strategies to reach a broad audience during a time of renewed interest in agriculture, prompted by the year-long pandemic.
A panel of social media influencers spoke about “creating opportunities to elevate farmer voices” during the recent Animal Ag Alliance Virtual Summit. All on the panel emphasized the importance of finding a personally meaningful form of outreach, based on an individual’s background, tastes and interests.
For Brandi Buzzard Frobose, a rancher in southeast Kansas, one of the chief takeaways picked up over years of blogging has been to focus on the desired outcome rather than just venting frustration.
The Kansas State University graduate started uploading posts about cattle production in 2009, while working for K-State’s Beef Cattle Institute and then the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She’s now director of communications for the Red Angus Association of America and continues to blog at Buzzard’s Beat: Chronicles of a Kansas Cowgirl.
“For many years, if a company did something negative, I would write a post, and talk about how they were wrong. It would get a lot of clicks and a lot of traffic, but I never reached the goal of having conversations with those businesses,” she recalled during the panel.
Her original goal as a communicator had always been to build a bridge to consumers and narrow the gap between producers and consumers. That wasn’t happening, she realized.
When New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez launched a sweeping environmental initiative known as the Green New Deal, it was a turning point.
“Instead of doing what would have normally been my default, taking the approach of how can you say these things, I decided to write a blog post that was more inviting and not so inflammatory,” she recalled.
She wrote an open letter to the Congresswoman, outlining all of the environmental measures taken on her family’s ranch and inviting her to come out and learn about them firsthand.
Ocasio-Cortez never took her up on the offer, but MSNBC did, sending a three-person TV crew to tape live footage at the ranch near Greeley, Kansas. Buzzard Frobose believes writing with a more measured, positive tone accounts for the attention she received from both MSMBC and Fox News. She was also invited to the White House to meet with Trump’s senior advisers.
That kind of dialogue was the breakthrough she was waiting for, and it led to permanently altering her approach.
She recently applied this new methodology to Epicurious, a prominent food website owned by New York-based media empire Conde Naste, which made the surprising announcement it would no longer feature new beef recipes in a bid to be more environmentally sustainable.
“I didn’t denigrate them, I invited them to the ranch and told them I was eager to share beef information and sustainability practices we use on the ranch,” she said. “I haven’t heard from them, but my goal is to reach grocery shoppers who have questions about their food, and I do have an interview coming up with a major news network.”
Buzzard Frobose said she is as indignant and passionate as anyone over how animal agriculture is often mischaracterized, but added getting good results is what’s really important.
“I have to really clamp down my frustration and realize if we want urban shoppers and policy makers to listen to our opinion, we have to be willing to listen to theirs,” she said. “I’ve decided that’s the path I’m going to take. Instead of just releasing anger, what are actions that can actually instigate change and foster a relationship, instead of doing something that just paints agriculture in a negative light?”
Jennifer Osterholt has also evolved considerably in her approach to blogging at her website Plowing Through Life. She started out mostly sharing glimpses of daily life on her family’s Central Ohio farm, but found she drew more readers with topics like which box of chocolate cake tasted best. She learned never to underestimate the appeal of cooking-centric search terms like kielbasa and sauerkraut or novelty baking concepts like cottage cheese cookies.
“If you’re calling out companies, your traffic will spike,” she said. “But when you share recipes, you gradually build your audience over time, and you can also include a modern meat message with it.”
Osterholt has become savvy at using online analytic tools and search algorithms to build a following with hundreds of thousands of readers. Last month alone visitors spent 18,000 hours on her website.
For Markie Hageman, a California local who earned her ag business degree at Ft. Hays State University in Kansas, traditional ag advocacy just wasn’t her style. Instead, she cultivated a unique niche creating original memes at Girls Eat Beef Too.
“It’s just my way of using humor and mixing in pop culture influences,” she said.
Relying on punchy visual images while tapping into her quirky side has proved an effective way for the ag publisher to reach a broad audience.
“I’m connecting in a way that allows me to reach beyond my tribe, without having to dive into the weeds about things and confuse them with stats and facts,” she said.
“A meme or graphic gets my message across, and people will see it and share it,” she added.
For Alex Strauch, his role as a poultry veterinarian was the ideal perch from which to pursue ag advocacy.
“I found out very quickly the veterinarian is not just a chicken mechanic,” he said. “For one, I’m a teacher everyday, both internally, within my company, and externally.”
“People really want to know what I do, what our farmers are doing and where their food comes from,” he added. “They really trust what veterinarians have to say, so I wanted to take advantage of that.”
He also works closely with the marketing department at his Michigan company, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, to review posts and insure accuracy of production information.
Strauch is a graduate of Animal Ag Allies, a training program offered by the Alliance that offers tips and tools for social media engagement.
The deadline to enroll in the next class is August 6.
Something as simple as a beautiful ranch scene is all it takes to help tell the agriculture story, he said.
“Go for the simple stuff,” he advised, “and remember, humor goes a long way.”