This last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the AgChat Foundation Regional Conference in Rochester, MN. Basically if you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an organization that gives farmers, ranchers, and those actively involved in agriculture the tools and tricks to utilizing social media to tell their own stories. Because as many of us say, if we don’t tell our own stories, someone else out there will.
There were three of us presenting from the western/central North Dakota area that decided to travel together. One of these individuals is the famed Katie Pinke of Pinke Post and the other is the lovely Sarah Wilson of Farmer on a Mission . I call these ladies my prairie sisters. When I moved here they welcomed me with open arms and kind of took me under their wing. And although they both live 30-90 miles away from me, it had been forever since I’d seen either of them. So we said goodbye to the North Dakota prairies and headed to the big city!
First off, we had decided to fly a commuter airline into Minneapolis by the name of Great Lakes Airlines or as we soon deemed it, Ghetto Airlines. No offense to the airline itself… I mean even our pilots were good natured enough to joke with us about the no-frills style of flying. The flight was in a very small airplane that seats about 19, but on our flight out there were only 6 and on the way back there were us three gals along with one guy who we found out worked for Monsanto! Small world! No beverage service, no flight attendant, and no bathroom on this plane, this was simple flying at its best. Just a pilot, co-pilot, and the four to six of us passengers. The airline also had to strategically place us on the plane in order to distribute the weight. And next time we fly this airline, we will all be bringing ear plugs. Flying Great Lakes was an experience to say the least, but it left us with a good memories and a great story to share.
Last year was the first time I attended an AgChat conference and I must admit, I learned so much about how to better utilize social media. This conference was nothing short of that. In fact, I have to say, I think it was EVEN BETTER than the national conference. It was smaller, more personal, and gave us presenters the ability to make things more hands on. Breakout sessions were given plenty of time to present as well as some time leftover to work really one on one or with small groups. I spoke on (surprise, surprise) photography. I shared the reasons why photography is important in our lives, some basic rules of photography, tools of the trade, as well as some ways to implement photography into our social media lives. I live and breathe photography and own entirely too many cameras for my own good, so being able to inspire others to create was a truly humbling experience. I was extremely surprised by the turnout of my session and again, I thank each and every one of you who attended. I hope to watch you all grow in your photography.
I was also able to attend several other breakout sessions and learn a little bit more about managing my own Facebook Fan Pages as well as finding some strategy in my blogging. There was so many great sessions, it was hard to choose which ones I wanted to attend! My takeaways that I would like to implement…
I really want to try and put aside some time to interact more with the various Fan Pages I manage on Facebook. This can be done by a mixture of status updates, uploading photos or blogs, sharing links or simply sharing content that others have created. But more importantly, I learned about how to schedule a variety of posts so say Sunday afternoons I can sit down and find some content or even make content to be shared throughout the week. With that time freed up during the week, it will give me more time to do other things as well as simply interact with those liking/commenting on our page.
My other takeaway from the conference was to increase my readership and reach on my blog. Katie Pinke told us during her breakout session about Blogging Strategy that “comments are like candy” so the more we comment on other’s blog posts, the more likely they are to come check out what you are doing and hopefully comment. She recommended finding 20 blogs to regularly read and comment on. And out of these 20, make sure they are outside of agriculture. Photography, cooking, baking, sewing, sports, hunting, whatever you fancy. By reaching out to people who may not be your target agriculture audience, we can foster conversations and relationships with people who may not know anything about agriculture. And hopefully, they will feel good about their interactions with us and trust us enough to share the information we share with others. I was finding inspiration for blog posts all weekend long. I came home with a list a mile long of blog posts I want to write. Another takeaway I had was to MAKE time to blog. And put blogs into my drafts for easy posting later on. So maybe that Sunday afternoon after scheduling some posts on Facebook, I will put some thoughts to keyboard. And keep some blogs in the reserves to publish. Katie, on the other hand, has the other problem. She has trouble hitting the publish button. We are all different, and this even applies to our blogging styles.
We all left the conference a little bit on information overload or exhausted from the late night of being social the night before at the Tweet Up. But the fun didn’t stop there. We took some extra time to stay in the Minneapolis area and enjoyed a nice supper at a hibachi grill with many of us friends from social media. We also got to check out the Mohn Farm with Brent & Emily Mohn of Sweet Home Minnesota. I had met them for the first time at World Ag Expo in Tulare, CA last year and then again during the AgChat conference in Kansas City last summer. They are my farmer and I’s kind of people and I can only hope that one day they visit us in North Dakota! I even told Brent that he could help us harvest wheat, which he showed some interest in! The next day, us ladies hit up the Mall of America for a few hours before heading to the airport. I splurged at Sephora, picking up some new perfumes and make up I’d been eyeing for a while online while the other two ladies found their inner child at American Girl for their daughters.
But beyond the technical aspect, beyond the blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and everything else… The thing that makes social media beautiful is that it brings people together. It forms friendships with people you wouldn’t have otherwise known. Social media allows us all to see each other once a year (maybe more) and without missing a beat, immediately begin talking like we saw each other last week. Because of social media I have met some wonderful people who I consider to be great friends, contacts, and enjoy spending time with them when I am in their neck of the woods. And really, I owe it to social media for finding the love of my life. If I had never joined Twitter, I would have never interacted with a man who I knew as @sunflowerfarmer. And here I am writing this post from my office at our Ag retail business. And that is the real beauty of social media. Not the marketing, not the pageviews, not the strategy behind your blog… It’s the personal connection we can all make with people all across the nation and even the world, the lifelong friendships we form, and for some of us, the love we found when we weren’t even looking.