In the last 10 years, its fair to say the tactics we use as PR professionals have massively changed due to the explosion of social media.
With 45 million active social media users in the UK, it’s rare to find many businesses who don’t tap into this valuable resource, alongside traditional PR strategies, to reach a much wider audience. However, the long list of positives associated with social media is also followed by an equally long list of negatives.
As the Agri-Food Comms Cast returns for season four, Catherine kicks off the latest podcast chatting to Anna Jones and Emily Davies about engaging audiences in the agricultural sector through different platforms. The episode particularly focuses on the power of social media versus longer form comms strategies, such as books, for communicating challenges in the agriculture and rural sectors.
Delving into stories with books
Inspired by her rural upbringing in the Welsh borders and her subsequent years spent in cities, Anna Jones wrote ‘Divide: The Relationship Crisis Between Town and Country’, a new book which discusses the relationships between people who live in towns and cities, and those who live in the countryside
In society, we often deem these two communities to be worlds apart, varying greatly in terms of politics, culture, and family dynamics. However, the book discusses the detrimental impacts this can have for food production and in terms of understanding each other.
Anna points out that’s it’s important for us to all work together, no matter our backgrounds, in order to learn about the issues that are important to either side of the urban-rural divide.
With the current issues facing the agricultural sector, and the polarisation of attitudes towards food and farming, it’s important that the industry continues to engage consumers and those living in urban areas in order to bring about change which benefits everyone in society.
Through the book, Anna hopes that people in cities and the countryside can start to identify the things they have in common so we can all better understand each other.
The beauty of communicating a message, such as this, through longer form tactics such as a book or an article is that the writer can fully delve into the subject matter. As PR professionals, I’m sure many of us will have had a least one instance where they wish the wordcount of an article they were writing was longer or they had a few more minutes of time during an interview so they could add more layers to the story they were developing.
In a book, you’re able to do just this and create a much deeper and engaging story. Although as Anna observed in the podcast conversation, regardless of if you have 280 characters for a tweet or a hundred thousand for an article, it will never be enough for what could be said.
Engaging audiences on social media
The topics that are investigated by Anna in ‘Divide’ are incredibly complex but could only be skimmed over on social media due to the fast-paced, snappy nature of these platforms.
As Emily Davies explains, social media is fantastic for breaking information down into bitesize, easily consumable snippets and certainly can help to make a story or product go viral – so it does have a place.
In the last year, we’ve seen some fantastic social media campaigns such as the Weetabix and Heinz collaboration, which ignited a magnitude of engagements on Twitter.
This campaign was fun, engaging, followed a light subject matter and the imagery told the story. The first post in the campaign has to date been retweeted over 37,000 times, quoted 68,800 times, and received 131,000 likes. Brand awareness of Weetabix was also thought to have increased by 40% compared to the year previous.
When looking at social campaigns in the agricultural sector, the subject matter is often much more serious than in the Weetabix campaign, but this doesn’t mean that agricultural social campaigns can’t be just as engaging or successful. Each year our social feeds are filled with people supporting the important Farmers Guardian #Farm24 campaign, which aims to showcase the dedication of British farmers and the crucial role they play in producing our food.
In 2021, the campaign achieved the number one trending spot on Twitter and 4,500 people shared messages of support for the campaign, including celebrities Sara Cox and Tom Kerridge, and even Boris Johnson.
Both these example campaigns highlight that the secret to a successful social campaign is to receive a wealth of engagement that combined would probably fill a book!
These viral campaigns were able to reach a wide range of audiences and likely helped each organisation to promote their message much further than if they were to just utilise traditional media such as print or broadcast.
At Pinstone, we have also seen how far social media can reach, as in 2021, Pinstone managed social media channels reached 9.5 million combined total impressions which was much higher than the industry average. This shows the full potential of social media when utilised correctly.
Hopefully, with the help of social media, Anna will be able to get ‘Divide’ in front of a much broader audience and we will all be able to benefit from opening up the conversation on the urban-rural divide.
Accountability on social media
Unlike in a book or a long form article, there is often little accountability on social media and users have far more opportunity to present any opinion as ‘fact’.
We’ve all seen influencers on our own social media platforms, promoting a variety of products and claiming products to be good for your health or kind to the environment – but do we really ever have the full story?
There’s often no unbiased fact checking on social media, and many products or messages are propelled to the forefront without scrutiny.
It’s a big issue in agriculture. We have to regularly deal with campaigns that aim to bash the dairy industry for example, and often these campaigns are allowed to run without any evidence to back up their messaging.
The way algorithms are also set up can create ‘echo chambers’ where the type of content you engage with on social platforms will soon become the only type of content you are presented with. This can bolster confidence from those in ‘the chamber’ who in turn become less open to balance or a differing point of view.
You only have to watch the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ to realise the full extent of this issue and how quickly an algorithm can affect the information you consume and your opinions on certain topics.
As Catherine points out in the podcast conversation, social media is designed to support controversy and those opinions that break through the noise.
Simply being aware of the social media environment and how it’s designed to operate is an important consideration for all on social media. Ultimately, if all users approach social media with the same consideration as they’d approach situations in everyday life and are guided by integrity, the plus points of social media can soon outweigh the negatives and pitfalls of this communications platform.