A city girl turned country chick. That’s how the “Farm Barbie,” Barbara Siemen, describes the transition from her upbringing in a 9-to-5 family in Bay City, Michigan, to devoted rural Michigan farm wife and mom. Her plans to become a big city cop were upended when she met a farmer in college and fell in love. “I gave up my plans, married that man and moved ‘home,’” she said, to the house where he grew up outside a small town with one stop light.
While her husband Darrin takes care of the farming operation (dairy, beef and sugar beets), Barbara takes care of the home and their three young children – and, since her first post March 28, is quickly developing a devoted online audience of 4,500 with her Farm Barbie blog.
She loves the rural life and gives her fans a daily insider’s view of topics ranging from farming and family to food and fun!
What prompted you to start blogging? I have been dabbling for years. I actually set up several different blogs, several different times. There were many reasons the other blogs didn't work out. However, I became fully committed about a year ago when I decided to go with my own domain, www.FarmBarbie.com, instead of a hosting site (such as WordPress or Blogger). Once I decided to make the investment in building my own website, I knew it was something I would stick with.
It began as a way to get my own creative spirit out there into cyberspace. I was a lonely stay-at-home mom with little babies barfing on me all the time. I didn't believe other people would read anything I was writing. I was just writing for myself, ironically, on the internet. Does that make sense? Maybe not. Anyway, once I realized people were tuning in, I felt a responsibility to connect with them since they were depending on my words.
How soon did you branch out into other social media spaces like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest? I had a few social media accounts already, so I just changed my info from my personal name to my "public" name, Farm Barbie. It wasn't difficult to do, but I did feel a sense of urgency to grab all of the social media sites and create accounts with my Farm Barbie name, just to be sure no one else could. I use Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram the most, but I do also have Twitter and YouTube accounts. I have others that I never use, but I have secured an account in case I ever choose to do so. I also have an email newsletter that’s distributed three times a week.
Why do you feel it's important to be in the online space talking about life on the farm? There is a lot of bad news out there. Consumers are hearing the wrong messages, so it is more important now than ever that agricultural advocates are where the audience is listening. Right now nearly everyone is online, which makes reaching others quite easy, whether across the country or even around the world. Also, I think people are genuinely interested in what happens in a farming family. Many consumers are generations removed from a family farm, so they just have no idea. They are begging for the information. I feel like it's my job to give them the right information.
Are there any examples of 'aha' moments from followers about your posts regarding farm life? I have had quite a few people send me really touching emails about how much they enjoy reading my information. These people seem to really like me even though we have never met. When I read those emails I feel a great sense of responsibility and pride. I realize people are depending on me for truth about agriculture, and I know they turn to me because we share common ground.
I also know they enjoy reading all about our family life – the good, the bad and the funny. I always feel renewed and encouraged when I read those lovely emails. I feel like I have finally found my niche in life. For many years, I felt like an outsider in my husband's world. By blogging about agriculture, I feel welcomed to the group. I haven't had any negative or discouraging comments or emails yet. Whew! But, I'm sure they are coming. You can't win over everybody. There's a critic everywhere you turn. But that doesn't discourage me.
How often do you engage online and how much time does it take? I aim to post on my Facebook page every day, since I get the most traffic from there. I'd say it takes about an hour of my morning to go through my news feed and decide if I want to share anything.
I try to post a new blog on my website three times a week. Creating a new blog post takes a lot more time than you would imagine. I would guess I put about two hours into every post on the website. If I'm doing a recipe post, those always take longer because I am literally cooking and blogging at the same time. I carry my camera with me everywhere. I'm always snapping pictures to use later. Then, once I feel like I have a good post in mind, I will sit at the computer crafting sentences, searching for and editing pictures, connecting my accounts and editing the final content. Rarely do I publish immediately. I tend to save it as a draft, go and do something else for a while, and then come back and look at it with fresh eyes before officially posting. Once you put it out there, you cannot take it back!
With Instagram my usage is a little more sporadic, maybe once a week. I use Pinterest daily because it is so easy to pin things. It takes virtually no time. That being said, there have been weeks that I am entirely too busy or away from home and I don't do anything on any of my social media sites. I always feel really bad about that, but such is life. I'm sure my readers understand because they're busy people, too.
You've been through The Center for Food Integrity Engage shared values communications training. How has that played into how you approach your posts? I definitely think twice before posting anything, and I usually save everything as a draft and look at it later. You would be surprised at how much you catch the second time around! I always try to look at my words and images with a critical eye to make sure they are conveying the message I really want.
How do you develop content and what seem to be your most popular posts? My content mostly comes from our daily life – stuff that is happening on the farm, with the kids, or other events in our life. Occasionally, I will post something totally off-the-wall or goofy. I am still figuring out what posts people connect with. Once, I posted a picture of a butter dish on my Facebook page and said I was searching for the perfect butter dish for our home. I had a ton of comments. I was not expecting that!
How many followers do you currently have and how do you build your audience? My Facebook page currently has 4,500 followers. Twitter has 75. Instagram has 115. YouTube has 2. Pinterest has 120. My farmbarbie.com analytics will report anywhere from 15 visitors a day to over 2,000 from countries around the world including Brazil, Finland and the Czech Republic.
On days when I haven't released a new post, the numbers are lower. On days when I release a new post, the numbers are higher. If I promote my post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, my visitor numbers are much, much higher. People do not hop on their computer and type in farmbarbie.com. They see a post on another social media site and they click on it and it takes them to my site. So, I am always promoting myself for more views. It takes a little bit of time, but I don't mind.
So far, building my audience has been quite simple. I have a lot of friends and family that do online promoting and sharing for me, I self-promote, and I did pay for a Facebook ad ($100) when I officially launched my new website, because I wanted the extra exposure. It proved to be a great success, which is why my Facebook followers’ number is so much higher than all of my other social media sites. You can spend as much or as little as you want on Facebook ads. I paid $20 and $40 for a few other promotions.
I try to remember that good old-fashioned connections, word of mouth, mailing hand-written thank-you notes, and handing out business cards still goes a long way, too. People that I have connected with in person have become followers on my social media sites. I notice all of that.
What are your long-term goals with online engagement? I set a numbers goal when I launched my website and I have already surpassed that in just a few months. I'm very excited about that! The more people I have tuning in, the more people I can positively influence. So for now, my short-long-term goal is to build more numbers and continue doing what I'm doing: being me.
My long-long-term goal is to turn my website into a revenue producing business. I do love connecting with people and getting information out there, but if I could take some financial burden off of my husband that would be great, too. I already have ideas of where I'd like to go, but I'm not ready to share that just yet.
What advice do you have for others who are thinking of engaging online? For some reason, I immediately thought of President Roosevelt's quote, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Be tactful and back up everything with facts. There is nothing more irritating than misguided and unsupported opinions and it is a really quick way to offend and lose readers. I always provide links to credible sources of information whenever I am tackling a sensitive issue. Remember: everybody is online – that doesn't mean you should quote or link everybody. Choose your sources wisely.
Any additional words of wisdom? This is so cliché, but...Be Yourself! You can only pretend so long, so don't portray a persona that isn't true to you. Your readers will sniff out your blood like sharks in the water and call you out so fast. Readers want to connect with real people, so don't be afraid to show the bad and ugly along with the good and pretty stuff that happens every day. It's life. If you are real with your readers, they will trust you.
Posted by Jana.
As food consumers, we’re still hunter/gatherers. Only today, we’re hunting and gathering information about food – and we’re doing it online. There are two groups of consumers that have a particularly voracious appetite for online information, and more importantly, a significant influence over others’ food choices.
The latest consumer research from The Center for Food Integrity shows that Early Adopters and Innovators – described as those who actively seek information, make up their minds sooner, adopt ideas first, and whom others look to for guidance – are more influenced by food information online than consumers in general. See the infographic below for more information.
Our research highlights the differences. Issues of affordability, nutrition and food safety are more impactful on Early Adopters’ buying decisions. Online information is much more impactful on the opinions of Early Adopters when it comes to issues of food safety, nutrition and GMO foods. And what Early Adopters do – others follow.
The dilemma is not all online information about food upon which Early Adopters and others rely is credible – and often, unfounded fear drives content and discussions, and impacts choices.
So how do we reach the Early Adopters where they live to bring balance to the conversation?
Our online messages must connect with values. They need to know that you share their values when it comes to the key issues like food safety, nutrition and affordability. The CFI consumer trust model illustrates that connecting with shared values is three-to-five times more important to building trust than simply providing information.
In fact, in past research when we’ve provided survey respondents with information only about food issues, their trust actually declined. Providing information impacts knowledge; connecting with values impacts feelings and beliefs – and that’s how decisions are made.
Consumers just want to be assured that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons.
Click the graphic to download a pdf of the infograph.
It’s natural to come to the defense of people and things we hold dear when they are under attack. So, it’s understandable that the comedy series produced by Chipotle, which satirizes agriculture as an industry driven by greed, rankles modern food producers who are justifiably proud of the manner in which they provide safe, nutritious, affordable food.
The natural inclination might be to hold Chipotle accountable for their outrageous attacks. A key question is, what's the best way to engage to minimize the negative impact and encourage a more balanced public discussion of today's agriculture?
The show centers on a heavy-handed corporate agriculture giant quashing dissent and objection from those concerned about how food is produced. Chipotle could well be hoping conventional agriculture responds in the same way to the series, which would reinforce their story line and promote their perspective that there’s something to hide.
CFI believes a better strategy is to engage those who are taking part in the conversation to introduce them to real farmers, like those featured in Farmers Feed US and in other programs. Individuals like Annie Link will help demonstrate the way real farmers operate, using technology to care for animals, people and the planet. They align with the values of the vast majority of Americans and are nothing like the villains portrayed in the Chipotle series.
Co-opting and using Chipotle’s #foodwithintegrity hashtag on Twitter allows us to engage with those who are interested without bringing additional attention to the issue. While we fully recognize that farmers are justifiably angry about the unfair and unflattering representation, drawing additional attention might push more viewers to watch. Engaging through online channels and using their hashtag allows us to participate with those who are interested without promoting the series or Chipotle.
We can also use satire to attack satire. In engaging mainstream media, we can use analogies to reinforce that this is entertainment with a point of view and nothing more. “Farmed and Dangerous” is no more an accurate depiction of American agriculture than “Family Guy” is an accurate depiction of the American family.
The increased interest in food today is something that should be embraced by consumers and the food system alike. Incidents such as food recalls and undercover video investigations have created a healthy level of consumer skepticism and a demand for more transparency. Instead of attacking our attackers, why not seize the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing to responsibly produce safe, nutritious and affordable food? The Center for Food Integrity offers help on identifying if and when you should respond at our Engage Resource Center.
The other night, my husband and I sat down and watched a new show on the National Geographic Channel called Brain Games. In the episode, "Trust Me" we learned that humans have an innate tendency to put faith in others, and that we tend to make quick decisions about who to trust, often based upon visual cues such as the shape of a person’s face.
When watching the episode, I couldn't help but think about the Consumer Trust Model.
Earning and Maintaining the Social License (Sapp/CMA)
For those in the food system, sustainable trust is your most valuable asset. With a high level of trust, you enjoy a strong social license and more operating freedom. Once you violate public trust, you put your social license and the entire business at risk. A significant violation of public trust could be the end of your business. The fundamental question then becomes, how do we build public trust in today’s food system? At CFI, we’ve been researching that issue for many years.
One of the most important elements to building trust is confidence or the perception of shared values. In other words, do you and I share the same values, and can I count on you to do “what’s right?” The perception of shared values or confidence is three to five times more important than demonstrating technical competence in building trust.
Historically, we’ve had the communication equation exactly backward. We’ve been talking about our science and technical skills when the foundation for building trust is our values. Knowing that communicating our values is three to five times more important that scientific proof helps us design more effective outreach that builds trust in today’s food system. This research has been peer reviewed and published in a scholarly journal.
It goes back to the old adage, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and because of the change in our size, scale and use of technology, we have to be more effective in demonstrating our commitment to the values and priorities of the public if we want them to support the practices in today’s system.
Charlie Arnot, CEO, Center for Food Integrity, reviews 2013 highlights.