Are our social media networks as valuable as we think?

Valuable Social Media

Happy Friday! Hope the sun is shining where you are, as it is here in Guelph.

As a follow up to my post earlier this week about whether social media is a tool or a weapon, I wanted to share the following piece I recently wrote for agri-food news hub, Farmtario. This piece was to put into perspective, how vital social media is…. only if used in a strategic and beneficial way that speaks to our intended target audience.

In an industry like agriculture & food, where we know we need to be speaking to an audience of consumers outside of our own ‘bubble,’ yet we only speak to our tight-knit circle of fellow agri-food enthusiasts, are our social media networks really as valuable as we think they are?

Take a read:

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The agri-food industry was one of the first industries to embrace social media.

Our sector was actively using social media a decade ago when social media platforms were just taking off for business purposes. Social media opened doors for many of us, to connect with people we would have otherwise never had the chance to socialize with.

Our sector was quick to adapt to Facebook and Twitter and now, to Instagram and Snapchat. We’re open to embracing new social media platforms as our friends and colleagues join new platforms.

Social media is part of our modern language and culture.

What has changed though, is how social media has evolved since we first began using it.

Social media provides the heartbeat to many issues and topics and provides access to opinions and perspectives that we need to continue to hear — even if those opinions or thoughts aren’t favourable to our industry.

If used correctly, our social media channels are like a focus group that companies and brands typically pay hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for. These social media channels are free for us to use to gauge thoughts and opinions — if you’ve cultivated the right diverse social media network..

The way our agri-food industry uses social media is where we need to change.

When the most prominent and popular social media platforms first began, we used them as a networking tool.

As conversations began and time progressed, they became more industry-focused, more detailed in nature and for our agri-food sector, more commodity specific. We started using social media channels for knowledge transfer.

We created industry specific hashtags like #CdnAg and #OntAg; we shared notes and highlights from events with event-specific hashtags and we compared ideas and thoughts on timely and trending topics… even if we held different standpoints.

With consumers taking to social media platforms more and more, brands are adjusting their communications efforts to engage with these consumer target audiences in a specific way. As a result, how our agri-food sector uses social media needs to evolve in the same way. We need to use social media as an educational engagement tool.

While we love to share updates from our farms and businesses about plant conditions for other farmers to see and learn from, what if we spent time taking the consumer along in our updates and made the focus about the consumer??

How do we engage with consumers though if all our followers and the people we follow, hail from the agri-food sector and within the same agri-food circles? Diversifying our social media accounts will be key to using them as an educational tool.

Here are seven ideas to start cultivating a more diverse social media network:

  • Follow local reporters, both ag and non-ag, from your community and beyond – a random tweet or post may spark their interest to one day profile you as a local business or become their go-to ‘food expert.’

  • Follow your local municipality, businesses, organizations, and schools within your community, search out your community hashtag and add these to your tweets/posts – you never know when they may want to engage with a local farm to feature a school tour, farm visit or engage with you on important topics relevant to your business.

  • Follow provincial or Canadian organizations that are close to your personal interests outside of agriculture and food — if you are an active marathon runner, you’ve been impacted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation or Sick Kids Hospital, follow these businesses and organizations so they know you’re involved beyond the farm.

  • Engage and participate in conversations that are non-ag related if they are trending across Canada — engaging in conversations outside of farming and with fellow Canadians will help you see how consumers are discussing and reacting to other topics. It will also help to learn different views and perspectives on these issues.

  • Check in with friends’ updates on Facebook, especially around times when food related topics are trending — this will help gauge reaction to a topic and whether or not you should engage directly with them to answer any questions or misconceptions they may be discussing.

  • Follow brands you use on the farm or in the house that are non-ag related — you never know when a company like Maytag may want to feature how many loads of laundry are done on the farm!

  • Follow municipal, provincial and federal politicians and/or mainstream media outlets you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of following — you never know who is going to follow you back,be listening and perhaps ask you what you have to say on a topic.

I think of these tips often with my own personal social media feeds. I’ve been followed back by people I could only have dreamed of being followed by. The first for me years ago was, @CBC on Twitter, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A bit nerdy? Maybe. But the point is that someone behind that social media account is now seeing and hearing my thoughts (if the algorithm allows of course).

Social media isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon either. If anything, it is going to continue to evolve and we as an industry must evolve with it.

Read my original post here.

[Photo Source]

I Need to Do More

World Food Day

I’ve had this post written for some time. I’m not sure why I didn’t share it until now, but the fact that today is World Food Day felt like the most appropriate time to finally share it.

World Food Day is today. It is ‘celebrated every year around the world on 16 October in honor of the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945.’ It is a day held to bring to light the issues around food hunger, poverty and tackling global hunger.

Here is my original, {finally published} post……

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It hit me like a punch to the stomach.

Seeing the little girl, who looked no more than 10 years old, get out of the taxi with a big bag under her arm, have a conversation with the taxi driver, I suspect to tell him to wait for her, while she proceeded to walk into our local Guelph Food Bank.

Watching this. As a mother. As a person who works in the ‘food sector.’ On a beautiful, random Thursday morning. Where were her parents? Knowing she was sent to the food bank on her own.. in a taxi. So many questions.. how, why….

I unfortunately see instances like this all too often. Blake’s daycare is located near the Food Bank here in Guelph. I see how on certain days of the week, the parking lot is fuller than normal. Cars that look like yours and I’s. The line-ups this fall that seemed longer than normal. People getting out of the cars or standing in line up who look just like you and I. Our friends, our colleagues, our family. These people, I assume, are waiting in line outside of the food bank to pick up food once it opens.

For some reason, seeing this little girl and the taxi really hit me.

After seeing her, I automatically called Andrew in tears… telling him we need to do more.

Back a few years ago, Andrew and I volunteered for a day at the food bank. They appreciated the help as they were short volunteers at a busy time of year, around Christmas. Seeing not only the amount of food that was needed/required at the food bank, but the people waiting in line, has forever changed the way I view the food bank and its importance in our community.

For most of us, the thought of not having food is something we don’t think about… because we don’t have to worry about accessing, purchasing and eating the food we want too.

Its almost just a ‘right’ now that we all expect. As if food is and will always be there for us as we need it. We complain about how expensive food is, while we continue to eat out more… we discuss animal activism and we talk about the latest food fads/trends like organic, non-GMO or avocado on toast. They really are ‘first world problems’ when you put it into perspective.

…. while other people just want food. Any type of food.

I keep thinking back though to those University classes discussing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how if you don’t have the basic necessities of food, water and shelter, you can’t satisfy your needs to continue to other levels to satisfy personal fulfillment of things like jobs, friends and of course, what we all strive for - true self actualization.

Just over the recent holidays, I had this same conversation with family and friends, telling them about the food bank near Blake’s daycare. I reminded friends and family that after the twice a day drop off/pick-up’s I do with Blake, I see the people accessing the food bank…. and they are you and I.

We all have preconceived notions of who these people are that are accessing food banks - ‘what these people look like’ and ‘who these people must be’ if they can’t afford food.

And I can tell you, that simply judging by looks, these people waiting in line up are not who you’d suspect.

They don’t look like people who’ve necessarily had ‘troubles’ and/or ‘are living on the street.’ I know that is what you first thought.

These people look like you and I - middle class people who perhaps have good jobs but that say a basic income of $35,000 doesn’t allow them to afford the food they need. These people have toddlers like Blake, they are colleagues we work with, or the friends we may not assume have any troubles but do.

These people using the food bank are you and I.

What this experience made me ask myself and something we all need to ask ourselves on a day like today when #WorldFoodDay is trending and we may not understand what it is, is what are we doing? What are we doing to not only watch what we say about the stereotypes we place on the people accessing the food bank, but more importantly, what are we doing to help with food poverty? How are we helping our local food banks? What are we truly doing, as a public and as a government, to address food poverty issues in our very own country - a country that promotes its agriculture-food richness. Yet still has people who access food banks.

Let this stat sink in for a minute - 1 in 5 Canadians have used a food bank in their lifetime. 1 in 5! WHAT?!

What more could we do?

Could we donate money to support our local food banks?

Could we donate food to support our local food banks?

Could we volunteer with the local food bank to pack the bags and boxes that our colleagues, friends and strangers may be picking up from the food bank?

Could we get involved somehow in the food poverty discussion from a community, corporate, public or government standpoint?

Could we all be doing more? YES.

What did that Thursday morning moment teach me? I need to do more. I will be doing more.

I hope after reading this, you’ll consider doing the same.

[Side note: ironically this morning while dropping Blake off at daycare, Blake waved at one of the elderly men who was waiting outside of the food bank… and the man waved back. I couldn’t have been happier and more sad at the same time. To know one day soon I may have to explain to Blake what those people are waiting in line for… I need to do more, I will do more]

[Photo Source]

Social Media - a Tool or a Weapon?

Social Media

Happy post-Thanksgiving!

I’m sure like the many discussions I had around the kitchen table this weekend, the federal election (which is less than a week away) was a hot topic of discussion…. including many opinions on what the suspected outcome is going to be next Monday.

In almost every conversation about the election, the topic of fake news or social media and its role in the election came up.

It prompted me to want to write about this as I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

How conflicted I’ve been about social media in the last few months. Hear me out…

I do social media for a living, promoting the benefits of using it as a digital tool to promote businesses, personal brands, executives, etc. The many benefits of social media can’t be denied - it really is the new telephone book of our time - if you’re not on it, people wonder why because it is expected now that we be online. We’re all using social media or being influenced by it in some way, whether we like it or not.

Yet, there are no rules for social media. And even if there are ‘unofficial rules,’ chances are by tomorrow, a new set of rules will replace what is ‘OK’ to do today. It really is the wild, wild west.

Most companies now have social media policies which employees have to sign (see examples here, here, here and even Elections Canada has a fully dedicated social media page here)- yet do companies really know how to properly enforce these policies? Do social media giants like Facebook really even know what they’re doing from a policy standpoint when the platform changes so often?!

Do we really know what our social media footprint, especially for those teenagers who grew up when social media began and there really were NO rules at all, know what role their footprint will play in their future? I think of this every time I see a child whose parent has given them a dedicated hashtag that can be searched and discovered by anyone. What will the impact be for that child when they grow up, and their name can be searched out to find all of their childhood photos in one place because of a hashtag?

It is a tool that is so powerful…. when used as a tool.

Yet, if it is used as a weapon, social media can be so detrimental and even worse, it can be life altering/ending for those who have been say bullied through social media, whose mental health has been compromised because of social media’s influence or in countries where democracy is compromised because of social media bots/trolls that influence elections.

The impact social media has on our lives is immeasurable.

I’m continually surprised at the amount of people who are now questioning social media - stepping back from it, second guessing why they use it, telling their friends why its bad for them and even their relationships with people… and despite all of this, they continue to use it.

As if we’re all addicted, yet don’t want to admit it.

If we were to have a serious, open discussion about social media’s use as a weapon, it makes me think of the type of training, or lack there of, that we receive for such a small yet powerful force. If we wanted to compare it to the likes of other weapons like guns and cars, we receive training in these areas and yet no formal training is given or offered to learn how to use social media properly or in a healthy manner.

Is this really right? Will things be different in a decade or say 25 years from now, once it is recognized how more measures need to be put into place as how we use social media?

I think that is where we all have to begin. We have to ask ourselves first and foremost - what am I purposefully using social media for?

If it is being used as a tool, to say promote this blog post or network and connect with other business owners or potential clients, then great, its purpose has been fulfilled. But if we find ourselves aimlessly scrolling through our feeds while we sit in bed at night beside our partners, or see a table full of family/friends with their heads down at the Thanksgiving table, checking their phones, then we have to ask ourselves the important question again - what are we purposefully using social media for?

Do we really understand its power, its impact, its influence, its sometimes irreversible force?

Something to think about as we start the work week.

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Being on my Own

I’m having one of those Friday’s where I’m super reflective on the current state of affairs of this thing called ‘my life and business.’

Life has been darn busy, but heck, everyone is busy.

There never seems like enough time to fit everything in even though we all want to be doing more - more work, more clients, more visits with friends, more time to get outdoors or hit the gym. More, more, more.

I’m probably in a reflective state right now because of the branding projects I’m working on for some clients. When you ask clients the tough questions as part of the branding ‘discovery’ phase that make them reflect about their own business, eventually it has me, the questioner, reflecting back on my answers to these very same questions.

And of course fall brings on a new season of that feeling of wanting to do, learn, discover… so you could say I’m experiencing a ‘discovery season’ right now where I’m asking so many questions relating to life.

The more I realize, owning my own business has been in my genes from an early age.

My dairy farming parents are entrepreneurs (the farming community probably wouldn’t attach the ‘e’ word to their community even though they are!), my grandparents owned their own business when they started milking cows and many generations before that started the family farm that is now a fifth generation affair.

Some days, it is hard to believe I’m ‘running my own ship.’ Its not easy. Its damn hard. It comes with a lot of emotions and blood, sweat and tears. Not in the physical sense of course, but in the mental stamina that is needed to own your own business. Of knowing that you’re in full control of whether you do quality work for clients to keep the lights on.

And even though its hard, its naturally what I’m attracted to want to do each and every day, even though it ‘scares the crap out of me’ some days. The Rock Star Real Estate guys who Andrew has followed religiously for years, talk about it perfectly in their video of how so many of the best decisions they’ve ever made have been "crap their pants" moments. Ha!

To knowing that when I wake up each morning, I am the own who is in control of creating my own destiny, seeking out new clients and adventures, to working hard at random hours if need be, to always ‘being on’… it can be daunting, scary, fun and liberating all at the same time.

If there was anything the farming life taught me, it was and is to ‘always be on.’ And this certainly stayed with me throughout my career, whether it was in politics, or now in running my own business and in the environment our world seems to operate by now. (Does 9 to 5 really even exist anymore?!)

There are days that are isolating and lonely in the business world by yourself (which are so tough for this extroverted person behind the screen!), but the moment I’m able to share my magic with others, help solve a problem with them, provide solutions for them… those are the ‘sweet spots’ of owning my own business that provide such a thrill. I try and remind myself of this more and more.

The next exciting endeavour I’m undergoing is scaling my business. Asking myself, do I want to employ a person (or people!) and where do I want to take my business. This is a scary yet exciting thought that I overturn at least 50 times a day in my brain, especially as I approach the one-year mark of my business since starting Crowley + Arklie Strategy & Co.

This article reminds me why ‘freelance’ or owning your own business has become part of the ‘American Dream’ as the article references. Because we want quality of life. We want to be able to kick ass at what we do (hopefully loving what we do!) but we also want to enjoy the hell out of our lives. Can we achieve both? I don’t quite have the answer yet at 32.. ask me in a few more years ;)

And in this hustle-hard society that has created this hype around hustling hard, all of a sudden, this longing for more ‘slowed balance’ reminds me of just how thankful I am to get to do what I do and at the pace I choose (even though I have to get better at this slowing down thing!).

Being on my own is something I’m becoming more and more comfortable with even though at times it can still feel so uncomfortable… because this naturally is exactly where I’m suppose to be.

Thinking & Operating in 'the Gap'

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I’ve always disliked short work weeks. We’re all trying to cram the same amount of work from a five-day work week into four. This week is no different - lots of deadlines, projects to get done and last minute demands that are making me wish tomorrow wasn’t Friday.

I know, I said it (and I love my Friday’s!).

I AM working on some fun branding projects though this week, as well as content strategy and content creation for clients that I’m excited for. So there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

The one thing I did for myself this week was get the chance to sit down with someone from a leading tech organization in Canada’s ‘silicon valley of the north‘ aka. Kitchener. I’ve always loved the Tannery area of KW, in Guelph’s backyard. There is something about knowing the ideas that are being cooked up behind the walls of the buildings in the area that gets me excited when visiting.

The one thing the meeting made me realize, besides how fortunate I am to meet the people I am in my journey, is how not having the answer to all the ‘big ideas’ or ‘big questions’ I have is also part of this journey of this little thing called life. Right now I’m feeling so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by people from different backgrounds, experiences and who think differently, who are all excited to tackle big world problems and come up with solutions. Especially when many of these people seem to have one thing in common that we want to find solutions for: food/agriculture. One of my true passions.

It reminded me of this recent newsletter I read (thank you for the continued amazing content, Sarah!) and this idea of the gap:

“I call the space between having a question and knowing the answer, the gap. The gap is the unknown, the fear of making a change in your life when you don’t know what the outcome will be. Humans are really bad at the gap, we are terrible at operating in spaces where there is an unknown.”

I feel like I’ve been operating in the ‘gap’ for a few years now. Having ideas and not knowing exactly how to get to the answer.. but enjoying the process or journey to get there aka. the gap.

Its how I felt last summer when I was between my political job and starting my own business - again, the gap. I continue to operate in the gap even now that my own business is almost a year old.. the questions I have: what to do next, where to take things, should I scale, how do I scale. I’m operating in the gap.

Not to get too philosophical here for a Thursday but isn’t that really what life is all about anyways? Trying to think and operate ‘in the gap’ between the two things we know for sure are to happen to us, birth and death?

Sorry to go all deep on this rainy Thursday, it just felt necessary to share :)

What’s the other thing I learned in that meeting this week (among so many other awesome things)? That Jeff Bezos of Amazon writes a press release for every idea he has, as a way to work backwards from the idea to know how to make the idea a reality. How cool is that?!