I made a quick 24-hour trip to Kansas City, MO, yesterday to the 2011 American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation Animal Care and Handling Conference, where I was a morning keynote speaker. I followed Leonard Huskey, director of animal welfare for JBS USA; Mike Martin, director of media relations for Cargill, Inc.; and Temple Grandin, president of Grandin Livestock Handling Systems. I was honored to share my experiences using social media as a way of spreading the positive news about meat as a part of a well-balanced diet. There’s nothing better than beef and bacon, right? And, knowing that it's good for you, too, is icing on the cake!
I’m often asked to speak on connecting with our consumers, and the folks at AMI wanted to know the best methods for reaching today’s youth. My presentation was titled, “The Trust Equation: Reaching Today’s Youth.”
My primary focus when speaking to a group of meat scientists is to encourage them to get beyond the science and move toward building personal relationships with our consumers, particularly college students, who will be the future key decision-makers and primary spenders in their young, growing families.
Here are some tips and tricks I shared with the crowd:
1. Listen to consumers’ concerns. Are they curious about what happens in a packing plant? If so, they may want to hear about animal handling and welfare. Do they have questions about the global footprint of beef production? If yes, then tell them about the environmental practices the meat industry follows to protect natural resources for future generations. Do they ask a lot of questions about food safety? Then share with them how the industry has adopted quality assurance standards and stringent tests to avoid potential outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Are they interested in health? Share with them the importance of animal protein and fat in a well-balanced diet.
2. Bridge the gap. What do you have in common with the consumer you are visiting with? Is it a shared faith in God? Is it a love of family? Is it a passion for cooking? Do you both love to be outside and work in the yard? These shared interests create common bonds, which are important to discover, as the topic of food production can sometimes be a polarizing issue.
3. Share the agriculture story every single day. No excuses. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or email account, you must strive to post something positive about farming and ranching on these sites daily. A simple “Got Milk?” or “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner,” would suffice as a tagline under your signature, but photos or videos from the ranch, simple statistics about family farming, or sharing recipes really make an impact in building online personal relationships with others.
4. Finally, we must own the conversation. Mainstream media love to scare folks about their food, and we can’t let these negative reports go without unanswered. If agriculture isn’t at the table to have these conversations, someone else is telling our story for us, and it might not be accurate.
Get inspired and motivated to start connecting, sharing and reaching out to today’s consumers. Whether it’s online, at church, or on a college campus, the opportunities are endless to share your story. Have you told yours today?