It’s a Two-Way Street

(Disclaimer: This post is not an attack against anyone. It is meant to highlight the importance of two-way communication, especially when there is a cause involved, such as agricultural outreach and education. In fact, I hope that everyone who reads this can take something away from it. Thank you.)

The importance of engaging an audience is something that seems fairly natural to me. My formal education is in a refined sort of Internet communication. My hobbies involve the visual and textual outreach to others. My passion involves sharing stories and perspectives about the world’s oldest industry.

So, I get it. Audience matters. Engagement matters. You have to stir up folks, you have to elicit some response. Get them to respond. The more responses you have, the more material you have to write about later. Dialogue is valuable. Interacting matters. Shouting into the darkness, hoping someone might absorb something from you, is hardly serving a purpose.
You have to get involved. You become a part of a community, rather than a silent billboard praying for someone to notice it.
Being able to react and learn from your audience is a vital part of any social media campaign. Understanding that the audience has just as much to teach you is vital. Sometimes, it’s valuable to note that you won’t be right about everything. Sometimes, it’s valuable to agree to disagree.
Regardless, you can’t simply release drivel and try to pass it off as the absolute, 100% truth. You can’t say something, then ignore the dissent that comes to it. If your audience doesn’t like what you have to say, you have to be willing to listen, learn, and back up your point. Or agree that you may be wrong. This rings true in agriculture.
In every industry, you get those folks who just refuse to share dialogue. They say their piece and pass off their opinions as fact. They refuse to accept that there are multiple means to the same end (i.e. creating quality raw goods for the public, albeit food, fiber, or pre-fuel materials). Then, they argue. This happens in agricultural outreach just as much as any other trade.
A perfect example of this is a question that arose in AgChat this evening. It had to do with the idea of monoculture. It questioned why monoculture was considered bad. Regardless of the crop, a field that is made up of a single crop is an instance of monoculture. For some reason, folks did not think of “monoculture” when they thought of strawberry fields, beet fields, basil fields…
(For clarification, layman’s terms for monoculture is a field that is ONE TYPE of plant only, i.e. a corn field, a soybean field, a tomato field, a Gladiolus field, a parsley field, a wheat field, etc.)
“Monoculture” seemed to imply evil, soulless, endless stands of corn and soybeans. “Foods” that shouldn’t be eaten. While some folks productively listened and acknowledged that there was a sort of stigma regarding monoculture (even though it is the primary means for growing ANY crop, even specialty crops), some skirted the topic. Some simply said that “diversity is key.” They never said what it was key to, or what “diversity” implied. I can’t help but imagine that a single field that’s a discombobulated mess of various crops ceases to be a field; it becomes a meadow. Or a jungle.
The simple fact was, folks were trained to think that monoculture, especially in corn and soybeans, was evil. Many realized the oddity of the language use when others pointed out that the vast majority of all crops are raised in monoculture systems. Flowers (I particularly am familiar with Gladiolus flowers), herbs, grains, fruit trees…they’re all unique forms of monoculture.
Regardless of the logic that monoculture systems are not inherently evil, some folks just kept spewing that diversity is key. They didn’t recognize that there were merits to a monoculture growing system. They weren’t even willing to consider the likelihood of any alternative but their own.
This stance, this habit, is the downfall of social media outreach. What good is it to “reach out” to others if your only activity is to talk down to others and ignore their feedback? Feedback is one of the pillars of communication.
Flexibility and dialogue are the keys to getting a point across. Acceptance and tolerance are vital to maintaining a strong community. Cooperation and understanding in tandem is the only means to reach the ultimate goal of creating a diverse array of quality good across several different methods and mentalities.
Whatever you do, don’t shout into the dark. Don’t spout information and/or opinions, and expect people to listen. Don’t assume that there’s value in your content, when you have no proof that someone will find it valuable. Make it valuable. Give it a path to follow. Create communication.
What do you do to guarantee that you aren’t simply shouting into the darkness? How do you share your story and views in a productive way, that encourages interaction and dialogue? I’m curious. I’d like to know. Share your stories, interact with each other. I think it’s valuable for us all to learn from each other, so let’s try out this “commenter community” idea. Let’s go.

2 thoughts on “It’s a Two-Way Street

  1. I've been thinking about this. The best thing I've come across when people have very different opinions online is to ask myself "What are they really trying to communicate?" and "what if they're right?"We all get worked up and defensive- especially when someone criticizes us. For example, when people criticize the focus on efficiency in modern ag, they're often really questioning if we're focused on efficiency at the cost of other things, like quality or nutrition. And is that fair? Sure. I support trying to increase yields whole-heartedly and happily eat "commodified" food. But there is a difference between small-batch food and mass-produced food. I guess the last thing I want any of us to do is stop asking ourselves how we can make things better or think that we've got all the answers. I sure don't.

  2. Tara, this is a fabulous comment. It's important to note that everyone holds their opinions for a specific reason. I think regarding the reasons people say what they do is valid. It's important to see past the actual disagreement, and get to the root of the matter. This is where beneficial dialogue can happen.Now, it's also important to bear in mind that it's harder to react positively and patiently with people who disagree with hostility. I think setting a frame of mind of respect and cooperation, even in the face of disagreement, is the first point towards starting a GOOD discussion. Accept that folks will disagree, expect it and know how to react in a positive manner.I know I sure don't understand everything. I'm not an expert in anything. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I also think I'm entitled to respect though, as well.Thanks, Tara!

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