How social is your media?
Social media is the way to tell a tale, or “show a tail,” if not careful. And more and more, it’s a tool farmers can use to inform consumers on what it takes to make food, to squash rumors and to have their say, all without leaving the farm. But even more important, social media is a way farmers can hear back from consumers.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging have become second nature to Will Gilmer. The Alabama dairyman “for about a minute in college” considered computer engineering as a degree, and admits computers and technology still fascinate him.
In 2003, he created the Gilmer Dairy website, “to more or less tell what was happening on the farm, to debunk some myths about agriculture, and simply because when I switched Internet providers, I could get a website and got an email that said ‘gilmerdairy.com,’ which was nice,” he says. “Farm tours are hard to organize and manage. The website ended up being a good alternative to doing on-site farm tours.”
• Social media gives farmers a way to start a conversation with consumers.
• Will Gilmer started by making a website for his family’s dairy in 2003.
• Gilmer has used social media for years and has many followers today.
The website provides a dairy overview. Gilmer updates it once a month or so. But he wanted to engage more with consumers and those interested in farming. In 2007, he started a blog — “something I can do two or three times a week, and it’s become a forum to talk about issues not related directly to the farm, but industry-wide,” he explains.
Gilmer is a good writer, and many of his blogs are serious, with astute debate points. But many more are just flat-out fun to read. He has a Twitter account, too.
“Apart from the website, [which is] like a one-way dictation on what’s happening, [Facebook, Twitter and blogging] allow people an opportunity to respond and engage in a dialogue and a real two-way conversation,” Gilmer says.
He’s uploaded more than 90 dairy-related videos to YouTube in the last few years, too. (Do yourself a favor and find him on YouTube if, for nothing else, than to watch and hear his “Have a Dairy Merry Christmas” video.)
Connected? Yes, Gilmer is connected and enjoys a solid social media following, engaging with consumers, other farmers and those just interested in farm life. It can get taxing, though, if he lets it.
“Doing the website or blog, it’s time at home when I’m not doing something else. I’m good for about 30 minutes until I’m tired and asleep in my office chair. … But when the kids get older, you don’t get a lot of PC time,” he says, jokingly adding that you don’t get much PT, or personal time, either.
He now relies on his smartphone to get the word out and spark exchanges with others. “I can walk around the farm and post a thought, a pic or video, and do it in real time as it is happening. I’m not having to remember later to do it. I can go ahead and put it out there and get some conversation started about it,” he says.
For those people not yet wading the world of social media, Gilmer suggests they dip their toes in slowly. Get a good Internet connection, maybe start a Facebook account and observe how others handle it. Connect with, or “friend,” a few established farm-friendly users. Their contacts, or followers, become yours, too.
“You’ll sometimes catch some nasty responses from people who don’t agree with you. People will send something on the Internet they won’t say in front of you. You have to learn to have thick skin and just ignore people, and don’t get baited into something you are not going to win,” he says.
“Never respond angry or immediately to a question that ticks you off. Take your time. There is a way to respond and be level-headed. You know right away the people you can’t really have a conversation with. But remember, others are on the sidelines watching this, and I like to think I might have a positive influence on them.”
Communal communication: Will Gilmer regularly checks his Facebook page and loads videos about his Alabama dairy to YouTube — most often from his smartphone — as he’s working, engaging with his social media followers as he goes about his day.
This article published in the April, 2013 edition of SOUTHERN FARMER.