Telling farming’s story — the good, the bad and the ugly

Airdrie vet Cody Creelman says being open and honest takes away power from foes of livestock production

Eight seconds is a good bull ride.

And in the new age of Tweets, Vines and Snapchats, it’s also about all the time needed to create a viral video or have someone form an impression — good or bad — about animal agriculture.

So how can producers benefit from social media?

Airdrie vet Cody Creelman had numerous insights for attendees at the recent Livestock Care Conference. The beef veterinarian at Veterinary Agri-Health Services has more than 3,500 followers on Twitter and has tweeted nearly 10,000 times, often with pictures or links to his many YouTube videos. (His username is @VetPracticeVAHS)

“The way that I tell my story is simple,” he said. “I tell my story in the year that I actually live in. And that means that right now I’m telling my story in the year 2015. And that story differs from the way I told it in 2011, and my story in 2020 will differ even more… So I tell my story in 2015 in the place where a lot of eyeballs and ears are going, and that is social media.”

At its core, social media — not just Twitter (he calls it “the 140-character cocktail party of the Internet”) but also Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Meerkat and others — is about new ways to harness the power of storytelling, Creelman said.

It helps his brand, his business, and the industry he serves, he said.

“A story can do things. A story can educate. A story can advocate. A story can entertain. A story can connect people and bring people together. Social media is the way to do all of this today in a place where more and more people are going to communicate and consume their media. It’s an area of great opportunity for anyone in agriculture to tell their story and build good relationships.”

A defining characteristic of social media is that anyone can chime in, interact or essentially serve as their own media company.

Building trust

For those in agriculture, including those involved in sometimes sensitive or tough issues such as animal welfare, social media can generate understanding and build trust, he said.

To do this effectively, one of Creelman’s mantras is to “be real.”

“I’m not so naive to believe that everything we do in animal agriculture is perfect,” he said. “But isn’t the system better today than it was yesterday? And doesn’t it keep getting better? I think it does.

“And for me to stay credible as a food animal veterinarian and for you to stay credible as producers, the goal is not to fake perfection. It is to tell our story. The good, the bad and the ugly.”

You have to pick the market and demographics you want to target, and decide how much time and energy to put into social media, he said.

“But you want to tell your story,” he said. “And social media at the end of the day is just an amplification for a good story. You may have heard the phrase ‘Content is King’ in the social media world. I’ll add this: If Content is King, Context is God.”

Misinformation is the greatest threat to animal agriculture, he said.

“There are people out there who are telling a story. They are telling a story about farming and about animals. And their story is sensational. Their story has all the right components to be very sharable.”

When those in agriculture step up and make sure their story is told directly and honestly, they take away power from activists and industry opponents, said Creelman.

“If we tell our story to the absolute minute detail and customers decide they don’t want to eat meat or drink milk, I can live with that,” he said. “But what I can’t live with is someone deciding that what I do is bad or murder, based on untruths, propaganda or even pure ignorance… So I tell my story — the good and bad — but I need all of you to tell your story too.”

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