Carrie Mess and her family run a dairy and crops farm in Wisconsin with 100 milk cows, 120 young stock and 300 acres of crops. She also runs Dairy Carrie, a blog about farming and dairy life, business and issues. In addition to the blog, she’s very active on Facebook and Twitter, and she recently received the Social Media Farmer of the Year award.
Sponsored by leading food industry publication Food Nutrition & Science, this award recognizes farmers who have incorporated social media, digital media and internet strategies to achieve their business objectives including growing revenue, sharing information for more effective farming practices, and promoting positive awareness of the industry.
Carrie agreed to answer a few questions about her social media use and how it has benefited her business … and changed her life.
How did you get into social media?
CM: Like many people, I started with MySpace while still in high school. But, I didn’t really use social media for anything more than keeping up with friends until 2009 when I joined Twitter. When you think dairy farming, you probably don’t think about lingerie … or hopefully you don’t … but, I actually owned an online lingerie boutique before I started farming with my husband’s family. I started using Twitter to promote my business, but once it became obvious that my two worlds weren’t going to mesh very well, I sold the lingerie business and started using social media as a way to learn more about dairy farming and agriculture as a whole.
Do you use social media as a tool for customer service – a way to connect with other farmers in your industry or as a way to educate people about dairy farming?
CM: Very few dairy farms have any kind of direct sales. Dairy farmers work with companies or cooperatives that process and sell their products for them. The milk from our farm goes into Philadelphia Cream Cheese one day and 50-pound blocks of cheddar the next. I have no way of knowing who exactly is a customer of our farm. So for me, social media is about telling the story of our farm to anybody who wants to learn more.
On which social platforms do you see the most engagement?
CM: Facebook is my main platform. While it takes a lot of work to keep up interaction and conversation, I’ve got a great group of people following me and asking questions.
Have you had any social media or SEO (search engine optimization) training?
CM: I’ve attended and presented at several AgChat Foundation conferences. Outside of those events, I haven’t done any training. I’m big on learning more, but I’m not a huge fan of sitting in seminars.
What are some of your favorite blogs to follow?
CM: I love The Bloggess and, as a Red Dirt music lover in an area that has never heard of Red Dirt, I rely on Rita from Rawhide and Velvet to keep me up to date with the news. My good friend and fellow ag blogger Ryan Goodman would give me crap if I didn’t mention his Agriculture Proud blog, it’s a great source of information!
What limitations do you encounter through social media?
CM: My biggest challenge, and my number one goal, is reaching outside “the choir.” While I love that other farmers read my blog, I don’t write for them. My focus is talking to people who don’t have a farm background. Social Media makes that happen, but not without a strong effort on my part.
Do you handle the social media for your dairy farm on your own or do you have a team?
CM: Well, our farm has four full-time people; myself, my husband and his parents. While I can occasionally get my husband to send me a photo from the farm if I’m gone, the only team I have is our barn cats.
What has social media done for you and your business?
CM: Social media has changed my life. Dairy farming is my passion and so is communication. Today I am very fortunate to be able to travel and speak to groups about social media. Obviously, this would have never happened if I hadn’t started blogging.
For the dairy business as a whole, social media has provided us with a way to be a part of the conversation about food and farming, while still being home to do the work and milk the cows.
I see you denounce PETA a fair amount on Twitter. Do they ever engage with you?
CM: The PETA thing was a result of a video that they posted that claimed abuse of dairy cows. The video didn’t add up to me, and I wrote a blog post explaining my thoughts. PETA didn’t like that very much and sent me a cease and desist letter. I’ll be honest, I’m framing it and hanging it up in my house!
Part of your award is money for charity. Which charity have you chosen?
CM: I couldn’t decide on just one so I split the award between creating a scholarship for a dairy farmer to attend future AgChat training conferences and a program called Give Dairy that allows people to “adopt” dairy cows and donate the milk to our local Second Harvest Food Bank.
Do you run any paid social campaigns?
CM: I’ve tried putting a little money into Facebook, but I’ve learned that creating better content is what really works.
What’s your best advice to a farmer or dairy business just starting their social media?
CM: Don’t feel like you have to use all platforms. Find your favorite and focus there. Once you’ve built a following, then branch out to other platforms. It’s way too overwhelming to try and learn them all at the same time.
Thank you, Carrie, for taking the time to talk with us! And congratulations again on your Social Media Farmer of the Year award! We love what you’re doing in social media.
Do you have any questions for Dairy Carrie?