Do either of these sound familiar? Activists are spreading misinformation about farming. Myths about farming seem to carry more weight than facts. While these are top-of-mind for me here in Iowa, they’re hot topics in Europe, too, as I discovered in mid-November 2018, when I traveled to Germany for the Transatlantic Agricultural Dialogue on Consumer Engagement.
So, what do you do as an agri-business marketer to accurately tell your ag story? Here’s what I learned:
1. Be willing to engage.
Who is telling agriculture’s story, and what are they saying? Don’t leave it to chance, said Caroline van der Plas from the Netherlands, who encouraged story with consumers, the media and lawmakers. “If you don’t share your story, others will tell it for you—and maybe inaccurately,” said van der Plas, who coordinates the Dutch social media project @boerburgertweet, which allows farmers to share their story with consumers on Twitter.
2. Look at ag through consumers’ eyes.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. “Also, people love to discover things,” said Janice Person, online engagement director for Bayer CropScience. “They don’t want to be lectured to.” Create a sense of wonder, added Person, who noted that sharing knowledge can inspire this sense of wonder.
3. Tell a different side of the story.
While most consumers have heard about organic farming, they rarely hear about other types of production. “It’s easy for people to think there’s only one side of the story or one way to farm, unless you share a different perspective,” Person said.
4. Focus on the moveable middle.
Activists are loud, but they are still a minority, said Nadine Henke, an ag-vocate from Germany. “There are still a lot of people in the middle, but few understand modern agriculture. We can reach out to them.”
5. Find inspiring ag-vocates.
There are many ag-vocates to follow online, including Derek Klingenberg (Farmer Derek @KlingenbergFarm on Twitter), a Kansas rancher whose popular YouTube videos show him playing his trombone to call his cows. “We have different crops and livestock and various ways of farming, so our stories are all different,” Person said. “What ag-vocates have in common is their decision to tell their story and make a positive impact.”
6. Never underestimate face-to-face conversations.
While social media gets a lot of attention, it’s not the only place to tell ag’s story, Person said. “Some of the most important conservations still take place in person.”
7. Show how technology can be part of the solution.
“Most people like to be modern,” Person said. Share the story of modern ag by showing how technology is helping protect the environment with solutions like precision spraying.
8. Stay on track.
Always be respectful of your audience, but don’t devote too much time to people who only want to argue. “The longer you engage with activists, the less time you have to tell your story,” Caroline van der Plas said.
9. Build trust.
What’s the ultimate goal of telling ag’s story? Building trust. “It’s all relationship-based, and trusted relationships are so important,” Person said.
10. Take the long view.
Communication is never a once-and-done deal, Person said. “What can you do in the next year to tell your ag story?”