At its best, social media can connect friends and family, keep people informed of breaking news and allow people to share their knowledge or experiences in bite-sized pieces. At the worst, it can enable someone to broadcast completely untrue statements or woefully incorrect information to a large group of people, and have it accepted as fact.
The meat industry has benefited from both the good and the bad side of social media. Small meat processors, through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, have connected with their customers in new and more personal ways, creating loyal shoppers. Dr. Temple Grandin has been justifiably recognized as a meat industry superstar, and her YouTube videos have helped to educate consumers on what the meat industry is actually like. Farmers have tuned to blogs and videos to help re-acquaint Americans with rural life and the benefits of agriculture.
The negative effects of social media have been widely felt as well. Animal-rights activists can take a well-edited video, pass it off as clear evidence of animal abuse, and share it with millions of consumers. Two years ago, lean finely trimmed beef and Beef Products Inc., which made it, was the target of a widespread misinformation campaign, as shoppers protested the presence of “pink slime” in their ground beef without being fully aware of what it actually was. Untruths about meat or the meat industry are routinely accepted as facts, adversely affecting the entire industry.
In spite of those instances that worked against the meat industry, growth in social media usage by meat industry professionals continues to grow, which can only be considered a positive development.
“It’s become clear that social media is a requirement of doing business these days. It’s not really an option anymore,” says Janet Riley, senior vice president, public affairs and member services for the American Meat Institute.
AMI was an early adapter of social media, as were many of the larger meat companies, but Riley says she has seen more and more smaller and regional companies take to Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, many meat scientists and meat science students have gotten involved to try and speak to consumers.
“They want to set the record straight — not just talk about their products, but really educate consumers about things they may not know or may have misconceptions about,” Riley says.
She acknowledges the difficulty of getting started and developing an online presence; at first, there aren’t many fans or followers, and it is a different mindset to be proficient on any given platform.
“The idea that I needed to be tweeting all the time and sharing all the time, that was a real adjustment for me,” she says.
AMI recently broke the million-view mark on its YouTube channel, thanks in part to its Meat Mythcrusher video series. Additionally, its Glass Walls project, featuring Grandin-led tours of slaughterhouses and processing plants, have racked up 400,000 views across three videos.
The communication doesn’t always have to be serious. In fact, one of AMI’s early video successes was a light-hearted hot dog etiquette video. The last time Riley was in Chicago, she stopped by Super Dawg, a famous hot dog stand, tweeted some pictures and even met the owner. As a result of that simple interaction, the pictures were shared online, and Riley gained some new followers.
Eric Mittenthal, vice president public affairs for AMI, notes that the activist community does an excellent job of sharing information, and so the meat industry must do the same.
“I think one of the traps we get into in this industry is falling into our silos, thinking about the work we’re doing specifically and not focusing as much on the broader work and all of the great things being done in the industry,” he explains. “The more everybody industry-wide is able to share that good news, I think we can do a better job of getting it out to a wider audience.”
He advises newcomers to step into social media usage carefully, due to the overwhelming nature of it.
“Choose who you want to interact with, figure out the tool that’s going to be best for that —Facebook, Twitter, etc. — and try using that one tool,” Mittenthal says. “If you try one, and you get to the point that you’re pretty comfortable with it, you can add another one after that. Don’t necessarily bite off more than you can chew.”
Go to CAMP
AMI recently launched a Communicators Advocating Meat and Poultry (CAMP) Program, which it calls “a new effort to recruit communicators with a passion for meat and poultry and the farmers, ranchers and processors who make it.” Riley believes that to spread accurate information about the meat industry, it needs to be done in a more personal way — sharing a Facebook post with their friends and family, retweeting something, or speaking to their child’s classroom or their local Chamber of Commerce.
“We felt that things needed to happen at a grass-roots level in order to make sure our information was getting out and being more believable and trusted,” she says.
People who wish to sign up for the CAMP program (more information is available at http://bit.ly/1kaISQ4) can list what they are willing to do to participate. While some may be willing to blog on various topics or do public speaking, it can also be something as simple as sharing an occasional item on a Facebook page.
To help equip people with the tools they need to get more involved with social media advocacy, AMI has scheduled a series of webinar courses, including Social Media 101 and 202, Blogging 101, Mini-Media Training and Speaking to Kids. A full media training session is planned for the 2015 IPPE Show in Atlanta.
Riley says the idea situation would be a silver bullet — in other words, a press release or a video that is universally accepted and gives the meat industry the image that it deserves. The reality is that it is going to be a labor of love that will require people from all across the industry to get involved.
“Everybody has to be a warrior, and get out there and communicate this in a personal way over and over. That, I believe, will help us in the long run,” she says.