John Fulton is a bit like the skeptic who has finally seen the light. What he now values — social media — he once regarded with cynicism, if not mild disdain.

But that’s not surprising: Fulton is a Cooperative Extension educator, one among a legion of professionals who have traditionally viewed face-to-face interaction with clients as the essence of their work. 

By diluting the sorts of high-touch relationships that have always characterized good Extension work, social media seemed counterintuitive or, at least, not the best Extension approach — or so he initially thought.

But like any good scientist, he checked it out. To gain some perspective, he even began using Facebook, then tweeting and blogging. 

These experiences changed his mind. Far from hindering his work with clients, Fulton discovered that social networking actually enriched it.

He also discovered something equally as valuable: Social networking enabled him to share the real-life concerns gathered from face-to-face encounters with an even wider circle of producers.

“If I restrict dialogue only to a one-on-one conversation, then only that person can take advantage of it, but if I can take what I’ve learned and incorporate it into a blog or take pictures and write tags along with them, we can point more people to this information,” says Fulton, an Alabama Extension specialist and Auburn University associate professor of biosystems engineering.

His main professional focus, precision farming, is one of the main ways farmers are using cutting-edge technology to reduce their use of inputs such as water, nutrients and pesticides, not only to save money, but also to reduce farming’s environmental impact.

“Of course, they can choose to use the information or not, but, basically with the flip of a switch, you are making this information available not only to one client but potentially to millions.”

Along the way, he also discovered how traditional face-to-face interactions and social media can work in tandem to enhance the effectiveness of his Extension efforts.

As he describes it, traditional face-to-face encounters provide seeds, which he and other Precision Ag Team members — Amy Winstead, Daniel Mullenix and others — cultivate by sharing with other producers wired into the teams growing social network.