Updated: Aug 6, 2020
The value of individual Extension professionals’ Twitter presence has been ambiguous with respect to supporting their Extension programming. Although it can be said that electronic social media outlets can be complementary to traditional face-to-face Extension meetings, Twitter alone cannot be a stand-alone dissemination outlet. Social media provides unique opportunities and challenges for the agricultural community, especially Extension professionals.
At times, the following challenges seemed like a non-starter; however two-way benefits are evident.
Quantifying Twitter Activity
Twitter Analytics provides data sufficient for detailed reports on the number of impressions and engagements for each tweet; however these data are difficult to compare to traditional Extension metrics. For instance, one impression is not the same as having an individual attend a face-to-face meeting. Regardless of Extension appointment, academic departments struggle to assign value to Twitter activity. Academics with primary research and teaching appointments also use social media to interact with students, colleagues, and their community within and external to their own disciplines.
It seems the true value of Twitter for Extension professionals is not in the immediate metrics such as impressions or engagements, but the tangible benefits that either indirectly or directly result. Many international, out-of-state, or otherwise relatively high-profile speaking opportunities have come to fruition due to a twitter post catching the right person’s attention. A positive externality would be invited out-of-state presentations that warrant space on the academic’s curriculum vitae (CV).
Reasons I like Ag Twitter
Twitter is a two way street. A primary benefit for Extension professionals tweeting is to disseminate their applied research program to people who may otherwise not be readily aware of the information. This is especially true for clientele outside our respective states or farmers not able to attend traditional meetings.
Another primary benefit for Extension professionals to use social media is to acquire information on current issues. For applied researchers, it is very beneficial to have access to behind the scenes viewpoints of Extension clientele. More than one Extension project has been inspired by what ultimate consumers of applied research have mentioned on social media. This may have been one of the biggest secrets, that “agtwitter” impacts applied research.
More than once, people in real life comment how tweets impacted their operations; sometimes on a tweet that had not received a substantial amount of quantifiable impressions.
Competing for Extension clientele’s attention
Everyone has 24 hours per day to allocate toward work, family life, entertainment, and sleep. Within that limited time, Extension clientele may make room for education and networking events. Many people state that traditional face-to-face meetings are increasingly difficult to attend due to other personal and professional obligations. Electronic media may reach clientele who would otherwise not be able to prioritize their limited time to physically attend meetings, however electronic and social media efforts are competing with themselves (other electronic outlets) including personal interests (Facebook, ESPN sports) and professional (e.g. other agtwitter, commodity trading websites, discussion forums). To be useful, Extension professionals’ social media must compete against some heavy hitters to attract and maintain attention.
Frustrations of Ag Twitter
Social media can be frustrating. Some Extension professionals may feel their twitter presence has not received the amount of interaction with replies, likes, and retweets as others from academia or production agriculture. It can be puzzling how some tweets perceived as being more insightful do not get as much attention as lesser tweets.
Another frustration is the attempt to glean sentiment from what Extension clientele are discussing. Agtwitter can follow the majority of social media by losing focus on the immediate topic of agriculture; it’s definitely true that it is more difficult to glean useful insights at times than others.
Into the future…
For the time being, social media including Twitter will continue to be used by Extension professionals to promote their outreach and applied research programs; and to read about what farmers, crop consultants, and agvocates (aka agricultural advocates) are discussing.