Commentary: You can help build a team of California #agvocates

Issue Date: May 16, 2018
By Joanna Smith
Joanna Smith
Farmers and ranchers have turned to social media to carry agriculture’s important message to a much wider audience.

In a time of fake news and false headlines, it's absolutely necessary to have agricultural experts online, informing shoppers and advocating for farm and ranch issues. Social media provides an opportunity to tell stories in brand new ways. We can now reach people who are looking for information and businesses they can trust.

Who better to share these stories and advocate for agriculture than farmers and ranchers, farm families and everyone involved in agricultural production right here in California? You don't have to be an expert to make a difference on social media, and it takes less time than you think.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make social media work for you.

Quality over quantity: Find the social platform you're most comfortable with and start there. You don't have to be on all of them, and you shouldn't. It is better to do one really well than a few of them "just OK." These are the three most-popular platforms:

  • Facebook recently reported 2.2 billion monthly users. You can link your personal profile to your business page, making it easy to start building a follower base. Video tends to perform best here.
  • Use Twitter to reach 330 million monthly active users. Tweets contain 280 characters or fewer. Using a hashtag, or the pound sign, before a word or phrase turns it into searchable content and helps users discover your posts. If you include links in your tweets, use a free link shortener such as to maximize your character count.
  • Instagram's 800 million monthly active users are there for the visuals. Share photos and videos from your mobile device to your account. These stay on your profile unless you delete them. You may also post to "your story," which disappears after 24 hours. For both, use short captions and relevant hashtags.

Tell your story and help others grow: Photos, videos and other original content are excellent to share on social media. You may also harvest great content from others in your market and work it into your shares.

Interaction is key: Social media involves talking and listening. It's all about conversation. Interacting with your followers is as important as posting new content.

When thinking about your content, find ways to encourage your followers to comment. Consider using guessing games or trivia, and ask for input. Whenever possible, include a call to action in your posts. What do you want your audience to do with this information? What is the "so what?"

We all have pests: If users get heated, keep the conversation professional. When users leave negative comments, educate when you can but remember, it is OK not to engage. Most accounts deal with this type of user but unlike other "invasive pests," it's often best to ignore them. Use direct messages and chats whenever possible to handle more serious discussions or customer service issues privately. In this digital age, everything posted online should be considered permanent.

It's just a number: Don't focus on follower numbers or likes. Metrics matter, but social media is about building relationships. It is far better to have a small and loyal following who are genuinely interested in your message.

Try it out: As social networks introduce new features, such as stories and live video, they prioritize that content to reach users first. Use it if you can. Stories are a great way to post content on the go. You can snap a photo or short video clip "from the field" and share it immediately. Use stories to update your followers on what's happening, when it's happening.

Put hashtags to work: Though hashtags aren't necessary on Facebook, they are integral to making your content discoverable on Instagram and Twitter. #Agvocate is a popular tag among agricultural accounts. Look and see what hashtags others in your niche are using and test them on your content.

Photojournalist Annie Griffiths said, "When you humanize a culture or an issue, people are very capable of getting it."

We use social media to give agricultural issues that human element, to put a face to the farm. We want people to listen. We need them to understand why it's important to protect our farm and ranch families. When agricultural professionals tell personal stories on social media, people listen.

Kern County almond grower Jenny Bertagna Holtermann, known as ""Almond Girl Jenny"" online, writes an agriculture blog and "agvocates" on social media.

"Agvocating gives me a means to share my love and passion for agriculture," Holtermann said. "It is a chance to share my story. If I don't share my story, someone else will—and then it won't be right. If I just sit back and let others talk, my message won't be told; their message will be."

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, one farmer fed 19 people in 1940. Today, one farmer feeds 165. Advocating for agriculture online helps ensure people understand the magnitude of that number. Without public support, how many people can farmers and ranchers feed in the future?

When we humanize the process—from planting to harvest, packing and shipping—people can better understand what "farm to fork" really means. Use social media to build a team of agricultural advocates, a team of #agvocates, starting right here in California.

(Joanna Smith, a graphic artist for the California Farm Bureau Federation, works on social media for California Bountiful and CFBF. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.