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By Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor's note: The following Common Ground column originally appeared Sept. 7, 2009.

They are the coffee shops of the new generation. And they will have just as much influence on the future of agriculture as hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers once did.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and a host of others have taken over our everyday language. They are influencing how we communicate with our friends, our family members and, most importantly, our customers. And we in agriculture need to catch up.

Change is difficult to accept, I know. But we've grasped every other technological advancement for our businesses. Cellular phones have replaced radios. We use variable rate technology to apply chemicals, rely on satellites to plant our crops, and monitor our yields in real time from combine cabs.

So what is so scary about social networking?

It's free to sign up. The sites are created for technically un-savvy users to navigate. You don't have to know programming code to post to your page. You don't have to have special equipment. Literally, the world is at your fingertips with a computer or a phone with web access.

With the click of a mouse button you can be connected to as many people as you wish. Post an update on your page about what you are doing on your farm or ranch. Re-post an interesting article about farming you've found online and share it with your friend list. Share photos and videos of your operation to educate your nonfarm friends and family members. There is no limit on how you can use these communications tools to educate potential consumers about your farming and ranching practices.

The key to this new communication is that it can be viral.

One post to your page gets shared with everyone on your friend list. They can choose to share it with their friends, and those friends can share it with theirs, and on and on. It's quicker and easier than sharing news with the community gossip over a cup of coffee.

Of course, like any good tool, in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous. We practice safety with our chemical applications. We are careful around large equipment, grain bins and livestock. The Internet is no different.

So, if you're going to go forth into the social networking realm, use common sense. All accounts usually have a set of privacy controls that you can set and change at your whim. Use them to control who sees your posts, who views your pictures, and who has access to your profile.

Don't post anything to your Facebook or Twitter account that you wouldn't want read by your spouse, your boss, or your pastor. That includes photos of questionable farming practices or the latest rant on your deadbeat neighbor's loud parties.

Don't post personal data that can be mined by criminals. If people want to contact you, there are messaging functions that they can use without using your postal address, your email account, or your phone number.

Know your "friends." You'll get friend requests from old classmates, your child's teachers, your insurance agent, and so many more. When you consider accepting these requests, remember, if you don't know the person offline, don't feel bad about ignoring them online. And monitor your friends. If they post something that you don't agree with, and they do it multiple times, feel free to ban them from your account.

Follow these tips, practice common sense, and go explore the benefits of social networking online. It's truly a place where you can decide the content, where your pro-agriculture voice can be heard by the masses.

You can even have a cup of coffee while you do it.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or email

Date: 9/3/2012


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