Tweeting And Texting Are Not Just For The Birds

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“I communicate regularly with some U.S. senators via Twitter. I’m some farm boy from small-town Alberta – I wouldn’t have access to these people without social media.”

SHAUN HANEY

Many farmers may still think tweeting is for birds, but farm boy and self-confessed tech geek Shaun Haney thinks you and all your farming neighbours will be doing the tweeting someday soon. In fact, Haney thinks agriculture depends on it.

Haney walks his talk – in addition to working in his family’s seed business in Picture Butte, Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com, a website that combines video, audio and text, as well as links to his Facebook and Twitter pages to share ag-related production, policy and market information with producers, consumers and policy-makers.

For the uninitiated, tweeting is the posting of very regular, very short text messages through the hugely popular online social media tool, Twitter. Haney describes Twitter as “text messaging on steroids.” Twitter allows you to post messages about anything, from the mundane and self-obsessed like celebrity Drew Barrymore who tweets: “If I die before my cat, I want a little of my ashes put in his food so I can live inside him,” to corporate like WestJet that tweets: “Six hours left! Save even more off our already discounted seat sale fares when you fly in groups of two or more!,” to political like U.S. President Obama who tweets: “The time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Show your support for energy reform.”

Interested individuals can either search tweets by topic i. e. “Agriculture,” “GMO,” “genomics” or they can sign up to automatically receive all of an individual, corporation or group’s tweets directly.

Influence public opinion

Sound time consuming and of little value, particularly regarding agriculture? Not according to Haney, who says social media is not only useful for network building and collaborative learning, it’s the best way to influence public opinion about agriculture.

“If you’re saying: ‘It’s for my kids,’ ‘I have no time for it,’ ‘It’s just a fad,’ or ‘I don’t get it,’” says Haney, “my first response is ‘Your customer has time for it, so you need to have time for it too.”

He says social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, You-Tube and LinkedIn are generating an enormous shift in how we consume information and how we develop opinion.

Anyone – expert or layman, informed or misled – is now able to post messages, share ideas and otherwise add their thoughts to online interaction forums at no cost. While this certainly has a downside in information quality, it also has a strong upside: industries and businesses – including agriculture – can engage and communicate directly with consumers, critics, policy-makers and the general public like never before. Haney says, “Social media allows us to tell our story, which is really important because we need to get our message out there.”

Social media removes barriers that exist in more traditional forms of communication, Haney says.

“I communicate regularly with some U.S. senators via Twitter. I’m some farm boy from small-town Alberta – I wouldn’t have access to these people without social media.”

Haney cites a YouTube clip which cost nothing to produce, showing a South Dakota farmer standing in front of a herd of his cattle, dumping a bottle of YellowTail wine onto the ground to protest the winery’s financial support of the Humane Society of the United States, which he claims is anti-farming. To date, this video has been viewed more than 18,000 times. Viewers – whether they agreed with the farmer or not – understood his side and felt an emotional connection to the farmer. In what other forum could a single producer spread such a strong message to so many, with so little cost?

Haney is quick to caution that “social media is not the be all and end all.” Instead, it is a tool that needs to be used correctly. “If you’re not prepared to engage, don’t do it,” he says. “Have objectives or a sense of purpose, and above all, have fun.”

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