Retailers are finding new ways to help farmers share their story.
According to research done in 2019 by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI), public trust in Canada’s food supply is dropping and, if we want to gain it back, farmers are the ones to deliver the message.
The CCFI is a not-for-profit charitable organization whose members and partners represent the diversity of today’s food system – from farmers and food companies to universities, restaurants and retailers. As an independent affiliate of The Centre for Food Integrity based in the U.S., the CCFI follows a research-based consumer trust model introduced by its American counterpart.
Research conducted by the CCFI tracks consumer concerns and attitudes on topics ranging from food safety and animal welfare to attitudes about farming and trusted sources of information. This research allows agricultural stakeholders to evaluate the next steps in building public trust, including where to invest and how to approach.
Results from CCFI’s research in 2019 indicate that only one in three Canadian consumers believe Canada’s food system is headed in the right direction and 91 per cent know little to nothing about modern farming practices. On the plus side, 60 per cent are interested in knowing more about how their food is produced, and, when it comes to who consumers trust and hold responsible for providing information on how food is grown, the research consistently points to farmers.
Kirsten Pears, administrative manager at Olds Fertilizers & Agri Services Ltd., thinks all retailers should be concerned about the misinformation that is being spread through social media and in the news – especially when it comes to the products and services they supply.
“Our businesses are impacted by what happens and what the public perceives,” she says. “If the farmers don't speak up and tell their story and the community decides to ban some of these tools that are very necessary in Western Canadian agriculture, that effects our business.”
Recognizing the role that farmers play in countering the misconceptions held by the public, Olds, an independent retail in central Alberta, is offering their customers a unique program from Know Ideas Media.
Every farmer is going to have a different story; they’re going to find different things that resonate with the public.
The program, which was conceived to help equip farmers with tools to better tell their story, centers around “communications care packages” put together by Know Ideas Media founder and CEO, Nick Saik. Each “care package” release includes one of Saik’s films, along with guidance to help communicate key messages, sample answers to common questions and tips to help new users navigate social media.
Saik, a filmmaker and educator, started creating films 10 years ago with the intention of dispelling some of the myths and misinformation surrounding modern farming. Through his films on topics such as GMOs and glyphosate use, he aims to present science-based information in an easily digestible and understandable format.
Key Takeaways From 2019 Public Trust Research
One in three Canadian consumers believe Canada’s food system is headed in the right direction.
Three in five Canadians view agriculture in Canada positively.
How many Canadians want to learn more about modern farming practices?
How much do Canadians know about modern farming practices?
“We wanted to create a resource where we could take the video content we've been making, offer it to farmers to watch and pass around, and then offer them some guidance on how to effectively communicate about that issue,” explains Saik.
“We break all of the facts and statistics out of the video so that they're easily shareable, but I think the most important part is that we take our five years of experience arguing with the public about these issues and we distill it down into tactics and strategy to increase the number of successful outcomes.”
Saik says his goal is to have as many retailers as possible offer his program to their customers to help ensure that farmers are well-equipped to deliver a strong, cohesive message to consumers.
Making it Easy
From an administrative point of view, the process is relatively hands-off for the retailer, says Pears. Once subscribed to the program, the retailer simply shares a link to a custom-branded portal with their customers. Farmers who visit the site can access existing content and have the option to subscribe for automatic updates whenever new videos are posted. Olds currently has around 140 customers subscribed to the service.
Although the care packages offer examples of how to communicate facts and respond to arguments or misinformation, Saik encourages farmers who share the messages to do so in their own words for authenticity. He adds that although some farmers have become expert content creators, it is unrealistic to think that most will. Instead, he thinks the industry should teach farmers to amplify existing, credible messages and relate them to their own experiences.
“Every farmer is going to have a different story; they're going to find different things that resonate with the public,” he says. “I tell farmers to go with feelings over facts because facts generally don't change minds.
It's good to have facts to back up your story – you do need to know what you're talking about – but you're not giving a PowerPoint presentation. It's you and it's your farm lifestyle and only you can speak with authority about it.”
Pears says the customer feedback she’s received about the content has been very positive, and says the analytic data Olds has measured tells a positive story as well. Pears says the high click rate to the portal and the average time spent on the page tells her that the content is resonating well with farmers who are subscribed. She is not surprised by this, as she says the videos are valuable for their clear, concise messaging, applicable to numerous types of communications.
“The videos are very well done. They’re an easy watch – they’re quick, decisive and credible,” she says. “So, whether (farmers) are sharing the videos through social media or not, ultimately they can use the information to build trust when having conversations in person and offline.”
Amplifying the Message
Helping farmers build trust though social media is the aim of Farm Credit Canada’s Ag More Than Ever program, which has been operating for 12 years – just two years shy of Twitter itself – and was originally focused on creating content to tell the story of ag on behalf of farmers. But, because consumers want to hear directly from the people who grow their food, Isaac LeClair, the program’s manager and social media consultant, says that the program now encourages farmers to tell their own story and uses its impressive social media presence to amplify their message.
If the farmers don’t speak up and tell their story and the community decides to ban some of these tools that are very necessary in Western Canadian agriculture that effects our business.
“We asked ourselves how Ag More Than Ever can serve Canadian agriculture online,” says LeClair. “Our purpose is to make people feel confident, to feel proud, and our goal is to mobilize farmers to be more vocal on social media.”
LeClair’s advice to farmers echoes that of Saik and Pears – be authentic and share your own story. He says that retailers and organizations can help by being cheerleaders and supporting farmers’ efforts any way they can, even if it is just to provide a little encouragement. “When we see a farmer doing a good job of sharing their story, we will send them a quick message to say ‘You’re doing great! Keep up the good work,’” he says.
The program, which touts itself as “Agriculture’s Biggest Fan,” currently boasts close to 70,000 followers between its Twitter and Facebook pages and has become a powerful force in helping Canadian ag find its voice. LeClair says one of the best examples of that is Ag More Than Ever’s annual Canada’s Ag Day celebration.
Held annually in February, Canada’s Ag Day is a way for the entire industry to come together online and in person to show their pride, engaging urban Canadians and food enthusiasts in the process. LeClair says the four-year-old event, which does not rely on any hashtag promotion to increase its reach, has consistently exceeded its targets each year.
“This year, the #CdnAgDay hashtag was used in over 10,000 tweets and trended on Twitter for over 11 hours – it was awesome,” says LeClair. “It goes to show you that farmers across Canada have done such a good job of building their own brand and people really want to be engaged with what they do.”
When it comes to building public trust in Canadian agriculture, we are all in it together, say Pears, Saik and LeClair. Encouraging farmers to share their story, and backing them up when they do, will go a long way in building up public trust, which, in turn, will allow the industry to continue to use the tools and methods they need to feed an ever-growing population into the future.
To find out more about Know Ideas Media Communications Care Packages, visit knowideasmedia.ca.
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