Finding Consumers’ Pulse

You can help find out what consumers are thinking and feeling by connecting with them on social media. ( Farm Journal )

Everywhere people congregate, they’re on their phones, tablets or laptops, busy communicating with friends, family members or business associates. More often than not, they’re checking their social media for status updates or photos, especially if they represent younger generations.

Those conversations can have a big impact on you and your business. The more you know about consumers, the better prepared you are to understand their concerns and help alleviate those concerns through a direct connection.

Historically, producers and veterinarians have made decisions based on best practices and efficiency, which are determined by science and data. On the other hand, consumers generally form opinions based on emotions and perceptions.

”Neuroscientists emphasize that emotions play a central role in our decision-making-progress,” writes Mona Hellenkemper on the Influencer DB website. “Criteria that impact emotional purchase decisions are highly personal: love/sentiment, envy, pride, entertainment, and vanity.

“For emotional purchase decisions, it can be argued that the need does not necessarily have to be present in the first place. It is rather created by external sources, like influencers,” Hellenkemper writes.

Make a Connection
Erin Brenneman, a pork producer from Washington, Iowa and social media veteran stresses the importance of connecting with people on a personal level, and not just talk about the science of pork production.

"We need to stand out, not only as elite caretakers of our animals, but also as ordinary people when we step outside the pig buildings," Brenneman says. “With the social media revolution, the way we converse and get information has changed forever, and it is only going to change faster and more drastically moving forward.”

Megan Kuhn is another person who thinks about social media every day: As the Social Media Customer and Content lead for digital communications at Elanco Animal Health, she helps customers know and understand the hundreds of thousands of conversations taking place about food.

The Elanco Pulse Institute is a real-time social media institute established to protect the use of technology and innovation in animal production and pet health, Kuhn explains.

The Institute monitors conversations about animal welfare, antibiotics, food safety and sustainability to understand what conversations are taking place online. The knowledge will help their customers better understand what’s happening online and learn how they can communicate more effectively. More importantly, it helps protect farmers’ freedom to operate.

“We want to know who’s having the conversations and what they’re saying,” Kuhn says, “And we want to know where they’re taking place. The purpose is to learn from them so the Pulse center can take what we’ve seen through the last three or four years and share those learnings with our customers to then help shape the conversations that are happening online.”

Providing Perspective
A lot of what the Pulse Institute does is put issues in perspective. Kuhn explains that issues always seem bigger when taken out of context.

“Whatever the industry - when you’re dealing with issues that affect your business, they always seem big. We can help by saying, yes, there are conversations online, but let’s put it in perspective. We dive into who’s having the conversations and then help our customers understand what consumers are actually talking about online when it comes to food.”

When Kuhn refers to “customers,” she’s talking about the farmers and ranchers producing swine, beef, dairy and poultry; as well as customers on the companion animal side.

“We also have customers who are our customers’ customer, like veterinarians and food companies at the next level, and the folks buying from customers, so we can help them understand those conversations too. It helps them have insight on the industry conversations that they might not be as attuned with,” Kuhn says.

Who’s Talking?
One of the Pulse Institute’s important roles is to find out who’s saying what, and to separate comments made by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like activist groups, from comments by actual consumers. Kuhn says that latter audience is very small. Even antibiotics aren’t a big conversation online, and most of those comments are either driven by marketing efforts or by NGOs or activists that have agendas designed to limit or eliminate animal production.

“From what we see through our social listening tool, the conversations around antibiotics from consumers themselves is very small,” she says. “When consumers talk about food specifically, they’re focused on finding recipes, the taste, and the price of the product.”

If issues come up, Kuhn says the Institute can help catch them before they get too big and then be able to help.

“If a large issue arises, we look at how we can help our customers understand what we’re seeing and identify insights around the conversations,” she says. “We’re not responding to conversations but we’re looking at what they are, who’s having the conversations and who are the main influencers so we can better understand the reasons behind the conversations.”