~ guest post by Lara Durben
In 1995, three months into my new job at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, a rock was thrown through our office window on Thanksgiving Day, handpainted with the initials A.L.F. – Animal Liberation Front – on it. That was my “Hello and welcome to the world of animal agriculture.”
Since that time, we’ve had such “memorable” experiences as animal activists sneaking into our annual convention and chaining themselves to an exhibit, and the perfectly timed release of undercover video of a Minnesota turkey farm that very nearly upstaged Thanksgiving in 1999.
Each time, we scrambled to put together a well-crafted response and then wished for the entire incident to go away. Only, as we in animal agriculture have learned all too well, it may quiet down but with the advent of Google and YouTube, it doesn’t really go away. Ever.
A decade ago, I think our industry wanted to believe that if we’re quiet and go about our daily business, surely people will simply be happy we provide them with poultry for their dinner tables. Times have changed – and the way people view their food purchases and the food industry have changed. It’s no longer about those crazy, whacked-out PETA people wearing chicken suits on the sidewalk; animal activists – groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) – are much more savvy today.
But guess what? Farmers and the agricultural organizations that represent them are just as savvy too. And we have a lot to tell people about our commitment to our animals while also providing the world with a safe, healthy, affordable food supply. In the organizations I work for, we’re doing this in a number of different ways – from Web banner ads that are edgier than anything we’ve put out before, to working closely with farmers to participate in our speaker’s bureau. We’re also embracing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as key components within our overall communications plan and we’re encouraging our farmers to do the same.
It’s not always easy – not everyone is comfortable giving presentations in front of groups, and social media tools can be intimidating – but our organization is committed to helping our members learn how to make these and other tools work for them.
After several years on Facebook and more recently trying to wrap my head around Twitter, here’s what I know for sure:
- Social media tools offer us a tremendous opportunity to tell our stories on a daily basis – it’s a no brainer to use them.
- It’s all about daily interaction. We monitor social media sites like Facebook or Twitter at least a few minutes each day because there are always opportunities to share an interesting link, debunk a myth, or spread a positive message about agriculture.
- Blur your work and personal life if you really want to make an impact. Trust me on this. Some of my “non-work” people I am friends with on Facebook are exactly the people who need to hear my positive messages about farmers and agriculture. And I rely on my “work” friends to help me share news, links and messages.
Earlier this year I participated in a meeting with the communications director of HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign in Washington D.C. Did she seem crazy? No. Did she come off as confrontational? Just the opposite. She was friendly, smart, young, enthusiastic and – surprise! – she came from a farm background in Illinois, with experience in 4-H as a kid. This meeting left me wondering – among many things – how does someone like that go from being a farm kid and a 4-H’er to a card-carrying HSUS employee?
I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that the organization I work for has realized that we must not let HSUS or other animal activists groups define our story. We must be willing to put ourselves out there – and talk to people in a compelling, emotional way about farm life, raising food animals and feeding the world ethically and responsibly. We must make connections wherever and whenever we can.
In the most recent Animal Agriculture Alliance e-newsletter, the Alliance’s Executive Vice President Kay Johnson Smith said it best: “This new wave of agriculture advocacy has had an effect. Each time that someone – whether it be a farmer or Miss America – talks about the importance of agriculture, it helps close the urban-rural divide. If we each do our part to educate our communities about food production, we are sure to find agriculture allies in our own backyard.” So what is your part?
Lara Durben is a wife, mother, Minnesota farm girl and lover of all things poultry, thanks to her awesome job with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Broiler and Egg Association of Minnesota and Midwest Poultry Federation. You can find her tweeting as @minnesotaturkey or @LaraDurbenMN.When she’s not on Facebook or Twitter, she loves golfing, gardening, running, traveling and is a bit obsessed with catching reruns of BRAVO-TV’s Housewives’ series.