Content Marketing, Social Media Case Studies, Brand Communities

Humanizing a Critically Important Industry, From the Ground Up

The public dialog about agriculture in California and beyond is largely negative, with tales of agribusiness nefariousness commonplace. This is despite the fact that 98% of America’s farms are still owned by families. Farmers are literally feeding us every day, but are routinely pilloried in social media and elsewhere by a very vocal minority.

This presents a classic disconnect between perception and reality. The broad perception is that “farmers” and “farming” are code words for “gigantic corporations trying to make a fast buck”. Somehow along the way, the general public forgot the face of the local farmer. Into this breech stepped the California Agricultural Communications Coalition (CACC) – the umbrella organization representing the voice of the farmer.

CACC was assisted by the communication consultants at AdFarm, an agriculture speciality agency (disclosure: Convince & Convert client).

The mission: to humanize California’s farmers.

Telling Stories, Building Kinship

KnowACaliforniaFarmer.com  Humanizing a Critically Important Industry, From the Ground UpAdFarm built an online story portal called Know A California Farmer, that includes videos, photos, written accounts and other content about growers of everything from avocados to lettuce.

Amazingly, not a single word, picture, or video was created by AdFarm or the CACC. Instead, they conducted dozens of social media and content creation training sessions, bringing farmers out of the fields and onto laptops and mobile devices to learn how to shoot and upload multi-media content.

The stories at Know A California Farmer aren’t authentic just because they are true, but also because they were 100% created by actual farmers. You think you have a tough time with social media adoption and content creation in your company? Try teaching a subset of California’s 80,000 farmers how to optimize a YouTube video.

Everyone is a Spokesperson

In addition to the Know A California Farmer site, individual growers were taught how to create social outposts for themselves and their farms on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere. A key component of this initiative is the fact that all of California’s farmers are potential spokespeople, and now know how to confront distortion and engage in reasonable dialog with agriculture opponents in the “wild” of the social Web.

“Amazingly, many of the participating farmers are competitors on a day-to-day basis. For them to work so closely together on this humanization effort to support the overall industry is a triumph of cooperation and big picture thinking,” said Josh Lysne, Director of Digital Marketing at AdFarm.

Winning Hearts and Minds, One at a Time

With zero paid promotion, the Know A California Farmer site received more than 1,000 visits on its very first day, driven almost entirely by social mentions spurred from farmers’ individualized uses of social networking.

More stories are being added to the site routinely. Pop on over and check out this example of social advocacy at work, won’t you?

Related
  • http://twitter.com/katpinke Kathryn Pinke

    Jay, thanks for highlighting this farmer led effort. I have been honored to be a part of the effort with AdFarm and to be able to connect with so many passionate California farmers willing to connect and share their stories via social media. We are using the hash #kacf on Twitter. Thanks again!
    Katie

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thank you Katie for the great work.

  • http://twitter.com/JPlovesCOTTON Janice Person

    Dino and the rest of the Giacomazzi family are incredible people and great stewards of our resources. I love think that my morning cup of chai is made possible by farmers like them! Thanks for sharing the post Jay and for helping elevate the visibility of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of farmers who are telling their stories. Know a California Farmer does a great job of of pulling content together. You may also be interested in the AgChat Foundation (agchat.org) which seeks to provide farmers with information on how to use social media to connect to folks like us in the cities.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Fantastic Janice. Thank you. Great job with agchat. If you ever need
      any help, holler.

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Great post Jay,
    I’d love to read more about how they got so many farmers on board, and how AdFarm went about getting buy-in from farmers. My father-in-law is a farmer, and barely knows how to turn on a computer (not saying most farmers aren’t more computer-savvy) but I would assume the learning curve and buy-in had to be very steep. In trying to teach social media to companies, I’ve often found that many people in even far more tech-friendly jobs aren’t quick to buy into social media.

    • http://twitter.com/jlysne Josh Lysne

      Hey Patrick,
      Great question. We worked with key stakeholders and members of the California Agriculture Communication Coalition to reach out to their members (California farmers) to help drive awareness of the platform. It was pretty amazing to see the excitement and passion of California’s farmers and the desire they had to tell their story.

      As for the training side of things, that is an ongoing effort and I don’ t see it ever ending but we are doing live training, webinars and a few other things to help the farmers of California feel comfortable with the technology.

  • glennvogelsang

    Amazing program, this hopefully will be the start of a very large, honest and engaging forum that hasn’t previously existed for the American farmer. The foresight (I imagine from Jay) to talk “with” not “at” the farmers about social media is clearly the key to making this work. Let them speak, not us.

    Good work

  • Kerri-Sue Lang

    Nicely put, Jay. It has been a real pleasure to work with a group of farmers who are able to come to the table and put their own commodity agenda aside to work so cooperatively together. Farmers are an independent breed. The leaders that brought this together have accomplished an amazing achievement. These California farmers are great.

    KS

  • http://www.adfarmonline.com Jen S.

    Like I stated on my FB update today, maybe initiatives like this will help the powers that be, and a few uninformed consumers, know that food doesn’t come from the grocery store. Agriculture – may we all realize how essential to our core existence it really is. Thanks for sharing the story JB. – jen

  • http://twitter.com/StickyStimuli Yael Davidowitz-Neu

    Great post – I’m really excited to see the power of social media in helping disenfranchised groups with significantly less capital then their opponents to challenge popular thinking on an issue.

    The use of social media for PR and communications is still incredibly nascent, but I think garnering support and correcting broad misconceptions is one of the most powerful opportunities the medium delivers. For marketers, the beauty of TV was always the chance to tell a story and really draw the audience in visually, but relatively speaking, social media has that much more power to truly engage them b/c it not only makes a story real and tangible, but allows the audience to actually become a part of the story and join the conversation rather than merely watch it unfold.

  • Warren Fick

    You’re absolutely right about the classic disconnect, Jay. Because the reality is that humanity has never left farming. The people we meet at Know a California Farmer and their pride in what is often generations of farming are living proof of that. Thanks for the great post.

  • Cgrocock

    Thanks for your insight Jay. I think farmers will take to social media more and more; it’s a great fit with the sense of community in the ag industry.

  • http://twitter.com/kmrivard Kelly Rivard

    As an Internet Comms student and a former-farm-kid, this post makes me incredibly happy. A strong agricultural system is the cornerstone to a strong society, and understanding the way that farmers and ranchers fit into everyday life is something that every person should have access to.

    This post brings a huge smile to my face.

    There are, as in any mission or industry, hurdles to overcome. But groups like the AgChat Foundation (www.agchat.org) and socially-conscious companies like AdFarm can play a huge part in bringing farmers and ranchers that much closer to the folks who use food, fiber, and fuel.

    Thanks so much for sharing these insights! And congrats on the progression of the book!

  • http://twitter.com/cowartandmore Kathy Swift

    I saw one of these commercials on TNT the other night and I was like, WOW! They are real families!!

  • Amanda Sollman

    AdFarm just came to my attention this past spring at the NAMA Convention and I have to say, from the moment I first saw what they were doing to promote agriculture, I have been extremely impressed with their efforts.

    I also never cease to be amazed by the work that farmers all across the country and around the world are doing to take care of the rest of us. Thanks, Jay, for highlighting farmers and showing the innovation that agriculture is showing across the board.

  • Amanda Sollman

    AdFarm just came to my attention this past spring at the NAMA Convention and I have to say, from the moment I first saw what they were doing to promote agriculture, I have been extremely impressed with their efforts.

    I also never cease to be amazed by the work that farmers all across the country and around the world are doing to take care of the rest of us. Thanks, Jay, for highlighting farmers and showing the innovation that agriculture is showing across the board.

  • susan anglin

    Thanks for recognition of the importance of the family farmers. Social media is an important way for us to connect with consumers and share our passion for producing safe and affordable food.

  • http://twitter.com/ederdn Ed Nicholson

    Thanks for this post, Jay. There’s a huge, passionate–and very diverse–community of farmers from all across the country who have realized it’s time for their story to be told. A whole bunch of them have had great communications skills that go back to time spent in 4H and FFA. Now they’re being exposed to new communications tools and their voices are getting louder. It’s about time we listened to them. There’s a big old world out there to feed.

  • Jill Corrin

    You’ve hit the pulse of modern-day agriculture, Jay! Bravo!

    As a city girl and former journalist turned professional agricultural communicator I’m constantly amazed by the forward-thinking approaches of farmers and their unwavering commitment and passion to causes like telling agriculture’s story. They are light years ahead of many communicators I know and I’m proud to have been “adopted” by the agriculture industry.

  • Neil

    Great story – at the heart of it is the principle that people buy from people and also associate with real stories.

    So much better than a glossy ad campaign delivered from a nice clean, air-conditioned office somewhere!

  • http://www.iafarmwife.com iafarmwife

    This is an excellent article! I am one of the 2% that is farming…and I have come to realize that a presence on social media fills a void that consumers are desperately seeking! We farmers are humble to a fault, and self-promotion is the last thing we want to do. But, in creating a blog, and posting farm-related info on facebook, I have seen firsthand the desire of people to know where their food comes from! It has been a rewarding and educational experience all around!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530183059 Will Gilmer

    I’ve used the internet to share information about my family’s dairy farm for several years now, and the incorporation of a more “human” element through social media has definitely allowed me to reach a much larger audience.

    I’ve found that especially true with video. Even though most of my videos have a “low budget” look and many are incredibly goofy, sharing the sights and sounds on my family’s farm adds an extra dimension that helps people understand (and hopefully appreciate) what is required on our end to produce their food.

    A good farm video helps the public connect the dots and understand that real family farmers are working really hard to produce really good food, and I’m happy to see more farmers and ranchers sharing their stories in this way.

    http://www.gilmerdairyfarm.com

  • Pingback: Storytelling Persuasion, Heroes, Education, Transmedia, Narrative, Communication & More

  • Mary-Jane Turcotte

    Very insightful Jay. It is fantastic to see the ag and social media worlds intertwining. Soon community truly will be universal.

  • http://twitter.com/ksfarmgrown Warren Parker

    Thanks for a great post. Farmers now must till the minds of consumers as well as their land, and social media is a great avenue for getting there. This post is going in a newsletter to farmers and ranchers, to help them better understand the need to let the consumer know where their food comes from. Thanks for a great tool to send the message.

  • Mark Lambert

    Many in agriculture feel like they are misunderstood and under-appreciated…largely because they are. In the past farmers just continued to toil in the darkness and lived with their lot.

    Joy in the lifestyle and a unique contentment that comes from making a fundamental contribution to society were enough. However, the expanding societal ignorance which is encouraged and compounded by a small minority of misguided souls, now threatens the survival of our family farms.

    Examples like this offer hope that common sense is not dead in America and that we can make a difference by telling the greatest story never told…the tale of of farmers and ranchers. Sincere compliments on this effort.

  • http://socialprattle.wordpress.com Joshua Barnes

    I live in a farming community doing IT work…it’s the strangest thing; people do NOT realize how much the small farmer cannot survive unless he sells out to the huge industrialized farming organizations. You know how most of the pollination occurs? Companies who own vast hives of honey bees drag the bees all over the country and set them up on huge plantation farms for 6 weeks, then move on. It’s crazy. No farming, no population. We should do everything we can to protect honest, clean, farmers.

  • Cory Lunde

    Farmers and ranchers are national heroes and deserve to have their stories shared with the public! My hope is that this website will become a thriving platform for consumers to connect with the farmers and ranchers who raise the food they eat!

  • Glenn Dawes

    People WANT to connect. Everyone has a story to tell. That’s the great big truth behind the success of social media. Nice work, Jay Baer, for continuously pointing the spotlight on stories worth hearing.

  • Haven Livestock Producers

    great post-As a farmer/rancher I have built my busineess on Social Media bring Farmer/Rancher and Consumer together a phrase I have been tweeting out to @agchat for well over a year now. Look forward to your blog post and AdFarm leads

  • Karin

    Great to see some communication between the people that are producing and the folks that are consuming! A lot of information that needs to be shared

  • J. Scott Vernon, Ph.D.

    Thanks for recognizing the work of the American family farmer and rancher! Together they are working to feed the world. With he population expected to be over nine billion people by 2050, we need the most innovative and creative producers in the world. Clearly, American agriculture is the envy of the world!

    Your efforts to share this story are appreciated!

  • NoFarmsNoFood

    Valuing where you food, floral, fiber and fuel comes from is important! Thank for your article! As a agicultural advocate and farmer of food and fiber, social media has opened the way to share our stories…about the positive aspects of CA agriculture. Everybody has a story to tell…I love listening and sharing! (I) Know A California Farmer is great place to go to learn more…

  • http://twitter.com/celestelaurent Celeste Laurent

    Great post! As an agriculture blogger, I’ve always loved following you on twitter but when I saw that you were posting about ag too I was ecstatic. These farmers and the folks at AdFed have worked hard to teach people where their food comes from and they definitely deserve this recognition.

  • http://www.farmanddairy.com/ Susan Crowell

    The great thing about agriculture is that you’re independent. If you want to raise corn, you can. If you want to milk cows, you can. If you want to grow vegetables and market directly to consumers, you can. But that independence has also been agriculture’s downfall, because there is no voice that speaks for it all, and as more people move generations from the farm, they hear no farm voice at all.

    Thanks for shining the light on a great effort to share farmers’ stories — stories that are as diverse and interesting as the indviduals themselves.

    And, thank you, also for shining a light on a growing corps of ag folks online who are tackling social media to share their stories. They may be few (for now), but they’re mighty. Here’s a column I wrote last February that illustrates the power of social media in general, and one example of how the farm sector used it effectively to voice their frustration with wine maker Yellow Tail: http://www.farmanddairy.com/columns/yellow-tail-wine-donation-to-hsus-incurs-farmers-wrath/14217.html

  • Jim Morris

    Very well done! The more people understand about family farmers in California, the better off everyone is.

  • Kathryn

    Excellent post!! Thanks you!!

  • Kathryn

    Excellent post!! Thanks you!!

  • http://twitter.com/d_toland DanToland

    Thank you, Jay for noticing and sharing the genuine efforts being put forth by farmers to reach a largely non-farming public through social media.

    Traditionally, farmers are a reserved bunch. Not much for talking about themselves, most prefer to go about their day diligently, perhaps stopping by the local coffee shop for their fill of socialization with others just like them. Conducting continual social media training for Ohio farmers, I know first-hand how much of a challenge it can be for most to warm up to talking about themselves online. (Which is partly why my organization put so much into the creation and updating of our well-traveled social media guide for agriculture: http://tinyurl.com/OFBFsocialmedia)

    It has been an exciting couple of years helping farmers grasp these new concepts and watching their grassroots cooperative efforts grow. The agriculture community has always been kind, real and hard-working. This shines through in the “Know a California Farmer” effort, and I’m so glad you have taken the time to share it with your readers. Kudos to all involved!

  • Carrieterzo

    This is very cool and makes you appreciate the farmer as a person and not a corporation. Also an excellent way for directly communicate awareness of where our food comes from.

  • Sue Otten

    AGCO supports this initiative and THX Jay for increasing the visibility. AGCO has been encouraging farmers to tell their story via our social media efforts. We’d love to invite any of you reading Jay’s post who are passionate about putting this into practice to come take a look at our Blog contest. Share your story, details at http://bit.ly/AGCOBlogContest We would love to build a huge repository of stories we can share with consumers and policy makers.
    Sue Otten
    Director, Corporate Marketing
    AGCO

  • http://www.superiorpromos.com Eddie

    Great post Jay. I think that small businesses and family business are the backbone of this country. Just watch the show Swamp People and you can see the hard work that these people do. They don’t expect much, but to provide for their families and be respected for the hard work that they do.

  • Maureen Bligh

    All of the farm families that I have met during my tenure at the Dairy Council of California have been wonderful caring people. It is important to change pubic perception to better align with reality.

  • WindDancerRanch

    Great post! As a small farmer I feel I have a partership with my customers in bringing healthy food to their families. Using social media is a great way to keep them up to date on what is happening on the farm and the challenges I sometimes face.

  • http://jonathanmast.com Jonathan Mast

    Jay – thank you for a great real world example of how online marketing and media can work in a social context. I work in the internet/web/social media biz and am also a huge fan of local farming. Seeing positive results through the intersection of these two areas is fantastic.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • http://jonathanmast.com Jonathan Mast

    Jay – thank you for a great real world example of how online marketing and media can work in a social context. I work in the internet/web/social media biz and am also a huge fan of local farming. Seeing positive results through the intersection of these two areas is fantastic.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Colleen Cecil

    Jay, Thanks for bringing attention to Farmers working at being proactive and not reactive. Its a long road ahead but we are making giat steps with efforts like this.
    Cheers!

  • Gerri Lien

    Great job! This is no easy task. Farmers love to talk – just not about themselves. The more they can speak on behalf of their vocation and their passion, the better. There’s too much negative commentary out there to just let it slide. Would love to see farmers across the country follow this lead.

  • letstalkandchat

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out: http://www.mikelmurphy.com/easy-info-product-site-system/