Social media is being used by a wide range of society to transmit ideas, thoughts and agendas.
Some suggest we use it to communicate with consumers, to explain a complex industry. It seems to work for those in opposition of genetic engineering, and in support of animal rights and organic foods.
So why won’t tweeting work to explain the truth about agriculture?
Research out of Canada shows that Facebook and Twitter can become a minefield for farm participants.
AUDIO: World of Agriculture
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Recent findings, in consumer studies by the AgriFood Analytics Laboratory in Canada, will not sit well with some social media advocates in the farming community. Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His group found social media platforms may not be the most useful venues for individual farm participants.
“I fail to see any evidence that social media is serving farming well,” Dr. Charlebois said. “Consumers will respond based on their own reality. And, farming is a myth – It’s an abstract concept for most people. Farmers think that people know things about farming, but most people don’t.”
Dr. Charlebois says in social media circles, emotion-driven subjective opinion tends to drown out rationale-driven objective facts. This came to the surface for Charlebois in researching consumer reaction to Canada’s recent Food Guide publication.
“Just last week, we published a new report on Canada’s Food Guide. Consumers looking for sources to get their information rely heavily on family, friends. In fact, for millennials, they are willing to rely on celebrities to tell them how to eat,” Dr. Charlebois said.
Dr. Charlebois says this phenomenon is not unique to farmers. Independent business people seem to be getting less attention from the general public.
“Recently, I was asked by the Independent Grocers (Association) to look at grocery experience. They wanted to see whether or not independent ownership has any value, still. We found out that most people, when they walk into a grocery store, couldn’t care less who actually owns the store. They’re looking for good pricing, different kinds of products – and independent ownership, that’s a challenge. It’s hard to compete against the Costco’s, the Walmart’s. It’s very difficult to do,” Dr. Charlebois said.
Dr. Charlebois says farmers need to exercise caution on social media platforms, and be ready to answer consumer questions when they are approached for answers.
“The consumer’s confused today. There’s so much noise out there. And it’s difficult to come through and deliver an effective, influential message,” Dr. Charlebois said.