Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ag and Social Media Influencers--Sifting the Digital Noise from the Cyber Wheat

Social media--ya gotta have it, ya gotta use it, and ya gotta admit it can be cool. But...

Going Digital Can Be Awkward
For some of us old rural analogosauruses, it has been quite a transition. Those long-gone unplugged, unwired, unWiFi days had some advantages...

No Send Button--No Save Button
Instead of Twitter, email, and text messaging, you hammered out thoughts on a clacking social media tool. You might have ink-stained fingers and white-out on your shirt, but you could not hit a send button at 3:00 a.m., and WikiLeaks could not tap into your analog cloud. 

No NSA Monitors--Just Neighbors and Pauline
Instead of having a government network hack your system, a party-line telephone service meant only a few snooping neighbors and the switchboard operator Pauline could listen in. She only gossiped about personal information at PTA meetings and church socials.

No Embarrassing Viral Photos
Instead of Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, or Access Hollywood getting instant photos of you, real-time pics were only possible if someone had a Polaroid--and none of your friends could afford one, let alone know how to use one.

Definitely More Tactile
Instead of interacting with friends through a screen (Facebook, texting, Snapchat), it was real face-to-face encounters. From sock hops to school hallways, from street scuffles to back road parking--communication was usually fun, sometimes awkward, sometimes edgy... and a lot less virtual.

Ag, Social Media, and the Influencers

Most of those archaic forms of social media are in the analog vault, and digital modes are evolving quickly. Some become icons of communication, while others have 15 minutes of digital fame--remember Friendster and Myspace?

CAST and other ag/science information organizations need to consider what tools to use. As shown in a recent "60 Minutes" report, young social media whiz-kids are using creative methods to pull in millions of viewers--and millions of dollars in advertising revenue. It's all about establishing a brand, a hook, an online personality--and it might involve expensive photo sessions or spontaneous 6-second videos. It's visual, quick, and innovative.

Some farmers, companies, and ag groups are using such visual tactics. Digital expert Don Schindler promotes Instagram use for farmers and businesses; Alison Van Eenennaam uses video to communicate about science and ag; and the Peterson Brothers from Kansas have made hay--literally on their farm and figuratively through their successful videos, parodies, and presentations. Their latest music video draws an analogy between football and farming, and their Gangnam Style parody, "Working Farmer Style," has garnered more than 16 million hits. 

Organizations must use the digital modes best suited to communicate their messages--and they need to consider mission, audience, effectiveness, and feasibility (staff, money, time, image).

CAST's Mission: Through its network of experts, CAST assembles, interprets, and communicates credible, balanced, science-based information to policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public. As CAST's Executive Vice President Kent Schescke said, "Inform more than influence--focus on our mission."

From students to retirees, from consumers in the aisles to scientists in the lab, from company and organization leaders to policymakers in government--CAST publishes research and provides various types of ag/science information through various modes. 

Social Media at CAST: 

Website: Approximately 50,000 visits in past year from every U.S. state and 188 countries

Twitter: More than 5,300 followers; daily tweets, retweets, likes; used to gather info too

Facebook: More than 840 followers; daily "CAST CATCH of the DAY" entries (30 to 500 hits)

Blog: 310 posts; few followers but average 2,000 to 3,000 visits per month; some linked or republished in newspapers, magazines, and on other websites; topics range from CAST research to farm issues to student contributions

Pinterest: More than 650 followers; regular pins, repins, and postings

LinkedIn: 98 followers; a few postings but not very active

YouTube/SchoolTube: videos online; YouTube CAST clips have 143,800 or more minutes watched

CAST Strategic Plan and Social Media

CAST staff members are focused on an organization-wide strategic plan program, and social media is part of that

Basic Overview: CAST's social media should deliver focused messages that are highly accessible to various influential audiences:
1. Identify and define audiences
2. Target messages to key audiences
3. Amplify through increased use of social media

Specifically, staff members are:
1. Rewriting the social media guide pages
2. Evaluating social media modes now in use, including Twitter, FB, the blog, and Pinterest 
3. Considering what action to take with LinkedIn--expand use? revamp page?
4. Considering other modes such as Instagram
5. Use training sessions to enhance staff abilities
6. Decide how much time, money, and staff effort to put into social media

** Note: The CAST website, CAST videos, and the weekly online newsletter (Friday Notes) all fit into this overall evaluation--time, money, effort... and the opportunities for CAST to achieve its mission and communicate effectively about science and agriculture.

** Suggestion: Consider taking the time to power down, unplug, and detox--get the digital clutter out by taking a "forest bath." Check out the previous blog on this site, "Politics, Halloween, and a Back-forty Bath" to look into shinrin-yoku, the act of hiking in a forest--or almost anywhere--to clean out the head.

by dan gogerty (pics from top to bottom:  digital.jpg, pinimg.com, dallascomedyhouse.com, pinimg.com, digital.jpg, cbsnews.com, pick-a-pepper.com, copy.jpg, and wired.com with google.com)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Politics, Halloween, and a Back-forty Bath

This election campaign has been good for those who enjoy cynicism, sensationalism, and hyperbole. I imagine sales of stomach antacids have risen, and psychiatrists have scheduled more therapy sessions: “No you weren’t hallucinating. That actually was a presidential debate you saw. But remember, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their ‘debate,’ so it could be worse.”

My unofficial polling—with an unusually large margin of error—has determined that a majority of Americans feel stressed about the election. But as Alfred E. Neuman said, “What, me worry?”

Farmer Optimism and Zen Bathing

Americans have been known for their upbeat spirit, and let’s face it—farmers must be optimists whether they admit it or not. When the weather, pests, or prices ruin crops year after year, it takes a hopeful outlook to plant those seeds each spring.

So even when the prospects of a “bountiful harvest” look mixed, it might be time for some positive waves--time to “take a bath.” The Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku roughly translates into “forest bathing.” The idea is that a person can take a nature hike—preferably in the woods—to replenish one’s peace of mind. This is not a walk to air out grievances or plan company meetings--it is designed to get us in a "forest state of mind." Many think the immersion not only calms the soul, it also lowers blood pressure and improves a person’s overall physical well-being. The senses get awakened and the troubles of a hectic world fade.

Depending on where someone lives, the location of this “bath” could vary. Most folks don’t have Pooh Bear’s Hundred Acre Wood nearby, but city dwellers and rural residents alike can still slip into the water. You don’t have to shed your clothes, but you do have to shed your digital security blankets. No smartphones in these waters.

Take a Bath

Obviously, the countryside offers prime bathing opportunities. For me it centers on a walk around my parents’ farm. Occasionally I hike across the back forty acres to the small virgin prairie at the far end of the land that’s been in the family for five generations. As I explain in this previous blog, the five acres don’t look special, but the untouched area features tangled bluestem grass swaying in the wind, gold finches flitting from milkweed to mulberry tree, and narrow muskrat trails in the mucky area near the middle. If I let my mind float, the place also features echoes of stampeding buffaloes, native Americans on horseback, and newly arrived pioneers ready to homestead.

During the walk I might see a combine harvesting corn—the machine’s silhouette against the red glow of sunset as the grain dust hovers and yellow kernels flow into the hopper. Maybe I loop back along the creek bed where poplar trees sway on the bank and a blue heron rises in a low, slow flight. As I walk back to the house, I might think of the World Food Prize I attended last week and the hundreds of people from around the world focused on getting food to those in need—the Hunger Summit, the visiting youth groups, and the scientists working on nutrition. In a time of toxic political banter, plenty of folks are working on ways to make the world better.

If I’m lucky, the bath ends with a golden rinse as a full moon rises in the east.

I Ain't Scared of No...

Not everyone has access to rural walks, but “neighborhood baths” in town might be feasible. If the scenery along the way includes intrusive political campaign signs, bathers can just think of them as Halloween decorations—a bit scary, but an American tradition that will end in a trick or treat session. Forest, farm, or back streets—a successful bath is filled with the serenity of nature and the knowledge that most people are doing good things.  

by dan gogerty (top pic from stonemountainreiki.com and bottom pic from commons.wikimedia.org)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Moments in the Blue--FFA Reflections

It’s here. The 89th National FFA Convention and Expo have commenced! Are you ready to TRANSFORM?

Transform. Think about that word for a moment. Does anything stand out to you—does it make you reflect your time in the blue corduroy?

When I found out, back in August, that I had the honor of receiving my American Degree—I was thrilled. It has been a goal of mine, ever since I started my SAE project back in freshman year of high school, that one day I would walk across the stage to get that golden key. And now that time is here. Almost six years ago my journey in FFA began. Six years ago my passion and dedication to agriculture started, and now as I reflect on my time in the blue jacket—is it making me feel blue?

It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in class thinking about the trip I was going to take to Indianapolis, and I realized this was going to be the last time I wore that blue corduroy jacket. The last time I, as an FFA member, got out that black pencil skirt, donned that white button up, zipped up that jacket, and tucked my tallywacker in. I don’t mean to get sappy on you all, but where does the time go?

The moments I have had in this organization have been some that I will never forget-- my favorite high school memories, some of the best friendships I have made, and some of the most useful leadership skills I have learned. It’s the moments like these that shape us into the individual we are today. That’s what the word, Transform, means to me. It’s looking at where I have started and then seeing where I am heading in the future.

If it weren’t for the moments I have had in the blue corduroy, I wouldn’t be sitting in this agricultural education class at Iowa State University. I wouldn’t be working towards a teacher certification in agricultural education, and I wouldn’t be writing this blog. That is where I have transformed--from that freshman in high with a dream to be on stage at Indy to working to be an agricultural educator and communicating the story of agriculture, and there is no doubt that my moments in the blue were well spent.

Each of us in FFA know how this organization has shaped us. It’s more than agriculture—it’s learning how to be the leaders of tomorrow; how to communicate about the food, fiber, and fuel of this industry; it’s learning about your strengths and weaknesses and more importantly, it’s about finding your purpose through the experiences you’ve had in this organization. It’s about the moments of being in the blue.

So as the 89th National FFA Convention commences, think back to the memories you made and share your stories with this organization. Whether you’re a member, advisor, alumni, or an agriculture enthusiast—there is not a better time to feel the love of blue and gold than right now. It’s a bittersweet moment for myself and for many others I’m sure, but I wouldn’t trade any of those long nights and early mornings of CDE practices, road trips with my crazy officer team and advisor, boxes of fruit sales to the community, or those five memorized paragraphs of the FFA Creed with anything else. I believe in the future of agriculture—so remind me again FFA members… why are we here?

by Hannah Pagel (Iowa State Univ. Junior, CAST intern, and proud FFA member)