I’m not really a numbers person. In fact, I hate numbers,
and I would much rather have other people do number stuff.
But some numbers are as plain as day and actually spell out
a message, if we’re savvy enough to decipher it.
We’re taught as journalists that we have to spell out
numbers when they start a sentence or if the number is under 10. Numbers higher
than 10 are, well, numbers.
I recently saw a number that made me stop and think —
300,000. That’s the number of followers that Mother Jones magazine and ezine has
Now, you can dismiss Twitter and Facebook as so much
silliness and that it doesn’t count and people don’t pay attention to anything
posted on there. And you may be right.
But just consider this: Mother Jones, a publication which
traditionally has leaned far left and toward the environmental activism side of
the boat, has about 300,000 followers.
You can dismiss the 300,000 followers of Mother Jones as
anti-ag activists and anti-corporate activists and liberals and leftists. And
you may be right in many, likely not all, cases.
But I think I can safely say that those people who have
chosen to follow @MotherJones, a majority of them, are real accounts of real
people. And those people read the stories that appear from Mother Jones in their
Twitter feeds, on their smartphones and their tablets, on their work and home
They read them on planes and trains. They read them in their
offices, in their suburban living rooms, in their college dorms and, likely, in
their offices in Washington D.C.
Consider when Mother Jones posts its stories such as “The
real reason Kansas is running out of water,” which puts the blame on the
depletion of the High Plains Aquifer on beef and corn farmers in Kansas and
compares them to “dot-com moguls in the ‘90s and real-estate gurus in the
You might shrug at the imagery, but we all know what
happened to the dot.coms of the ‘90s and the real estate market of the 2000s,
right? And what it meant for the rest of the U.S. economy?
Mother Jones also includes stories such as “Gagged by Big
Ag,” a story about the ag gag laws. At least 300,000 people saw that.
When I say “at least,” I mean that the 300,000 followers of
Mother Jones saw those stories, as well as all the people who saw the story via
retweets and reposts and emails.
You might shrug and say, so what? Fine. Keep in mind that
among those 300,000 people are people who influence people who make the laws of
this land and the regulations. They’re also people who consume goods and
services, including food.
It’s not just the stories we need to be concerned about,
it’s the numbers of people who are reading those stories and absorbing that
information and using that information when they buy groceries or when they
write a letter to their congressman or when they talk to a friend.
In this day and age, you can get your message on TV or in
the local newspaper, and that’s great — that is getting the farm and agriculture
message out there. But keep in mind that many of the people that ag wants and
needs to reach, including those who influence the lawmakers and
regulation-givers and that nebulous group of “consumers,” get most of their news
and information via social media, Twitter and Facebook.
You can praise or dismiss social media as you see fit, but
facts are facts, and the facts are that new media is how a majority of people
get their news and information. The number of people on social media at any
given time of the day bears this out. The continued interest in and growth of
social media, including Twitter, also would be an answer to those who have
dismissed it as “just a trend.”
Track a conversation on Twitter or monitor your Facebook
feed or a particular page’s Facebook feed. People are using social media at all
times of the day and night.
I think Twitter is a more open community than Facebook,
personally. You can really reach out to a wider community on Twitter than is
ever possible on Facebook. Facebook is exclusionary, the “preaching to the
choir” mindset, unless you can and want to include people on your Facebook who
share different viewpoints than you — and unless they want to include you.
On Twitter, people can drift in and out of conversations as
they wish, or “lurk” as it’s termed on Twitter, they can peruse various topics
and talk to a wide array of people from all over the world without the
commitment or approval and disapproval process that Facebook requires.
It still amazes me when the same people who are supposedly
representing agriculture and in charge of getting the agriculture and farm
message out dismiss Twitter as unimportant or not necessary or frivolous. It’s
true that there’s a fair amount of fluff on any social media, but there’s also a
substantial amount of solid information.
There’s also, when it comes to agriculture, a substantial
amount of misinformation about production agriculture and food production. That
reason alone would seem like a reason for agriculture and everyone involved with
it and receiving a paycheck from any part of it to become active and involved in
the conservations on social media and on Twitter.
However, aside from the occasional chain restaurant boycott
or the ongoing crop condition and markets chatter, that doesn’t seem to be the
By using social media, particularly Twitter, it’s a great
way to take the pulse of any given group of people on any given topic at any
All it takes is a look at the numbers, the numbers outside
of agriculture, but still important to the agriculture message — and the
anti-agriculture message — a look at the at least 300,000 people who read Mother
Jones reporter Tom Philpott’s take on how farmers alone are responsible for
draining the High Plains Aquifer, to see how necessary social media is and will
continue to be.
Just ask Justin Bieber’s 45 million Twitter followers or
President Obama’s 37 million followers — which are both more than the population
of Canada at about 34.5 million.