Storytelling Is the Challenge, But It Can Also Be the Solution
Written by Laura Miller, Customer & System Engagement Coordinator, DP Techlink
October 11, 2021
America loves farmers, and the data proves it. The Industry of Farming & Agriculture has the highest favorability ratings of all U.S. industries, and farming is regularly ranked one of the most trustworthy professions… so why is there still a major disconnect between food producers and the end consumer? There’s a feeling of “us vs. them” on both sides, and it isn’t new. The divide doesn’t make much sense until we take a step back and ask: what are we doing to make everyone care as much as we do?
Before I joined the team at DP Techlink, my exposure to agriculture came from a few incredibly limited experiences: 1) two unsuccessful attempts at milking a cow in my youth, 2) a month-long stint as a WWOOF-er in New Zealand (where I crashed a commercial mower into a tree and nearly cut off one of my fingers while doing fieldwork), and 3) watching more documentaries about food and food systems than I can count. Considering what I now know, that list feels embarrassingly sparse.
Ultimately, the end consumer knows shockingly little about how their food makes its way to their plate. Despite a decades-long public focus on farm-to-table and sustainability efforts, the average person still walks into a grocery store and makes a quick decision on what to buy based on price, availability, and very basic knowledge of what has gone into their food (local, organic, etc.). That’s it – that’s all the time they spend considering the food systems that have such a huge impact on their lives.
With all I learned after jumping into the AgTech universe – through research, discussion, immersion in our software – it became crystal-clear to me why we need to work to make Ag education more accessible, and why what has been done in the past hasn’t always worked. Not everyone is meant to be a storyteller, and in an industry with as much history and as many moving parts as agriculture, telling the story can seem impossible. And storytelling… well, that’s what makes people care!
If we want consumers to care about the industry of agriculture and our work, we need to show how much we care about them. Let’s show more about the farmers and ranchers who work so hard to put food on our tables. Let’s find a new way to tell our story.
So, where can we start? Here are a few ways we can start to make Ag more accessible by turning our consumers into our advocates:
1. TELL YOUR OWN STORY
No matter how you feel about it, social media is here to stay. It’s the great people-connector. Through social media, we form attachments to people we’ve never met and companies that have never received a dime from us. Agriculture needs to use this to our advantage, and we don’t have to make it complicated.
Odds are you’re already using at least one social media platform every day, so just add a daily post about your agricultural life, with a photo or a video. We need to show the whole picture of agriculture to tell our story, so share about your time in the field and the office.
People engage when they see a reflection of themselves on social media, so if you have an IT, Marketing, HR, Recruiting, etc. team, ask them to share as well. The more perspectives we show from within agriculture, the more advocates we’ll find outside of agriculture.
Tip: Try posting a TikTok. As the fastest-growing social media platform – hitting 1 Billion monthly active users for the first time in September 2021 – TikTok is reaching the next generation in ways other platforms just don’t, and anyone not speaking directly to them is already falling behind. Connecting with the next generation is the best way to change the dynamic between consumer and producer. Take a look at more social media statistics here.
2. FIND PARTNERS OUTSIDE OF AGRICULTURE
We know that agriculture needs to invite people in, and by engaging those with a broader audience outside of agriculture and working with them to tell our story as partners, we have the potential to reach millions of people who would never otherwise stumble upon our content.
So what can this look like? You may have heard of “Silo”, a recent film that tells the story of a teenager who gets caught in a grain elevator. The film is a story about community, farm safety and mental health – a story farmers know well, but others may not.
You may have also heard of a little channel called Bravo, which regularly ranks as the #1 cable network among women aged 18-49 – a demographic that agricultural stories struggle to reach. The stars of Bravo’s reality TV shows have legions of dedicated, passionate fans that devour everything their favorite stars share to social media.
In 2017, Carl Radke, star of Bravo’s Summer House, just happened to produce the short documentary film that spawned Silo, called Silo: Edge of the Real World. Radke, who has a combined Instagram and Twitter audience of nearly 350,000 highly engaged followers, spent much of 2020 and 2021 promoting the release and community screenings of Silo to his fans, creating interest and engagement with an audience that traditional marketing would have completely missed.
Proof that getting creative with partnerships can pay off in dividends.
Tip: Start local. Engage an area influencer, journalist, or business owner with a dedicated following, and form a storytelling partnership. Engage with area leaders and offer to speak at their events. Starting local turns your community into allies and advocates, and allows your agricultural story to spread by word of mouth.
3. INVEST IN PROFESSIONAL STORYTELLERS
This last idea is short and simple. If you have the budget, invest in storytellers to tell your story for you. Writers, marketers and thought leaders do what they do because they know how to get and keep the attention of their (your) audience.
Tip: Think about the average consumer, and partner with a storyteller who speaks their language. See beyond agricultural expertise. A storyteller with little or no agricultural knowledge may know how to speak to the consumer in their language, avoiding industry terminology and truly allowing the focus to be on the story and forming an emotional connection with your audience.