There is an important partner with all the apps and the pint-sized devices, and that is Social Media. When I wrote about it two years ago, it was a growing trend, but still somewhat optional. Flash forward to March 2013 and it’s no longer a trend nor is it optional. It’s here to stay and it is absolutely necessary to run a business or a farm. I think most farmers have embraced it either enthusiastically or because they have to do so. But I still run into those who say, “I’m not into that stuff.” Well, let’s look at some reasons why you need to get into it.

I am friends electronically and personally with Michele Payn-Knoper who is so very good at using Social Media. She gave me permission to quote from her blog, so I’m going to extract from her article called “New Opportunities to Connect Food and Farming.” I’ll give you some highlights, but I encourage you to read the entire post at Cause Matters, Corp.

She’ll give you all sort of ideas and advice on things like Facebook Fundamentals, Twitter Tips and Pondering Pinterest, as well as Blogging Backgrounds, Leveraging LinkedIn and YouTube Strategies. But you can check those out for yourself. Let’s stick to the basics here.

Why should those of us involved with food and farming care about Social Media? Michele has two words for us: mass influence. Face it, folks, Social Media is not a fad. Facebook reaches 150 million users nearly three times faster than a cell phone. And farmers need to be at the table to provide sound information as well as to counter misinformation. As Michele puts it, “The conversation is happening about food and farms, even if farmers aren’t at the table talking.” My point is that we have to be at that table, and the sooner, the better.

Ignoring Social Media complaints is a huge mistake. “It amazes me that even in today’s Social Media savvy business environment there are still big companies that fail to engage with their customers, particularly customers that are frustrated and unhappy,” Michele writes. “In fact, a variety of research shows that ignoring those customers is the worst possible strategy.”

Ouch! That’s a tough one, but I believe Michele is right. The “social” in Social Media means that it is a two-way conversation, and if we fail to realize that, we do so at our own peril. Our detractors have learned this lesson and are using it to full advantage. Can we really afford to remain silent? Michele’s new book No More Food Fights! highlights more about our detractors and what to do in connecting farm and food.

Michele puts it very bluntly. When you read her blog I referenced above, you’ll see an article on Why Small Business Owners Need to Stop Debating Social Media and Use It. Is anyone unclear about how she feels? I don’t think so. However, that article makes quite a startling point: “We’ve gone back to a small-town way of doing things, where the way you treat individual customers matters because they are going to tell others about the experience they’ve had with your business.”

When you look at Social Media like this, maybe you’re back in your comfort zone. This is something we farmers understand, the philosophy of treating folks right. When you treat people right, they will tell others. And in today’s world, that telling can circle the globe instantly.

I am convinced that these apps and new methods of sharing knowledge will help us become more productive. If we are going to feed a world rapidly approaching nine billion people, we have to increase our productivity several fold. Maybe what we need to do is retain our practice of the old one-on-one interactions, but combine them with the instant technology of a new medium.

When we do that, I think we will have tapped into the best of both worlds. We will continue to provide a safe, abundant and affordable food supply but we will also tell the socially friendly story of agriculture.