Online influence

PHOTO: FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: CATHERINE BELKNAP (CAT) AND NATALIE TELFER (NAT)  WITH ANITA AND DARYL BURNETT ON THE BURNETT  FARM NEAR BELWOOD, ONTARIO.

“STORYTELLING IS THE essential human activity. The harder the situation, the more essential it is.” ~Tim O’Brien

Connecting with the non-farming public is often described as our greatest challenge in agriculture. One could also say, though, that it is our greatest opportunity. Grain Farmers of Ontario’s Good in Every Grain campaign reaches millions of people across the province by telling authentic stories of Ontario’s grain farmers. The campaign is delving deeper into the strategy of storytelling and is proud to be working with a powerful team of online content creators known as Cat & Nat.

Recognizing the power of trusted, popular voices in the public, Grain Farmers of Ontario is fostering long-term relationships with online influencers to create a personal connection to Ontario grain farmers and ultimately generate trust in grain farming. This strategy builds on the success of last year’s media outreach with celebrities like Chris Soules and SciBabe, but endeavours to create a more lasting impact through a continuous content stream from consistent and trusted voices.

“We were looking for partners who could regularly talk to their followers about grains and farmers in an authentic way,” says Meghan Burke, communications manager for Grain Farmers of Ontario. “We wanted to take these influencers on a journey, to explore and learn about grain farming firsthand and bring their followers along with them.

CHOOSING A PARTNER

There are countless voices online with just as many areas of focus. Grain Farmers of Ontario identified urban moms as a key target audience, as they are typically the primary grocery consumers in the household and often disconnected from agriculture. The ideal partner would have excellent reach, including mainstream media connections, and be favourable towards grains. It didn’t take long for Cat & Nat (founders of The Social Common) to emerge as the perfect team to take this trek with us.

“We first met Cat & Nat in 2015 at our SciBabe blogger meet-and-greet event in Toronto,” says Burke. “They impressed us with their tough questions about neonicotinoids and farming practices —  they were open-minded, enthusiastic, and genuinely interested to learn from us.”

Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer, otherwise known as Cat & Nat, are moms to seven kids under the age of seven, YouTubers, Facebook Live hosts, and media personalities. They are inquisitive, energetic, and likeable, evident by their online following. See chart on page 30.

They are also true partners, bringing many great ideas and suggestions to the program.

“Our partnership with Grain Farmers of Ontario has been unique since the beginning. We love that they are open to answering any and all questions we have, from the price of a sprayer to what exactly is a GMO and where and how are they used,” says Belknap. “We realize that farmers often feel misunderstood, but it is great to see how open and proud they are to share details and facts about their lives and what it is they do in order to educate us and our audience.”

“We also like the personal approach of this campaign,” adds Telfer. “Visiting family-run farms and meeting some amazing farmers face-to-face has given us a greater appreciation of farmers and how hard they work. It has also given us a better understanding of how much we all have in common! The two of us thrive off of the freedom to create, so we love the fact that Grain Farmers of Ontario has been open to our ideas — from Facebook live videos to social posts and even videos with both farm kids and our own. Overall, the real openness has made the partnership eye-opening for both us city gals and the farmers.”

THE PROGRAM

Statistics show that more than 80 per cent of followers trust bloggers, whether the content is sponsored or not. For this program, both parties openly state that this relationship is paid for by Grain Farmers of Ontario. Where this program is unique, however, is that Grain Farmers of Ontario is not producing content for Cat & Nat, nor requiring Cat & Nat to post any specific messaging. The contract simply requires that they partake in farm tours and grain-related activities hosted by Grain Farmers of Ontario and then share their true experiences, learnings, and impressions with their followers.

“Some people felt it was risky for us to give Cat & Nat carte blanche on what messages and information they shared to their followers,” says Burke. “We weren’t concerned — we know that our farmer-members are outstanding people and that their care of the land and the crops would come through easily and the personal connections would happen naturally. We believed that, in order for Cat & Nat to be effective storytellers, they had to do it in their own way and with their own voices.”

The program launched in late summer 2016 and will continue through to spring 2017. There are several components to the program including:
•    three field trips to grain farms to explore a grain elevator, participate in soybean and corn harvest, identify end-use products in a grocery store, and much more
•    ongoing social media posts on Twitter, Instagram and Instagram stories, Facebook and Facebook live, their vlog, and their blog
•    mainstream media appearances to come this winter

Through the many elements of the program, Cat & Nat have emerged as true ambassadors for Ontario grains and their stories are connecting with their audience.

“Throughout our journey in motherhood and business, we share our experiences and the knowledge we’ve gained with our devoted audience of moms. Before we began our partnership with Grain Farmers of Ontario, we knew very little about the realities of farming and farm families. Throughout this partnership, we, along with our audience, have gained a real appreciation of farmers,” says Belknap. “In learning about grain farmers and all that they do, we realize their importance and our strong need for them in our lives. We understand that farmers have to stay current with technology in order to provide us with the grains we need and use every day. And we’ve also learned just how much we have in common as hard-working families and entrepreneurs. It’s fun to see how open our audience has been to learning about the farming industry with us!”

RESULTS TO DATE

The audience impact is reflected in both the reach and the comments on social media.

By the numbers — posts to date through our program:
“We are already impressed with the reach and engagement we’ve experienced working with Cat & Nat — and we’re only halfway through the program,” says Burke. “We have many components to the program; at this stage of the relationship, the most exciting element has been the Facebook Live videos where we can interact with followers of Cat & Nat in real-time.”

The first Facebook Live video was taken in a soybean field in Belwood, Ontario with farmers Daryl and Anita Burnett. Cat & Nat wanted to tackle the controversy around genetic modification (GMOs) early in the partnership and in a very direct manner. During the live segment, Cat, Nat, Anita, and Daryl talked openly about why farmers choose and use GMOs. They also engaged the audience in a fun game showing various household products and guessing which grain it contains. This video garnered over 15,000 views and some of our favourite comments were:
•    So much information. Loving all of it right now.
•    Wow I’m glad I watched this. So much good info  ??
•    yay for farmers! #don’tfearyourfood! #farmersrock!
•    Wow was I ever misinformed
•    Who knew so many products made out of wheat, soy, corn etc. Great job! Thank a farmer!!

Another Facebook Live segment was held from the Growing Connections trailer at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair with Sandi Brock, a grain farmer from Staffa, talking about farm life, being a mom, and agricultural competitions and traditions like the Royal. This video garnered over 30,000 views and Sandi really connected with the audience receiving comments such as:
•    Farms and farmers are the heart and soul, honourable and hardworking.
•    A farmers day is never done, just like a mom
•    I have learned so much!!
•    Farmers rule
•    I think it’s great growing up on a farm teaches hard work

The most recent activity with Cat & Nat is an idea presented by them to help bridge the gap between urban and rural through the voices of kids. Watch for this video, and much more, over the next six months on the social media platforms of Cat & Nat and Good in Every Grain.  •

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