A blog that started as a hobby has led Carrie Mess, a Lake Mills, WI, dairy producer, to become a major player in educating the public about dairy farming – and farmers about social media.
Mess, known as “Dairy Carrie” through her dairycarrie.com blog, is gaining notice as a somewhat fearless ag advocate. On her site, she’s challenged a popular Hollywood star about the practice of dehorning, as well as a restaurant chain about its marketing tactics and negative message about farmers.
Mess is one of a growing number of producers who are photographing, videographing and writing about their lives on dairies. She’s also very effective at it, according to her blog’s comments, and was one of four producers taking part in a panel discussion of social media at World Dairy Expo.
While dairying with her husband, Patrick, and his parents, Clem and Cathy Mess, at their 100-cow farm, Mess has her phone “glued” to her hand. She uses it to post photos and videos, provide updates and answer messages on Facebook, Twitter and her blog in the midst of her busy days.
It’s hard for dairy producers, whose products are sold to milk processors, to connect with their customers, she explains. The public tends to think all of its milk is produced at a corporate farm rather than by dairies of varying sizes. The only connection many urbanites have to farming is the person selling produce at farmers markets.
“Being into social media is a great way for a farmer who grows a commodity rather than a retail-type crop to be at a virtual farmers market,” Mess points out.
She enjoys talking with fellow farmers, but Mess is passionate about the need to “talk to the consumers with questions.” She draws her blog inspiration from questions consumers ask her every day, whether on a plane or in a grocery store.
About 40% of Dairy Carrie’s followers are urban dwellers. “I try to keep in mind that a good chunk of the people I’m talking to have no clue what I’m talking about,” she says of the posts she writes. And when people ask questions Mess doesn’t know the answers to, she refers them to someone who does. She believes her honesty with people is part of what makes her so successful as a blogger.
Mess grew up in Madison, WI, and worked in advertising sales and marketing before marrying and moving to the farm five years ago. Part of her charm as a blogger may be in the fact that she started with little farming experience and is still learning the dairy trade herself.
“I do think I have a different perspective than the kids who grow up on farms, because what we do every day still isn’t normal to me,” she remarks. This perspective has also allowed her the freedom to not always “go right along with what a lot of the other farmers and ranchers are saying,” but, instead, strike out on her own and give her opinion.
Producers interested in connecting with their customers through social media should start with their own personal Facebook accounts, Mess suggests. They should assume that not all their Facebook friends know or understand what farmers do. “So take a picture, explain what you’re doing and put it up” on your page. Dairy Carrie posts a photo of every calf born on the Mess farm and gets a lot of positive response from non-farm people.
Some people will want to challenge a dairy producer’s practices, Mess warns. Her simple rule is that she’ll stay with a conversation if it stays respectful. If the other person crosses a line, she’ll end the discussion.
So how much time should a producer expect to invest online?
“You don’t have to be a slave to social media. You give what time you can, when you can, and that is part of the beauty of things like Twitter.”
To learn more of what Dairy Carrie is writing about, visit her blog at dairycarrie.com.
For more about social media in farming, read: