Ranching online: Radke shares ag communications strategies
Casper – “The best endorsements we have are the ones that come from ourselves – it’s the family stories that make agriculture so rich,” said freelance writer and South Dakota rancher Amanda Radke at the mid-November symposium of Wyoming Women in Agriculture.
“We need more people to know who we are in agriculture. So much of what we do is backed by science and research, and the technology we use in agriculture, and sometimes that science we use in our arguments is lost. What the consumers really resonate with is emotion, and that’s why the scare tactics of animal rights activities are so effective,” Radke explained.
Radke spoke to the group about “ranching online,” and how important it is to make even a small time commitment to sharing the everyday story of agriculture with the rest of the world.
“We can use all the science in the world to defend our practices of modern animal agriculture, but it’s really as simple as getting back to the emotions,” she said.
To combat the emotions generated by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal activist groups, Radke recommended visiting humanewatch.org or activistcache.com.
“Both websites will help you find where the dollars are going in HSUS, and give you statistics to share,” she explained. “Eighty-three percent of Americans have a favorable view of HSUS, and we need to be more vocal about the real story. They put HSUS in the same category as Red Cross and the American Cancer Association, and 25 percent of Americans believe animals deserve the same rights as people.”
She said agriculturalists need to be careful with the word “humane,” because it means different things to different people.
“When we use ‘humane,’ we mean respectfully treating animals, but to others ‘humane’ means treating animals like humans,” she said.
Radke said farmers, ranchers and consumers also need to be mindful of who is being quoted in articles and reports. She gives as an example the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, which is a group within HSUS whose membership is made up of less than five percent doctors, yet they’re quoted as an authority.
“The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) represents vets who are in practice, and HSUS created the Humane Society Veterinary Medicine Association, and less than five percent of its membership are vets. While the AVMA’s mission statement is focused on the science and art of veterinary medicine, and doing what’s right for the animals, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association says it focuses on legislation and litigation at the state or federal level,” noted Radke. “Vets are very well-respected by consumers, and would a consumer look behind the organization to see who’s paying the paycheck? It’s up to us to point these things out, and share what the organizations are all about.”
In addition to doing your homework and knowing the statistics, Radke also referenced the “etiquette advantage,” which she says will help a farmer or rancher ace the in-person encounter with someone outside their industry.
“In the first minute you meet someone, you make 11 impressions, including what you wear, your hair, and what they perceive you to be: nice, mean or honest. Being ready to make the good first impression is huge,” she said.
In the first tip, Radke said to know the difference between business and social etiquette.
“Are you with friends and family where you can relax, or do you need to have your business game face?” she asked.
Second, she said to always make sure you’re the one who’s overdressed, have business cards in hand and know the event you’re going to so you know what types of conversations you may have.
Third, she said to have an effective handshake – use a full, firm grip and make sure you’re the one who extends your hand first.
“People do business with people they like. A lot of times it’s easy to get defensive or laugh at somebody, but both those reactions alienate us from the situation,” she said. “Be someone that person would like to hang out with, and don’t preach to them or tell them all the things they don’t know or have said wrong.”
Radke also said networking is important.
“Ask questions. It can be awkward going into a situation where everyone knows each other, and it’s easy to stick with the people you know, but it’s important to network with people outside your comfort zone, and you can start that through asking questions,” she said. “Always bring your ‘A’ game, and always be ready, no matter what the conversation may be.”
She said that, when trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand agriculture, it’s important to listen to what that person’s concerned about, make a connection, and then bridge the gap.
As an example, she gave a recent article that claimed that 4-H desensitizes kids to killing, and it called 4-H member “cold-blooded killers” because they take their animals to market at the end of the summer.
“Many consumers said they’d never thought of that before, and that’s why we have to be present at these conversations,” said Radke, who mentioned her high-school age sister, who participates in 4-H responded with a comment online. “She wrote that, as a 4-H member, one of the first lessons she learned on the farm is the circle of life, and she talked about feeling good at the end of the day, because her steer would nourish our family and other families with beef and steak, and the by-products would also be used by many people.”
“Explain and justify your position when someone asks how we can kill our pets,” said Radke. “Differentiate between pets and livestock, and how they play a role in our lives and how they impact that consumer.”
When talking about communicating online, Radke said that the animal rights activists are good at it, but farmers and ranchers can be, too.
“It’s free, and doesn’t take much time to take a few minutes out of your day to share something positive about agriculture,” she noted, adding that Twitter, Facebook, blogs or even something as simple as a signature added to every email can make a difference.
She said any of those strategies will work, but what won’t work is ignoring the problem and pretending it’s not there.
“We can’t pretend the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t working to regulate us out of business, or the New York Times isn’t writing something negative about us. The biggest mistake in agriculture is burying our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not there,” she stated.
In addition to humanewatch.org and activistcache.com, Radke recommends visiting explorebeef.org, beefonabudget.com and bestofthebarns.com as few blogs she regularly visits to stay up-to-date on ag news.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.