Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


#KeepingItReal: Building bridges in 140 or less

Posted: April 2, 2015

Cody Creelman is #MoreThanJustaCowVet

Eights seconds is a good bull ride. In the new age of Tweets, Vines and Snapchats, it's also about all the time needed to create a viral video or have someone form an impression – good or bad – about animal agriculture.

So how can everyone from ranchers to industry leaders use the rising power of social media for the greatest benefit? Providing a wealth of insights on this topic at the Livestock Care Conference was self-described "#MoreThanJustaCowVet," practicing beef veterinarian and storyteller Dr. Cody Creelman of Veterinary Agri-Health Services Ltd.

Creelman's counsel

Here are a few highlights, among many, from his presentation:

On 'Why social media.' "The way that I tell my story is simple," says Creelman "I tell my story in the year that I actually live in. And that means that right now I'm telling my story in the year 2015. And that story differs from the way I told it in 2011 and my story in 2020 will differ even more in how I tell that.

"The reason for that is as good as my story or any story is, if there's nobody there to listen is it even a story worth telling? So I tell my story in 2015 in the place where a lot of eyeballs and ears are going, and that is social media."

On harnessing the power of storytelling. Creelman has gained broad and growing recognition one of agriculture's leading examples of people using social media effectively. As an advisor on the topic, he practices what he preaches and, as his presentation made clear, has a lot of fun doing it, on an ever-growing range of platforms including FaceBook, Twitter (he calls it "the 140 character cocktail party of the Internet,") Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Meerkat and several others.

Why so much activity? Because social media at its core is about new ways to harness the power of storytelling, he says. It helps his brand, his business and, he firmly believes, the industry he serves. "A story can do things. A story can educate. A story can advocate. A story can entertain. A story can connect people and bring people together. Social media is way to do all of this today in a place where more and more people are going to communicate and consume their media. It' an area of great opportunity for anyone in agriculture to tell their story and build good relationships."

On #KeepingItReal. A defining characteristic of social media, as opposed to traditional media, is that it takes place in a social environment where anyone can chime in, interact or essentially serve as their own media company.

For those in agriculture, including those involved in sometimes sensitive or tough issues such as farm animal welfare, social media channels are opportunities to generate understanding and facilitate the trust and social license that is so valuable and important today. To do this effectively, one of Creelman's mantras is to "be real."

"I'm not so naive to believe that everything we do in animal agriculture is perfect," says Creelman. "But isn't the system better today than it was yesterday. And doesn't it keep getting better? I think it does. And for me to stay credible as a food animal veterinarian and for you to stay credible as producers, the goal is not to fake perfection. It is to tell our story. The good, the bad and the ugly."

On the importance of context. "Sometimes our story is beautiful," he says, then, while putting up a slide of a calf that didn't make it, "sometimes our story is heart wrenching." The point, is the more you share in a sincere and honest way, the more context you deliver that helps facilitate understanding and trust.

"You're going to have different target markets, different demographics and you're going to have to pick the appropriate amount of time and energy to put into each one," says Creelman. "But you want to tell your story. And social media at the end of the day is just an amplification for a good story. You may have heard the phrase, 'Content is King' in the social media world. I'll add this: If Content is King, Context is God."

On winning the battle against misinformation. Agriculture needs to take ownership of its story or risk having others do this. "You all have a story to tell. And with social media you all have the distribution channels to tell that story. And the reason you should be doing that is this: Misinformation is the greatest threat there could ever be to animal agriculture. Because there are people out there who are telling a story. They are telling a story about farming and about animals. And their story is sensational. Their story has all the right components to be very sharable."

When those in agriculture step up and make sure their story is told directly and honestly, they take away power from activists and other industry opponents, says Creelman.

"If we tell our story to the absolute minute detail and customers decide they don't want to eat meat or drink milk, I can live with that . . . But what I can't live with is someone deciding that what I do is bad or murder, based on untruths, propaganda or even pure ignorance. . . .So I tell my story – the good and bad – but I need all of you to tell your story too."

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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