This business of agriculture has come under much scrutiny lately. Consumers are more interested in following the food chain and understanding each step. It’s likely that happens because of the disconnect consumers have from their food. One to two generations ago, it was different. We all knew a farmer and trusted that person. Today, not so much.
Farmers have been very open with sharing the details of how food is raised. For instance, the U. S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance sponsors the Food Dialogues held in major cities to bring farmers face-to-face with urban consumers to answer questions and debunk myths about food production. The USFRA even provided financial support to James Moll for the production of a film about the next generation of farmers, Farmland. In addition to curious consumers, we deal with another element – those people who are antagonistic toward “big ag” and technological advances like genetically modified seeds. Just check out the reaction to Farmland to see the polarization between those who produce our food and those who consume it.
Some consumers want to change the way we farm to match the latest lifestyle craze. We see pushes toward everything organic or vegan, removing high fructose corn syrup from foods and hormone-free milk. Uninformed or disconnected consumers are led to believe this is ideal. If you want proof, think about the current craze toward gluten-free eating coming from people who don’t have a gluten allergy, but just want to be trendy. Jimmy Kimmel did a little unscientific, but amusing, research on this.
SO, back to BeckAgConnects: It’s a place where those in production ag can talk business without all that static. Farmers can share their questions and challenges with a like community – and find the kinds of answers that general consumers have been able to find online about their issues for years. In a six month period last year, about ten thousand ag professionals chose to join the community when given the opportunity. Doesn’t that say something about the desire farmers and ag professionals have to connect with their peers in a secure environment?
Companies and organizations can use the BeckAgConnects platform to provide value-added information and have focused conversations with targeted audiences involved in production agriculture. BASF, for example, has an Advanced Acre private group for those innovative growers, prospects and retailers who may be interested in learning more about the latest production research and practices.
The strategy behind these private forums has focused on three things that differentiate them from other social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn:
Privacy: the other sites are public, so competitors can access sensitive information.
Focus: members on social sites didn’t have granular, topic-based areas to share experiences without consumers interjecting opinions and taking the business discussions off course.
Liability: the potential for public posts create liability concerns for participating clients.
This kind of community gives ag related companies the opportunity to engage their customers directly for market feedback, research and product discussions. Private forums create closer connections between brands and their customers. They also give the customers direct access to the makers of the products they use. For example, Bayer CropScience sponsored a group that encouraged discussions around LibertyLink, a line of herbicide resistant soybeans that can be treated with Liberty herbicide to manage weed resistance and control tough weeds. One of the farmers posted a concern with the product and eight other farmers responded with solutions based on their experience. This peer-to-peer support exchange delivered value to the customer seeking help, while letting Bayer CropScience channel their brand evangelists to help with customers service.
Public Discussions Inside the Community
Public forums let members network, discuss critical issues (farm policy, commodity marketing, crop production, dairy, and the future of farming, for example), share ideas for employee management and offer advice about the technology tools that make their business better. Peer groups are a hot topic now among farmers who want to be able to learn and network with others, just not the neighbor they compete with for land. This is a version of that, online.
Community members love talking to their peers about the ag industry in a private, protected area without the noise of other social networks and a non-ag audience. In the words of a community member from Kansas: “It’s nice to bounce ideas off of guys that are doing the same thing I’m doing. BeckAg puts me in contact with those agricultural peers, and I always learn something from participating in what they offer.”