For past couple of years, I have been exploring the social media and mobile devices (smartphones, smartbooks) to see if these tools could be effective in communicating information to beef producers. At first, I was skeptical about these social media tools, but my eyes have been open to the opportunities this could provide in communicating to consumers, but have also seen some great potential for their use in a beef operation. Here are my top 10 tips on how to leverage these new technologies in your beef operation.
1. Get a smartphone. Whether this is a Blackberry, Android, or iPhone, these phones allow you to have quick access to information. I have been surprised in my travels through Wisconsin with the access to broadband coverage in even some remote areas. Yes, there are still some areas where access is limited and this may not be an option for some producers. However for others, you may be able to get a faster internet connection through your mobile phone than the dial-up connection in your home and this may be a good option. If a phone seems too small, a smartpad could also be a great option to get access.
2. Get apps. In order to take advantage of apps you need to get a smartphone or smartpad first. The most heavily used apps on my smartphone are my weather apps. Now you can check multiple weather forecasts and access weather radar at anytime. As you will read later, my Twitter app is one of my favorites as well. You can stay on top of the markets by downloading the Farm Futures or Beef Producer apps and UW-Extension just released two apps for farmers for fertilizer application and new apps are coming available everyday.
3. Sign up for Twitter. Why? Even though most people would refer to this as social media, I have found this to be a great source of news and great professional networking site (especially to meet people you don’t know). What I like most about Twitter is people must communicate their message in 140 characters or less, so reading through the ‘tweets’ on my homepage each morning is like reading headlines from a newspaper. In order to use you must first find some people follow that will provide good information. One way to find those people is to try searching for a term or hashtag such as #cattle or #agchat to find some people to follow with similar interests. In the Twitter world, you are encouraged to follow people you don’t know and to get the most out of Twitter you much participate in the conversation.
4. Use tools to buy or sell such as Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook. You may be surprised on what you may find on these types of online want ads and auction sites. Farmers have found working tubs and handling equipment on Ebay, hay on Facebook (Hay Connection), and corn/equipment on Craigslist. Some of these sites may be another avenue to market your cattle whether live or as freezer beef.
5. Check YouTube for tips: If you search on YouTube, you may be surprised at how many instructional videos you can find on the site such as construction, electrically, and plumbing how-tos. For beef producers, some great channels have been adding some great information for beef producers: National BQA, SUNUPTV, and WiscBeefInfo. We just posted our first video on tips for designing low-cost handling facilities; look for more in the future. Also if you have questions on how to use some of these tools, YouTube has several instructional videos to help you here as well.
6. Develop you own News Feed: If you have been surfing the net, you have probably found an RSS symbol on some of the websites and blogs you have come across. What does this mean? You can subscribe by email to get new posts from the site to come straight to your email, but if you are like me, they just clutter up my inbox. One easy way to view these updates (without having to go to each site) is to use a newsfeeder, the most widely used is Google Reader. You can also find apps for your phone or computer to read your subscriptions; a few I have tried and liked are Flipbook and Pulse. Like Twitter, my morning routine has been to turn on my smartpad and read my feeds while eating breakfast.
7. Facebook is not just for socializing: For me Facebook is my private social site to keep in touch with friends and family, but over the past year or so, this has become another news and information source. Ag media, ag business, and farms have started to use this to connect to customers. Depending on your beef business, this may be a good way to market your farms products or interact with consumers of beef. Facebook has over 750 million users and this has been one of the fasting growing forms of communication, so if you haven’t taken the plunge into social media this is the place to start.
8. Use a Social aggregator: What is this? Well, instead of having to keep up by visiting Facebook and Twitter, you can use a program such as Tweetdeck or Hootesuite to view in one location. These sites will also allow to track topics to see what people are saying about a topic that you are not following. This can be a big time saver (because we all have extra time, right?), and if you are adventurous you can post to multiple networks at one time.
9. Use these tools to build your network: In my travels and interactions with several producers, most indicate a desire to network with other producers and customers. With these tools now there are new ways to reach people not only locally, but in other parts of the state, region, nation and world.
10. Find a place to start and dive in: No doubt this can seem overwhelming and not sure where to start. Also trying to discern what is good and bad information can be difficult. Through the Wisconsin Beef Information Center social media outlets, we try to be filter for some of this information. Our goal is to pass along information that we think has value to Wisconsin beef producers. So a good place to start is to follow us on our blog, Facebook, or Twitter (@wiscbeef).
~Amy Radunz, UW Beef Cattle Extension Specialist