Thursday, February 26, 2009

Social networking: Why an ag editor uses Twitter, blogs and Facebook

When I wear my "online editor" hat for the Capital Press, I often share information with people on our staff about what's happening in cyberspace. Frankly, I struggle to show, or tell, people who may have some skepticism about all this touchy-feely computer stuff why they should care.

How do you explain blogs or Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or LinkedIn or the next big thing to someone who hasn't experienced it first hand? I'm not sure I'm up to that task, because those things offer different opportunities to different people. For some they are tools of personal expression. For others they are marketing tools. You can use them to waste time or save it. You can use them to reach out to family and friends or connect with possible customers, clients and business partners. The secret of their viral success is that they are what people make them out to be.

Perhaps really all I can do is try, in some way, to explain why I have found value in using tools like Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and how they have helped me do my job.

I tend to be a little slow to jump on the bandwagon of the new hot thing. Because the new hot thing may go the way of the Betamax videotape system, replaces quickly by a newer, hotter thing. I want to know whatever technology I personally invest time and my own money in will be around for a while. I didn't own the first generation of VCRs or CD players or MP3 players. For a long time I saw no reason to buy an iPod until after I had a chance to play with one a bit. But what finally sold me on buying one was learning I could use it in my truck, with the existing radio. It was only then that the investment seemed worth it. Now, I have my iPod with me nearly 24 hours a day and use it more often and in more places than I first even imagined. It provides background noise at work, it helps me relax and drift off to sleep at night, keeps me company on long trips and makes walking to the store a joy more than a chore.

I was a little slow to come around on some of the social networking tools available too. I didn't see a need to be on MySpace or Facebook. What got me onto MySpace was an attempt to connect more with my daughter. Once there, I found some old friends I hadn't talked to in years. What got me onto Facebook was knowing how popular it was and wanting my employer, Capital Press, to have some sort of presence there. To create a page for Capital Press, I had to create an account. Once there, I found a lot of my friends had beat me to the punch and were already there. It also gave me a chance to interact with some other agriculture journalists in a way I had never done before.

A couple of those people, namely Susan Crowell from Farm & Dairy and Betsy Freese from Living the Country Life encouraged me to try out Twitter. I was hesitant. I resisted for months. I felt like I had account overload. Did I need another online account? Another username and password? I didn't think so, and I sure knew I didn't want one. What gave me the final nudge to try it was that I could connect my Twitter and Facebook accounts and use one post to update people on what I was doing in two places. That was about three months ago. Now, I am not sure how I got by without it.

I use the @capitalpress Twitter account to post updates from our two blog sites (this one and, our main website and make other miscellaneous posts. Through that account we currently follow nearly 200 people and have more than 200 people following us.

Twitter has connected me to other ag journalists and agriculture communications professionals working for several companies, politicians (or their staffers) as well as farmers, ranchers, and others in and around the industry. It also helps me monitor news updates from ag media and mainstream media in California, the Pacific Northwest and all over the country, all in one place.

Twitter tells me what's happening in the wider world, the agriculture world and in people's personal worlds. It's a great tool. I wasn't sure I even wanted it, now I feel like I need it to do my job everyday.

There is no shortchanging the "social" nature of social networking. I feel much more connected to other ag journalists now than I did before using those tools. I have worked in ag media for more than three years now (it will be 4 in June) but I just now am starting to see myself as an ag journalist. That is largely due to those digital connections. Before I was a journalist working for an agriculture publication. Now I feel more a part of the farm and ranch media world.

It has not been all fun — or comfortable — that's for sure. I like keeping my personal and work lives separate. But the fact of the matter is my personal life informs my work life and my work life affects my personal life. I am an ag pilot's son who grew up in the country, surrounded by dryland wheat and sprinkler irrigated hay fields. Today, when I visit my old home, my parent's home (which is also their business) I can see canola, potatoes, onions and even blueberries growing nearby. There are now wind turbines on the bluff to the northwest of their place and you can see steam rising, particularly on a cold day, from the cogeneration plants at the potato processing facilities to the north.

It is my family life. It is agriculture. It is alternative energy. It is the business of the rural West.

It's part of my life and it's what I help the Capital Press cover.

I am glad there are pioneers in agriculture, ag media and ag communications operating out there in the social media networking realm. But I am also disappointed that there aren't more of my peers out there too. But I understand it. People need to see why it is valuable to them before they will be sold on social networking sites or new technology. It's also not always easy to learn new things. They need to know it will help them run their business better or make their lives better before they try to find a way to squeeze one more thing in their day. I completely get it.

Technology and social networking have improved my life — personally and professionally. I reconnected with a cousin from Nebraska this week that I haven't seen or heard from in probably more than 15 years. It allows my daughter to have a window into my life and my work if she chooses to look. It connects me with ag communicators across the country in ways that memberships in organizations like North American Agricultural Journalists and American Agricultural Editors' Association never managed to do. And it allows me to share some of the headlines, stories and posts from our blogs and main website all in one place with people who may not have seen them otherwise. I discover new personal and professional value for the blogosphere and the twitterverse every day.

It's highly personal. And it's serious business too.


bldawson said...

Great post! I hear echoes of Pogue (twitter? it's what you make of it)

It's a tool. For networking. And makes connecting with folks in niches (like ag comm!) and across state & national boundaries easier. It facilitates communities that aren't bound by location--but by interest.

And there's no better way to know how it works than to try it!

Cheryl said...

This is a terrific summary, for explaining to management why social networking is necessary -- and also how much time it takes!

Kathy said...

They have all been a great way for me to connect with people I might not otherwise meet. It can be a bit overwhelming you first get started, but I would say it's all been positive.

Sony notebook battery said...

Hey Gary,
Sounds great that you know all about your stuff! Its intriguing when you speak to someone who knows what they speak about, as oppose to reciting it from someone else they learned from. I can see you are very experienced and with your credentials it is quite obvious that you will make it far in life, or have already made it far in life :)

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