Social media: a new farming story

I have an odd relationship with my social media accounts (for the record I use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as WordPress). At times I will use all of them regularly, reaching out to people from all walks of life, engaging in conversations, ‘liking’ endless streams of posts and updating my ‘story’ with my day to day activities, enjoying all that it can offer me. I will then go through periods of social media silence, seeing the whole thing as utterly pointless, a waste of time, a reminder of isolation and the ‘non-reality’ of the online world. After all, there are so many other things in the ‘real world’, I tell myself, that I could be doing that would probably be a) more worthwhile and b) make me feel more productive and therefore better about the day. This leads me to avoiding my accounts. I’m not an avid poster anyway, at least not nearly as much as some of the people who I follow on Twitter and Instagram or some of my Facebook friends. I would rather do something productive and tangible rather than engage in a twitter row which can so easily get out of control.

As a blogging community I think it is important that we face up to this dualistic reality of social media. I would hazard a guess that we have all felt these two aspects in their extremes. It’s important to see and use social media as a beneficial tool and wonderful means of connection with other people, rather than something one ‘must’ do or be seen on.

At it’s best social media is the greatest network of them all, democratising the process of reaching out to people who would under other circumstances be completely inaccessible.  It has brought people closer together than ever before in human history (if not physically). At it’s worst it is a trigger of depression and anxiety for countless people around the world.

Twitter (perhaps especially twitter), Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and blogging have transformed the way that (some) farmers interact with each other and the outside world. One only has to look at some of the most active and most followed farmers on Twitter to see how much of a difference it makes to the lives of some people. Farming can be incredibly isolating with those working on the land spending large amounts of their day by themselves. By the very nature of the locations where a lot of farmers work this can add further to their sense of isolation. Social media provides a link to like minded people and other farmers all over the world, which is incredibly valuable. Although many will never meet face to face, strong online friendships can be built, a vital support base for many.

Building a strong following on social media enables some producers to directly benefit their businesses, as it provides an instant means of engaging with your potential customers. Eddie Andrew, a dairy farmer from Sheffield who featured in a Meet the Farmers episode earlier this year, is just one example of this. It also provides a framework from which campaigns can be launched and spread, such as #Farm24, #FarmerMentalHealth or #LoveLamb.

Farming bloggers such as Laura Hodgkins (who incidentally featured in a Farmers Weekly article this week), Kate Morris, Katie Smith, Ruth Wills, Emma Lander and Will Evans (who you might know better as the presenter of the Rock and Roll Farming podcast) work to bring farming stories, issues and lifestyle points to a wider audience, and although I’ll admit I can’t keep up with all of them all of the time I enjoy reading my way through their work as and when I can. Then there are the podcasts including Rock and Roll Farming, Farmerama and my own Meet the Farmers podcast, among others which bring farming voices to the fore and these have skyrocketed in interest in the last couple of years.

Clearly, as technology and access to high speed broadband improves, social media will extend its grip on the countryside. I cannot see it disappearing. However, it could be better organised and the farming community (including formal and informal farming media) needs to come together to work out how best to channel it to work as a marketing arm for British agriculture. All farmers will need to become better marketeers as we move beyond the Brexit years and knowing how to use social media will be part of this. However, we also need to be aware of its social benefits and dangers, connecting but also occasionally a cause for negative mental health.


Image credit: Blogtrepreneur

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