In light of the recent 60 Minutes story about antibiotic use in the pork industry, it’s important to have meaningful conversations with consumers about livestock production. Macey Hurst is one of the Farm Journal Sonja Hillgren Memorial Scholars who recently had the opportunity to share her family’s story with a social influencer. Here are her tips.
Imagine inviting someone to watch you as you work on your farm or ranch. They’ll see your feed rations, watch you interact with livestock, learn your equipment and ask lots of questions along the way. Then they might post about it, maybe to over 100,000 people.
A few months ago, we did just that. I received an email from the Missouri Beef Industry Council (MBIC) asking if my mom, sister and I would host a social media influencer.
A little backstory: we own and operate Lady Livestock Company, a registered Black Angus operation we started a few years ago after transitioning out of the commercial cow-calf business. My sister and I were born into it, and my mom has been in ranch management for more than 25 years. Even so, hosting a social media influencer was a little daunting. Would our farm impress her? Would we say the right things? Would she agree with our practices?
We decided to go for it — and proceed in an authentic manner to allow the influencer to see every aspect of our operation. That’s when we met Steph.
Stephanie Ziajka and her equally impressive fiancé/photographer, Kyle, are originally from Florida, but recently moved to Columbia, Missouri. She is a digital content creator and founder of the popular lifestyle blog Diary of a Debutante. She garners over 65,000 views per month and has a social following of over 100,000.
Her mission “is to promote body positivity and eating disorder awareness through a variety of affordable fashion, realistic beauty and healthy southern lifestyle topics-- from yummy cocktails and entertaining tips to travel guides.”
How does visiting a Missouri cattle farm fit in? Here’s how we embraced the opportunity and what we learned by hosting a social media influencer on our farm:
- Use your network.
“I've been creating content for MBIC for the past year and have loved getting to know their organization, members and, most importantly, mission,” Steph said. “Their marketing director had the thought of replacing one of my scheduled entertaining/recipe posts with a farm visit, and I jumped at the opportunity.”
Because of our involvement in the industry, we’ve met many of the MBIC staff, such as former marketing director Jaelyn Peckman. Because she knew we were an established, women-owned business with a passion for advocacy and a lot in common with Steph, Jaelyn offered us the opportunity to give her this experience.
As cattle producers, we frequently encounter industry leaders, whether it’s at the sale barn, a conference or a coffee shop. Developing relationships and working alongside industry leaders is a great way to strengthen your network, and in turn, your business and the industry.
- Be transparent.
Transparency is a bit of a buzz word in agriculture, and for good reason. Transparency truly is key. People know when you’re hiding something. And secrets cause distrust. I think it’s safe to say distrust is one of the biggest challenges facing the ag industry today.
Although it can be scary to open up an intimate part of your life and livelihood, it is important. Whether you use YouTube videos or farm visits or talk to a shopper at the grocery store, being open about your operation can open minds.
For Steph, what she experienced on our farm was a stark contrast from what she saw on television.
“You hear a lot of bad press about the mistreatment of cattle on the news, so it was refreshing to see the cows being treated with care and respect,” Steph said. “Seeing the operation first-hand gave me a deeper appreciation for Missouri cattle farmers.”
In less than an hour on our farm she asked us questions, fed our cattle and helped my sister bush hog. It cost us no money and very little time—it’s really that easy.
- Avoid stereotypes.
This goes both ways.
Steph’s visit to our farm was a first for her; she’s from the city. However, just because we don’t have the same knowledge base doesn’t mean we’re not independently smart. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about eating disorders and how to encourage healthy lifestyles through fashion, but Steph successfully does it every day to almost 100,000 people. In our advocacy and marketing efforts, we try our best to never “talk down” to people. In agriculture, we often call our consumers “uneducated.” They are educated, just not about the same things we might be. It’s important we show respect and give them a chance to learn from us in a comfortable and nonjudgmental environment. You’ll probably learn something from them, too.
It’s no surprise there are many stereotypes about farmers and ranchers. And Steph knew many of them.
“I think I was honestly expecting undereducated women in dirty overalls—and y'all were the exact opposite,” she said
We didn’t change to fit that role when we met Steph—not our hair, makeup, jewelry, or our goofy personalities. We wanted her to understand us as cattle producers but also who we are as people, in this case, young women. Many of those things were what made it so easy for us to relate to her, and her to us. Being genuine will lead to more connections than you could ever imagine.
Hosting a social media influencer was an unforgettable experience with positive outcomes for all involved. It was a simple process that we cannot wait to recreate and see others try. It’s as simple as using these few points, because a good network, a dedication to honesty and an abandonment of expectations goes a long way.