Websites and social media can be powerful tools for processors to use to communicate to consumers. More than half of adults who go online use two or more social media sites, finds a Pew Research Center survey conducted in September 2014. This marks significant growth from 2013 where the number stood at 42 percent. Facebook holds the highest usage among consumers, but its growth has slowed, Pew says. In turn, other social media sites, such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest, saw growth of many more users across a variety of demographic groups.

With so many consumers partaking in social media, it is important for processors to tell their story, talk about their products’ benefits, and to share facts about meat products with consumers, says Chris Young, outreach specialist at American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP).

“It seems that there is a wealth of information on the Internet and other places about the meat industry, but it is often times not true or slanted in one direction to support someone’s cause,” he explains. “By communicating with the public as a small processor, you can tear down the thought of the meat industry and bring it down to where people can put a face on it; you make it personal. You can help the public to see that you are their neighbor or the person down the street that provides a service to his community and provides for his family.”

Young emphasizes that small processors should tell their story, including how their businesses started and how they have grown. It’s also important to talk about their commitment to the local community and activities the company supports. In addition, processors need to offer facts about the products they sell, such as nutritional benefits of proteins they produce, Young says.

Deidrea Mabry, director of scientific communications and technical programs, agrees that the public continues to want to know more of where their food is coming from and feel more connected so they can make better decisions.

“It’s just that more important for processors and those in the food industry to share information with consumers so that way they feel better informed about the decisions they make when they try to make the right decision as to what to feed their families,” she says.

Janeal Yancey, program technician at the University at Arkansas in Fayetteville, believes the most important way to communicate with today’s consumers is by establishing a relationship. “If the only time consumers hear from people in your company is when there has been a crisis, that’s a problem,” she says. “You want to establish a relationship with your consumers, so they feel almost like they know you and they can come to you. It’s a two way conversation.”

While some consumers might want to know detailed information about their food, for most, their main question is about safety, Yancey says. “They want to know that you have shared values with them and that we’re alike in these ways,” she explains. “Because I know these are good folks that produce my food, they are not going to produce something that is unsafe because they have integrity.”

In order to address several consumer questions online, AMSA launched a new consumer website called The new website will answer questions, such as how hotdogs are made or what are nitrates, through the use of fact sheets and video podcasts. The website also offers a portal where consumers can type in questions to which AMSA will help provide an answer.

“Our whole mission behind the website is to take a lot of the information that we as the AMSA have on the different meat products that are produced or that our members provide information on and shed some light on questions that consumers have,” Mabry says.

Reaching out

As processors focus on effectively leveraging social media platforms, several points need to be kept in mind. While Facebook and Twitter are the most used social media platforms, a comprehensive social media strategy should incorporate additional social media platforms where customers could be talking about the company, AAMP’s Communications Manager Diana Dietz says.

“Smart brands leverage consumers’ comments, compliments and even criticisms on social media to strengthen the brand’s image,” she says. “It is critical for processors embarking on social media initiatives to set targets, measure performance against those targets, and compare their performance against competitors. For example, the best way to know what kind of Facebook Page posts resonate with audiences is to track them using Facebook’s Page Insights feature. The tool offers insights into how audiences are consuming your posts. By evaluating the performance of each post, an admin can quickly determine what kinds of posts perform well with that type of audience. Processors who incorporate these practices in their social media strategy can get the maximum benefit from their social media initiatives.”

While a majority of companies use social media for marketing and sales, it can be an even more effective tool for customer service. “Social media gives customers an opportunity for a quick resolution of problems,” Dietz says. “Social media is where customers are choosing to give feedback, ask for help and make complaints. Processors that want to be included in those conversations will need to recognize that social media is not just a great place for telling customers a story, but for listening to theirs as well.”

AMSA’s Mabry also encourages processors to be as visual as possible to consumers. “The more that they can actually see how product is made or see the process that they have a question about, that just helps give them more confidence that we as an industry are trying to be more transparent and help them understand the product they consume,” she says.

Meat Mythcrushers videos, created through a partnership with the North American Meat Institute and AMSA, are a great explain of using a visual aid. In the videos, the two organizations address popular misconceptions and shed insight to bring out the myth. The Meat Mythcrushers video collaboration is ongoing, and the groups plan on releasing new videos this fall.

YouTube is another video opportunity to reach consumers. Processors could show, for example, how to prepare product, Yancey says.

“As younger generations enter the meat buying force, they are going to be more and more techy about what they use,” she explains. “First, they are not going to know how to prepare food in their home. They are going to need to be helped along, and they are going to want to use technology, YouTube videos, Pinterest posts and those kinds of things to teach them how. They are very, very visual, so you need lots of good pictures, videos and podcasts.”

Consumers also like to be entertained through social media, which has helped make YouTube videos from the Peterson Farm Brothers popular. “They do a great job of creating educational and fun videos about farming,” Yancey says about the Peterson Brothers. “It’s hard to do. I wish we could do something similar inside our part of the industry.”

Thinking outside the box with social media is good, because of the numerous ways to communicate.

“There is not a silver bullet,” Yancey says. “We are not going to be able to wake up one morning and check it off. Yes, we have reached our goal of effectively advocating for the meat industry based on X or Y. What’s really scary, but really awesome, about social media is that it’s constantly changing. The things people are using and what they are communicating with is constantly changing. There will be lots of good ways to do it, and it will all be different.” 

Mabry also emphasizes that the industry needs to be more transparent.

“We need to stay in turn with what the consumers are saying and not be afraid that when we see something going on maybe on social media, maybe it’s going across Twitter, to reach out to the individual and direct them to resources that we have that can help clarify and answer some of the questions that they might have or provide additional information for what they might be looking at,” Mabry says. “As an industry we are becoming more transparent and we are trying to engage the consumers more, so we need to continue that effort.”

Overall, processors need to be a positive voice for the industry as a whole, AAMP’s Young says. He believes the industry hasn’t done enough communicating to offset the negative comments found in the news or on the Internet.

“Activists have done a far better job in painting the industry in a negative way,” Young says. “We need to be intentional as an independent business to be active in promoting our industry and our individual products. We need to be proud of what we do and use every means to communicate that. There are so many available ways for us today to get the message out, and we need to take advantage of them. If we do not understand computers or how social media works, then we need to either talk to younger family members in the business or hire a professional who understands it.”  IP