Why should farmers be on Twitter?

Why should farmers be on Twitter?  And everyone else involved in agribusiness?

  • Vital news. Instantly.  Leaves every other method for dust.
  • And opinions. That matter to YOU. Follow people who send messages YOU are interested in. Draft off the white noise, by not “following” anyone of no interest.
  • Support from others in the industry. Having a bad day? Tweet a message about it, and you’ll hear back from others who can relate to what you’re talking about.  You can sent a “Direct Message” if it’s particularly personal. Tweeters who get to know one another often swap email addresses, so longer and/or private conversations occur.
  • Got a technical issue of some sort, eg a mechanical headache? As above.  There’s also a great & growing international network of farmers on Twitter, so you may be surprised by where handy advice is offered from. And your knowledge can help others.
  • Help people who don’t know any farmers, get facts straight from the horse’s mouth.  Help break down stereotypes.  And get to understand what life is like for people you’d otherwise not cross paths with. (We all have headaches.) It’s a 2-way street.
  • Overlooked but equally important; get to know more about a range of other rural industries.  You’ll find people from every primary industry on Twitter. Knowledge is strength.
  • Provide a huge source of horse’s-mouth information for journalists. Nearly all journalists grew up in cities.  They’re constantly looking for information and stories. Twitter is an ideal source of journalist information, and real images of farmers at work.
  • Humour.  It’s as if Twitter was invented just for the average Australian farmer.  Because most are experts at the dry one-liner. You’ll get some of the best laughs you’ve ever had, by following the right people on Twitter. Wits abound.
  • “Take lessons from your enemies”.  For example, animal rights extremists are actually very few in number, but they are so vocal they appear to be prolific.  And they have used social media very cleverly.  Now farmers are doing a better job – thrashing them at their own game. There’s far more farmers on Twitter, there’s far more diversity amongst farm voices (very few one-topic broken records), and the vast majority of messages written by farmers are being worded in a calm, logical manner. Every voice helps!  The more voices, the stronger the agribusiness sector becomes, for the benefit of all.
  • If you spend a bit of time on twitter, you’ll get to know some people really well.  Following someone’s messages on twitter gives an unerring insight into someone’s personality, like absolutely nothing else I’ve ever come across.  It provides a summarised view of someone’s interests, beliefs, values, knowledge, sense of humour and humanity.  If you want to, you can meet in person when you’re travelling, or they are.  To date I’ve met in-person with more than a couple of dozen fabulous people in agriculture whom I’d met via twitter.  In Melbourne, Rockhampton, England and here in Townsville.  And whenever I attend a conference, I bump into people met via LinkedIn.  Many people find LinkedIn and Twitter contacts are fabulous for all sorts of travel advice.  For example where to stay, or eat, and what to see.  Potentially very useful.

Excuses for not being on twitter:

  • I don’t have time. We’re all busy. Invest a little bit of time setting up your (free) account, find a few interesting people to follow, and then just visit it when you’re sitting on a tractor, behind a mob of stock, waiting in a bank queue or for a medical appointment.  Like anything what you get out of it tends to be in proportion to what you put in, however you’ll be surprised how these little pieces of “waiting” time can be turned into something surprisingly entertaining and useful.  Especially the bits of time otherwise spent being irritated, like when waiting for a late specialist appointment, or for a late-departing plane.
  • I don’t know how to do it. None of us knew how to use Twitter before we started, we weren’t born knowing what to do!  And the vast majority of people remember exactly how it felt when starting out on twitter.  (Nervous is normal, although there’s no need to be nervous.)  I lurked for a while before feeling confident enough to wade in. Now I find it as easy as falling off a log.  Twitter is simply a conversation.  Except it’s acceptable to ignore anyone you don’t hit it off with.  There are literally thousands of Australians, with some sort of interest in agriculture, on Twitter. And we’re really happy to see newcomers and really happy to help. Got a question?  Just ask!
  • I’m too old to learn something like Twitter.  As I said above, Twitter is simply one big conversation. And guess what!  The older most people get, the better their conversation skills usually become.  I.E. more likely to think before speaking, less self-obsessed, more patient, tolerant and empathetic; and above all, potentially more interesting as a wider range of life experience and knowledge has been built up over the years.   So you know what this means?  The very best people on twitter are mostly around middle age.   (If there were more who were in the older age bracket on Twitter, they’d probably be getting gold stars.)  I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere – it’s like a well-kept secret.  Most oldies are great on twitter, running rings around the generation that invented it!  (And yes I’m glad twitter wasn’t around when I was young, because it would have been a disaster then.)
  • I won’t be good at it! Can you have a conversation with someone else?  Yes? Well you can use Twitter, because that’s all it is. If you think of something you’d like to say publicly, then tell the world.  If someone else says something you think is interesting or funny, then tell them.  If you have a comment to make on something someone else said, then say it. If you don’t have anything to say, no worries, there’s no pressure.
  • I’m worried about personal security. Is it safe to be on Twitter? One of wittiest but also most spot-on tweets is:  “So, you have a locked account. What are you tweeting, nuclear launch codes?” There are millions and millions of people on twitter.  Why on earth would someone pick on you?  You have gold bars stashed under your bed?  You’re in charge of a small country with vast oil reserves?  It’s a weird form of egotism, to be so paranoid that you think some random stranger is going to take the trouble to bowl up to your particular doorstep to do you some sort of harm.  Like child safety; unfortunately statistics bear out the fact that harm is far more likely to come from someone known, not a distant stranger; but many persist in believing the opposite.   Naturally, don’t go around threatening anyone with harm – on Twitter, or in person (or in your car, when driving, tempting though that sometimes is).   And it’s commonsense to not publicly tweet your exact address, direct contact details (email address, phone number) or other very personal information. However do be aware it’s highly likely these sorts of details are already on publicly available on the interent anyway, so it probably won’t matter one way or the other.  (Google your own name  or your address or phone number, to check.)  Also – regarding children:  I have never put any photographs of my family on social media accounts and rarely mention them. This is primarily for do-unto-others, respect-related reasons.  I wouldn’t have wanted my mother sticking photos of me on the internet nor publicly repeating conversations we’d had.  I think this kind of exposure should be left up to individual choice, when children are old enough to make these kinds of privacy-related decisions themselves. The second reason for not including family members on public websites and social media accounts is commonsense also. If you go anywhere near issues that you know are controversial, it’s obviously smarter not to include family members, especially children, in your social media account.  Otherwise you’re just laying out third party targets for any trolls that wander past.  (The worst part of this is that the children concerned have usually had no say in being publicly on view, or if they were asked, would not have fully understood all the implications anyway.)
  • I’d only use Twitter if I could be anonymous. Some people have legitimate reasons for being anonymous.  Eg their views might interfere with the public persona of a high-profile relative.  Is that you?  It’s not me either.  So use your real name on your twitter account.  Your comments will be listened to rather than viewed with scepticism, and you’ll have more frequent and more enjoyable conversations as people will be confident they’re talking to a real person rather than someone pretending to be someone they are not.  Nobody enjoys answering the phone to a “private caller” (person with a secret phone number), or talking to someone with a bag over their head; especially when they’re publicly identifiable themselves.
  • I’m worried about trolls. Trolls are like ants.  They only come running up out of their antbed for a reason.  If you don’t go poking sticks down holes, you’ll have provided no reason to get bitten.  Personally I’d rather speak up about something I think should be said publicly, than be silent, but that’s just me.  I never have made “quiet life” type choices (my teachers will happily confirm this).  Someone who is obsessed with being “nice” (and popular) above all else, does not make the world a better place.  If you also stray off the politically correct track at times, remember the defence force saying “when the flak gets bad, you know you’re close to the target”.  There are plenty of people who poke sharper sticks down dodgier holes than I do, anyway.
  • I don’t have a smartphone, or I rarely use my mobile phone/the reception is bad where we live.  99.9% of the time I spend on social media, is via computer.  I only use my mobile phone when travelling away from home, and very occasionally on a day trip somewhere.
  • If there’s any other excuses I haven’t thought of, please let me know.  Otherwise, give Twitter a burl, and if you don’t like it after you’ve given it a red-hot go, then ditch it.

There are millions of people using Twitter.  You may encounter people with anger management issues, who are self-obsessed, nasty, not particularly bright or socially skilled.  And you will find dung-hillers and nest-featherers.  But you find people like this in real life, don’t you.  Just like everyday life (and in the schoolyard), feel sorry for them and walk away.  Spend your time with great people instead – there are thousands of people on Twitter to choose from.  And unlike real life, it’s easy to filter out the people you want to avoid.

Note: written November 2013; since updated.

Summary of blog posts with tips on how to best use Twitter:

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