Social media is the way to tell a tale, or "show a tail," if not careful. More and more, it's a tool farmers can use to inform consumers on what it takes to make the food, squashing rumors and having their say without leaving the farm. 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 e-mail that said 'gilmerdairy.com,' which was nice," he said. "Farm tours are hard to organize and manage. The website ended up being a good alternative to doing on-site farm tours."
The website provides a dairy overview. But, Gilmer wanted to engage more with consumers or 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 issue not related directly to the farm but industry wide," he said.
Many of his blogs are serious with astute debate points, but many more are just flat fun to read. He has a Twitter account, too. "Apart from the website, or like a one-way dictation on what's happening, (Facebook, Twitter and blog) allows people an opportunity to respond and engage in a dialogue and a real two-way conversation."
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).
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.
He now relies on his smart phone to get the word out and to 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 said.
For those people not 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, or "Friend," a few established farm-friendly users. Their contacts, or followers, become yours, too.
To find out more about social media and Gilmer, look in the Southern Farmer April issue this week.