Conversing with people in agriculture, all around the world

Twitter provides fantastic opportunities for people involved in agriculture to meet and converse with people in other industries and countries.

It’s easy to envisage a future in which digital agricultural communication booms globally, and in-person reciprocal farm visiting flourishes.

Most of us love travelling and none of us can travel constantly (nor would we want to). ‘Armchair travel’ via Twitter is a fantastic way to engage in some cost-free travel and agricultural education on a daily basis.

Here’s a few tips for facilitating Twitter conversations with people in other countries – including people whose main language is different to yours:

  • Use plain English in your Twitter bio.  Do not use any unexplained acronyms – or hashtags and colloquialisms (slang).  Minimise the use of abbreviations as much as possible. Even avoid simple abbreviations; “there’s” is better written as ‘there is’. If you must abbreviate, ensure it’s only less important words, not the keywords. Using complete words and titles can be frustrating when you want to squeeze a lot into the 160 character bio space, but words that require effort to decipher make it very tedious and time wasting for others, and will not be translated by online translation services such as Google Translate.  Don’t use agricultural jargon, either. Because globally, most translation services are written by urban residents and translations of agriculture-specific technical terms and expressions range from poor to non-existent.
  • But don’t wash all the colour out of your tweets – if you only tweet ‘safe’ messages, your followers will fall asleep.  Mix up the content, show others what your industry and region is like. Someone on the other side of the planet might end up visiting your area because they encountered your tweets. (I have visited places because of tweets I’ve seen.)
  • Use photographs to convey messages!  The visual language of natural agricultural disasters – floods, fires and droughts – is understood worldwide.  Same goes for farming good news stories – bumper harvests, fat livestock, green grass, good soil, irrigators in action and award ribbons.  But accompanying good captions are priceless.  When choosing your words, try to write something that will be understood by anyone anywhere – not just your neighbour down the road. Because you could probably tell him or her in person, anyway.
  • Google translate is very rough but it is still an amazing tool and presumably will improve in leaps and bounds. I love being able to type one language into a computer (or phone) and instantly have it translated into any other language you’ve chosen. It still seems to me like a fantastic miracle – something completely unimaginable 20 years ago.  Even though it’s often rough, it’s still usually good enough to grasp the main meaning of a tweet.  However a key part of improving the ability of digital translation services is avoiding the use of abbreviations, acronyms and slang, as mentioned above.
  • If you’re in Australia, be active on Twitter around sunset and sunrise and any time inbetween.  Because our time zones are around 8-12 hours in front of many other countries.  You can tweet away to your heart’s content at noon in Australia, but don’t expect an immediate response from anyone in the UK or the Americas, as everyone involved in farming there is in bed sound asleep (unless they’re lapping around on a tractor all night).  Twitter conversations can stretch over days and include participants from a raft of different countries, but the best discussions usually occur when interaction is instant.
  • List your location in detail: your nearest town, state or region, and country.  Listing the country you live in immediately suggests to others that you have a global outlook and you’re interested in talking with people in other countries.  And as above – don’t abbreviate the name of your country or your town, and avoid abbreviating your state or region. Show you think about others, by making it quick and easy for them to understand exactly who you are, where you are and what you care about.
  • Be aware of cultural differences and tweak your style accordingly, when conversing.  Observe interactions between farmers within other countries.  What farmers in some countries view as a lively discussion, may be viewed as rude or an attack, in another.  The dry sense of humour typical of Australian farmers is also typical in the UK, so well understood, but not so much in the US.  In some countries it’s standard practice to talk yourself up, in others it’s deemed an embarrassing lack of humility.  If you suspect that something you’ve written has been misunderstood, then ask if the meaning was clear, clarify and/or apologise, as appropriate.  ‘Sorry’ is universally understood – same applies to please and thank-you.
  • Also be aware of the possibility that you may be the only person from your industry or country, that someone from another country or walk of life has encountered.  It’s not good to judge a whole industry or country by just one person, but we are all influenced in this way. Especially if behaviour just happens to align with preconceived ideas.  Don’t shy away from tricky conversations, but do try to engage in them diplomatically.
  • Don’t forget to introduce other people to one another, if you think they have specific interests, projects or problems in common.  Thanks to Twitter, agricultural research and innovation will undoubtedly speed up due to information sharing and collaboration – and the avoidance of ‘wheel reinventing’.

My main Twitter account is @FionaLakeAus, but I also have an account which helps promote interesting rural and agricultural events around the world: @Agri_Events.

My first book, ‘A Million Acre Masterpiece’, has an eight page glossary of interesting and humorous terms and expressions, mostly unique to Australia’s northern cattle stations.

And there are a number of pages of translations for rural words in other languages, in the Translations section of my website.