Phipps, Nestle, Farmers, and Social Media

John Phipps has a point.



At his “Incoming” blog, farmer and television host John Phipps posits that perhaps we shouldn’t all go diving into the social media trenches ready to take on the world for the sake of agriculture and the good of farmers in general. On this point, he’s only half right. Not everyone is well equipped to do verbal battle with extremists and activists; on that, we agree. Everyone, however, has a story to tell, and therein lies the gift of social media.



Where John makes his most cogent argument, however, is on the necessity of understanding your strengths and weaknesses in using ANY media to inform, educate, inspire, or to correct and respond:



One of the most popular breakout sessions this year at meetings I attended were workshops/seminars on social media. Often these were led by (forgive me for stereotyping) very enthusiastic, cheerleadery women who could clearly outline all the upside, but had apparently rarely dealt routinely with trolls or ideologues who have discovered the power of “anonymous”.

If you cannot hold your own face-to-face in heated arguments, my suggestion is your ag PR campaign in Twitter could cause you considerable heartburn. And bad actors are just the beginning. Out there on the Internets are many, many people smarter, more articulate, and rhetorically gifted than you who can hand your your virtual head on a platter just for fun.



John’s point is well made. In the pre-social media universe, the role of “spokeshuman” was relegated to the professional communicators of the world, schooled, trained, and experienced in the art of verbal warfare. In his Nestle example, one key question is whether the Nestle Facebook moderator was such a professional, or was one of the “neophytes” birthed by the advent of social media. I can tell you unequivocally that from my hallway conversations with other professional communicators this convention season, Phipps isn’t the only one who shares this very real concern.



This scenario reinforces the value of continually improving our communications skills in agriculture, including involvement in great programs like Ohio Farm Bureau’s AgriPower Institute, through the Pork Checkoff’s Operation Main Street, or through anyone of a dozen leadership programs offered through the major grain organizations.



Social media is a critical tool that agriculture can use, and is using successfully, to remain transparent and in tune with our consumer customers. We need to make sure that we’re well-prepared to present the best image of our nation’s most important industry, and the farming community.



Oh, and bonus points if you can guess at whom John is taking a thinly-veiled swipe.