“Agvocation” Defined: A Political Junkie’s Perspective on the Future of Agricultural Social Media

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My steer Dio and me after a big showmanship win in October 2014!
My steer Dio and me after a big showmanship win in October 2014!

Before I get into the nerdy stuff, let me introduce myself. My name is Jennifer Weinberg and I am studying Political Communication at The George Washington University. My family and I own a small beef cattle operation in Central New Jersey and have been members of both the feedlot and show cattle industries since the early 2000’s. I came to DC knowing that I would find a way to fuse my drives for the law, politics and agriculture into a solid undergraduate experience. That’s how I landed myself at the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

My degree in Political Communication is helpful in analyzing agricultural marketing and social media. Long story short: anti-industry, activists, opposition groups- whatever you call them- are doing a much better communicating than us. I am NOT saying that what they are communicating is in any way representative of American agriculture. What I am saying is that the opposition groups have done a much better job transforming our practices into their versions of reality and proposing it as truth than we have at showing and explaining our practices to consumers.

The key ideas:

  1. Specific arguments/sides are marketed through frames.  As described by Dr. Robert Entman, one of the chief scholars in the Political Communications field, frames are the lenses of how communicators present the information about ideas. Like the way photographers manipulate lighting to take professional pictures, successful communicators in any field bend the light in ways most favorable to their cause. This leads us to our second term: constructed realities.

Frames have 4 central goals/ steps:

  1. Problem definition: (bringing attention to an issue/ threat)
  2. Causal Analysis: (who/ what is responsible for the problem)
  3. Moral Judgment: (how people should feel about the issue)
  4. Remedy Solution: (what should be done to fix the problem/ end the threat)
  1. Constructed Reality:  The four steps of framing create the overall perception of truth on a certain topic. There is no condition that demands a constructed reality has to be truth as that up to individual opinions. In sum, constructed realities are comprised of a collection of arguments that are presented (framed) in certain ways.

The constructed reality being created by activist groups about American agriculture is that food comes from large factory farms that mistreat animals and simply pump products out like on a conveyor belt leaving animals in pain and fear. They do it by framing ideas such as animal welfare by selecting a few images, misrepresenting them (through strategic frames) and claiming them as truths (constructed realities).

  1. The Role Emotion Plays in Successful Communication. In his book, The Political Brain, Drew Westen has one central point: average Americans do not care about facts, figures and statistics when formingdecisions. Instead, they care about how they feel towards a particular issue. Opposition groups use emotional images in their advertisements, and people are attentive to them. Ultimately this emotional-appeal strategy has given opposition groups a huge edge over the agriculture industries who are left trying to use numbers and statistics to defend themselves.

If we want to become better agricultural communicators we need to start by acknowledging the terms of how successful communication is transferred to the public. By using the fundamentals of political communication, I think we can all become better communicators on every platform.

One comment

  1. Temple Grandin put it best: “The activists have done a much better job of communication with the public. When you get bashed, you need to be opening a door, not shutting a door, because when you shut the door, that’s automatic implied guilt. We’ve got to communicate with the public. We don’t have any choice.”

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