This course on Digital Communications has really taught me a lot about the importance of not only finding your voice, but having something important or helpful to say with it. Storytelling and figuring out what your stories can offer others was a really important lesson for me as I was unknowingly struggling with that. I think at the end of this course it is now clearer to me what my story is, who it could resonate with, and how I can use my voice to better get it across.
Storytelling is important to creating great digital content because it gives you an authentic way to connect with others. You get to share a piece of yourself that in some way should benefit you, and your audience. Storytelling is the way humans communicate with each other, back and forth we share stories in order to find connection and understanding. To bring that into the online marketing world makes perfect sense. People may not relate to a hot dog selling business, for example, but, if you give it a heart and a personality, an audience will form.
I think my content has already been guided by my story, as I write about living my life as a farmer. There is room for my content to expand into other ways of story telling, however, and I will explore those other ways going forward. I want to continue to tell my story as a young farmer in Canada and do my part to help highlight Canadian farming as well as bring something back to our community that can strengthen it. Whether that comes in the form of entertaining distractions or solidarity in mental wellness I still need to work out but, storytelling is definitely the way to achieve both.
To answer that question I need to understand what my audience needs help with and what my experiences offer in terms of a solution for that. Throughout this course I have been going through a serious identity crisis with my personal brand. Is my audience who I thought they were? Am I wasting my time on the wrong audience? Am I somehow steering away from the original path I had set out on with my message and my audience?
My experiences are those of a young awkward farmer who just wants to help the agriculture industry in some way. I think somewhere along the way I lost sight of how that could help my farming community. I originally started making these specific comic strips and sharing them online to relieve stress, and hopefully help others relieve stress by having a laugh. Farming is stressful. Mental health is a serious issue in our rural communities and there is a massive need for ways to help with that.
In the past (and I mentioned this in my last blog), my strips have been associated with the mental health movement in agriculture and at that time it wasn’t really something I was interested in because I thought it wasn’t really part of my brand. Now, as I mull over John’s question, I feel like I couldn’t have been more wrong, and the answer to his question was staring my in the face the entire time!
I made comics as a teenager to vent my frustrations or anxieties about things that were going on in my life. I make comics to escape problems, I make comics to work through problems, and I can now make comics to share those problems with others who may be going through similar things. Especially in the farming community, where mental health is a crisis. They face hardships daily that could effect whether they have enough money to pay their bills. This past year alone, personally, my farm experienced a flood (so the crops went in late), followed by a drought (so the crops didn’t grow as nicely), an early snow (so the crops couldn’t be harvest on time), 10% of our herd was not pregnant, and Ontario’s largest processing facility was shut down making it impossible to sell our weaned calves leaving us with fifteen extra mouths to feed through the winter. That’s not even all the struggles we faced in 2019, and this year isn’t looking much better.
I know my farm is not the only one going through these troubles, and there are different struggles for different groups. What I can offer is my experiences dealing with these issues through my strips that will hopefully help my audience find a positive way to get through their own struggles. I need to focus on the people I belong with, and how I can give back to our community. This is the best way for me to do that, and these experiences could be their experiences, so I shouldn’t keep those to myself.
My personal brand is best described as light-hearted, a little geeky, and farm fresh. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I make comics about farming and rural life and I share them via social media. For me, it is important that people are receptive to my personal brand because I want them to support and appreciate my work. When someone reads through my social media feeds, I want them to be able to see me as someone they can relate to and want to be friends with.
What I do is a combination of things that couldn’t be more different, and my competition reflects that. I see myself competing with other slice-of-life comic creators, but I also see myself competing with agriculture personalities who are using social media to promote their farms or educate on farming. When I stack my personal brand against someone like ‘WhatsupBeanie’, it’s easy to see that we do the same thing, but with very different themes. Compared to her brand, mine stands out as one that is very country, very rural and maybe a little redneck in some opinions. On the other hand, compare my personal brand to that of ‘Farmer Tim’. We both have farm themed content, but we talk about it in very different ways. His brand is typical farmer, sweet and hardworking, simple content with a lot of story telling. Compared to him my brand comes off as silly, cutesy, and maybe like a little awkward and geeky. I speak more to the younger generation with my kind of brand, to both the weird art kids and the red necks.
Recently, I have been trying to expand my brand into different mediums. Dipping my toes into alternative ways to bring more attention to my comic strips. I want to show more of my personal brand so that people are not just following my social media because they like my work but because they want to see me succeed. To do this, I’m experimenting with recording myself drawing, and posting more Instagram Stories from around the farm or my house that give a better glimpse at who I am. I’ve been attempting to respond to other people’s postings more and to make myself a little more visible than that one tweet or instagram post a day.
I have a great support network so far, and my work is constantly receiving praise for being cute, funny and relatable. Something that I had not intentionally associated with my brand but has been tied to it regardless was a positive voice for mental health in the agriculture community and an advocate of women in agriculture. Both of these topics are of great importance to me, but I never set out to be a mental health brand or a feminism brand.
I happen to be a woman in agriculture, who lives and works with other women in agriculture. I have received praise for showing a feminine heavy cast, and in a radio interview I did last November with Valley Heritage Radio, I was asked if this was intentional and I had to confess it wasn’t. I also inadvertently became connected to the mental health movement in agriculture after an interview I did with Better Farming on how my comics help me relieve stress for myself and others. Ever since then I have been asked to speak on the topic more and more which is wonderful, but never my original intention.
I think that there could be a really a strong chance of success for my brand if I were to lean more into one of these subjects to further my brand recognition, but it is not something I am yet comfortable doing as I never intended to be that voice in the first place. My brand is supposed to inspire a care-free, fun and innocent love for farming and rural life and I’m not sure I want to move into a space where I am actively advocating for something more than that. I don’t want my audience to ever feel that they are being preached to by me, but in that, I feel that I have stunted the growth of my personal brand.
Going forward, if my efforts to diversify my presence online do not increase brand awareness I may end up exploring these avenues… but until then, I will continue with the personal brand I have now.
I love Spotify. I was hesitant about a subscription service for my music back when it was first coming into the picture, but about four years ago my sister-in-law turned me onto them. How did she sell me? They had Eddy Arnold’s Cattle Call on there. I have obscure tastes in music ranging anywhere from old country western to eighties synth with space vibes. Spotify has it all, and it recommends new stuff based on your tastes! I have discovered a lot of new music this way and have easily recommended it to all friends and family.
Despite being a great service with a lot of word-of-mouth and recommendation style marketing going on, Spotify is also very active on social media. Spotify has a strong following on social media, which is partly due to its star power. The popular app has teamed up with many musicians to create content that encourages consumers to stay engaged and intrigued. Faces like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Justin Timberlake fill its feed their faces and voices. It has no trouble catching followers’ attention and engage with them by responding to its tweets or comments.
Spotify itself is also considered a social media network. The service has 217 million users on it as of April 2019 (1) and is growing as a popular place for advertisers to take their campaigns. Company’s want to connect with consumers in places where they already spend a lot of their time; Instagram, Facebook and now, Spotify. The app also offers a community for people. The ability to create playlists and share them with others (and yes, unless you’ve specifically identified them as private, people can see your embarrassing playlist names), the ability to create, share and enjoy podcasts, and of course, it can be used to flesh out your personal brand. For example, a company can make its own account, create a bunch of playlists that create the feeling and vibe of your company, then encourage consumers to come and listen to them.
Spotify is a great app and a great business. It sells a subscription directly to the consumer that removes the need for hoarding and buying individual songs or CDs. It is the next level of the music industry and has successfully made it to the top of the competition. The move to include paid advertisements was an excellent decision and helps them to stay on top and change with the times. Becoming its on social media network may be the most genius move of all.
Before I get into who my target audience is, I should first explain what it is I’m trying to get out to them. I am a comic artist and I post daily strips that give vignettes of the life of a modern farmer or rural person. Every day I try to post something I’ve experienced that was humorous in the hopes that it will bring other people joy too. Strips about doing chores, working with family, strips about the culture, about my childhood and strips about city life compared directly to country life.
The immediate audience that comes to mind for such content is automatically farmers. My strips are relatable for them so it must be for them. I came to the conclusion early on that due to many factors that might not be the case.
Farmers make a very small portion of the online community, most opting not to use it at all. It is a niche, but it’s almost too much of a niche to become anything profitable. When they are on social media, farmers are inclined to use Twitter or Facebook and use those platforms to get the news or stay updated with friends. They don’t tend to use Instagram because that doesn’t serve either of those purposes, and Instagram happens to be the best platform for my type of content.
Farmers are very supportive, friendly, and want members of the community to succeed. They can appreciate what I do and offer words of support but, that is essentially where it ends. These are people who have all their finances tied up in the work and don’t have a penny to stretch for something that isn’t practical. Supporting an artist via Patreon or KoFi would be something completely foreign to them and not justifiable in their minds.
My actual target audience is young and mostly urban audience. My brand of humour speaks more to the younger generations who just want to be entertained and experience things. I create the strips so that any young person could find something to relate to in it, but it’s still highly farm or country focused. This way, my audience can see that we are all the same in the end, despite backgrounds being so different. For example, my country versus city strips call out in particular are differences and makes a joke of it, but in the end those two people are best friends.
The goal of my business is to highlight farming and farm culture through my visual storytelling. I believe the best way to do that in a successful way is to tell the stories to people who don’t already know it. I want to connect with those people and share with them the story of agriculture in a language they are familiar and comfortable with, that doesn’t teach at them but rather laughs with them. Millennials and Generation Z’s also seem to be more open to supporting artists than other generations. If they like your work and your personality they are more likely to subscribe to a Patreon or buy a piece of your work. I’m not necessarily saying farmers wouldn’t do that, but from a business perspective I have to go with the more likely bet.
Long story short, my audience is the young, urban, Canadians of today. The people living through their social media platforms and giving what they can to support people they appreciate. In doing so, I give back to the farming community in a more meaningful way. Even with my strips focused on pleasing a very different audience, they are still relatable to those farmers out there who need a good chuckle too.
This week we learned about communicating through the art of storytelling. Social media has given us the biggest stage for which to tell our stories. It has lead to many successful careers for people who know how to do it right. They found their authentic voice, chose their subject carefully and made sure to use proper communication techniques (for example: Spelling and grammar in a blog).
I have always loved to spin yarn to any captive audience. My mission is to make people laugh, and I do that through being as animated and expressive as possible. I think all humans have that desire to truly connect and share with each other in that way and that is what lead to the rise of the social network. Anyone can tell their stories in any format they choose. This leads to a lot of crummy content, or a lot of really great content, but either way it is an overwhelming amount of content that one could sift through for all eternity.
Storytelling is important. It is something we have been doing since the dawn of time. It keeps us social, it keeps us grounded and it helps us relate to the other people in our lives. Spending time with a friend often involves rounds of storytelling, back and forth. I go out for coffee with a friend of mine regularly, last time I was telling her about a racoon issue I experienced, she responded with a squirrel issue she experienced, I retorted with a squirrel experience I had as a kid, she came back with a story about growing up in a city apartment so she couldn’t relate to a childhood where a squirrel lived under her bed and chewed up her action figures. We moved on to discuss our childhood differences. Our entire basis for communication is storytelling.
In a digital space, that back and forth still exists. When someone makes a post on instagram or a blog post, or a tweet, a simple invitation for someone to weigh in with their own experience ignites the same interaction. A picture of a meal with the caption ‘what are you eating?’ Tells a story about what the person is eating and invites a response story from someone else. This engagement often drives the success of a person’s online presence, and if they are so inclined, could lead to a career- all from doing what comes natural to us!
Long story short, I learned that storytelling can be the key to successful career online. Storytelling should be authentic, not forced, and it should always feel like you are starting a conversation with whoever you are telling the story to. Much like telling spooky stories around a campfire, we take our turns and weigh in when we can relate.
I feel as though I already know what my appropriate storytelling vehicle is, but sometimes I wonder if I’m missing an opportunity. Making comics is my jam, but given my love for verbally entertaining my friends with stories that will make them laugh, I wonder if I might be more successful in a video sharing experience? Would I still be authentic? This is a question I hope to uncover through this course.
The last vacation I took was a year ago. I didn’t actually start taking vacations until I met my husband. We come from different worlds, like country mouse and city mouse. He went on family vacations every year and I did not. My family didn’t have the time, the money, or the ability to leave the farm. I could go my whole life without going anywhere, if I’m honest, but my husband wasn’t having that life so here we are.
Our last vacation was to Costa Rica. We went to a fairly new resort near Liberia and had a really great time. My style of vacationing involves lying around, reading and eating too much or drinking too much. My husband on the other hand prefers to explore, see all the sights and do all the things. We often meet in the middle. Half the time spent by the pool or on the beach, and half the time trail blazing.
On that trip we went zip-lining over mountains, which was terrifying and beautiful, but most terrifying. We also went horse back riding which is something my husband always talks about doing, but I personally hate horses so I usually avoid it. Growing up, my farm had a total of twenty-four horses. I’ve had more than enough experiences to last me a life-time, but for him we went for it. I’ve never ridden a horse that so desperately didn’t want to be ridden before. It was almost comical how desperate she was to get back to the barn. We also had dinner on a mountain top, went to a hot-springs, and went down to the market beach for a day trip.
Around the resort was interesting. There was a really cool black sand beach, but the ants and monkeys were too much to enjoy it. The monkeys were actually brutal there, like hungry racoons around a campground. Nothing was safe from them. The staff there were also really great, they did a weird dance at the end of the day that I’m still humming the tune of. They always had fun events and night too, it was never boring there.
All in all the experience was great. I would go there again. Farmers don’t often get to take vacations so it is a real luxury that I am able. I definitely wouldn’t suffer if I didn’t go away though, I’m very happy with the little patch of paradise I have here in rural Ontario. I’m truly a lucky duck to have both options.
In the spring we are going on a cruise through Spain, France and Italy for our delayed honeymoon. Fingers crossed we can still go! Pretty up in the air these days.
Has anyone had their travel plans cancelled because of the virus outbreak? Should I plan for the worst?
In my first blog I talked about how I sat in on a speaker who encouraged farmers to get on social media and tell our stories. That was in 2013 and for years I tried to figure out what that story looked like. How would I tell that story in a way that would be unique and interesting? It wasn’t until the year 2017 that I figured it out – and I’ll tell you – it was embarrassingly in my lap the whole time.
The Importance of Telling the Story of Farming
I wrote about this a little bit in my other blogs, but essentially, farmers need to introduce ourselves. It had become apparent to me after starting my career in the big city as a graphic designer that farming was a foreign concept to most people. The only interaction with farming most of my coworkers had was farm themed toys and children’s books they had as a little kids. I was shocked by the disconnection and was motivated to remove it.
Consumer research shows that even though people have a lot of questions about their food, they still view farmers amongst the most trustworthy sources of information about it. Social media offers us the unique ability to connect with those people and answer those questions since we cannot go to their houses and have a conversation. Just by posting about our day, what we’re up to and why, we can provide everything they need to know. As long as we are transparent and honest, the consumer will be receptive.
How to Tell the Story of Farming
For a few years, I worked as a graphic designer in an office in the city and in that time I was casually educating friends and colleagues about agriculture because I was so passionate about it. This was a dull attempt at fulfillment in my life. I wanted to farm, I wanted to make art and I wanted to help the agriculture industry. None of those things were really adding up. I thought quitting my office job and going to work on the farm would clear things up… and over time it actually did. I started drawing ridiculous situations I found myself in during the day and sharing them with my city friends. They encouraged me to start posting them on Instagram. Before I knew it, I’d found my voice. I was telling my story in a way that was unique to me.
Everyone has to find their own way. SharkFarmer has a podcast, Andrew Campbell posts daily farm photos and The Peterson Brothers make song parodies. Whatever feels the most comfortable or fun for you is how you should tell your story. The farm community represents 2% of Canada. You may not get the notoriety of the people listed here, but you can at least bring a voice to the table so that as a whole we can compete with all the noise out there online.
Comics about Farming
What started as a hobby and a way for me to relieve stress became a real, possible career path. Through innocent jokes and silly faces I was able to convey what life is like for me as a farmer in this modern world. It began to catch the interest of local papers and agriculture based magazines and has led to a few collaborations with various organizations. Then I decided to publish my first children’s book, coming full circle to the farmer in the book of my old coworker’s childhoods. Only this time, it was going to be an authentic representation of the modern Canadian farmer and just how complex they are.
Long Story Short
Social media has given me the opportunity to follow a career path that I didn’t think existed. I am able to do all the things I always wanted to do: work on the farm, make art and help the agriculture industry. I encourage everyone, as I was encouraged back in 2013, to get online and share their own story in whatever format they want. The effort is minimal but impactful, we can’t change the way things are overnight, but we can offer consumers the chance to have their questions answered by the only people who can answer them: The people growing and raising their food.
How do you tell your story? Whether you’re a farmer or not, how do you share your personal brand with the world? As a non-farmer, do you find it helpful for farmers to tell their stories on social media, and if so, why?
Activists can provide a lot of good for the world. They are brave people who see something they feel conflicts with their ethical code and they speak out against it. A lot of good can come from activism: environmental efforts have been made, justice has been served and animals have been saved. We need activists to keep the world ethical as we progress, but what happens when activism takes an ugly turn? When activists don’t do their homework, turn aggressive or go against the law?
Everyone wants to be heard and with social media everyone can be heard. Anyone can make a statement about the way things are and that statement might be seen by a couple friends or perhaps thousands of people. Activists use social media to get their message out there. With Hashtag Activism, anyone can get behind a cause with a simple hashtag in a tweet. It’s “slacktivism” at its finest. A person can feel like they are helping without leaving the comforts of their couch, which soothes their ethics alarm and leaves them feeling good about themselves.
The problem with slacktivism (or hashtag activism) is that it often lacks both fact checking and productivity. People often jump on a bandwagon without checking to see if information is true. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is a major activist organization that relies on shock campaigns, fear mongering, celebrity endorsements and untruths. They use social media to put out campaigns that encourage slacktivists to donate through shock, disgust and guilt. Investigations into PETA show that they use misinformation to collect revenue. The average person isn’t going to look deeply into the facts with proper research sources. They just want to save the cute and sad faces of their animal friends. This leads to a strained relationship between consumers and the agriculture industry that activists tend to target.
On the Attack
The activists that target farmers through social media are often aggressive – essentially bullies. They believe strongly in their code of ethics. Animals should not be consumed or kept in captivity. The land should not be changed to grow more crops and there shouldn’t be any genetically modified organisms or anything added to our food.
These are all perfectly reasonable beliefs. I also dislike the idea of antibiotics in my food or poorly treated livestock. What divides us are the facts. I know that Canadian farmers are held to strict regulations that do not allow for antibiotics to end up in food or for livestock to be abused. I know this firsthand as I am held to those regulations.
With a little research, myths can be dispelled. Unfortunately, aggressive activists are often uninterested in dispelling myths. They are set in their beliefs and no amount of discussion will change them. They go on the attack, they make uncomfortable statements and threaten the wellbeing of the farmers. Tired of being called horrible names, some farmers took to social media with the truth about what they do.
Caught In Between
Consumers sit on either side of the battlefield. Activists make them wary and suspicious and they start asking important questions. These questions are fair to ask. We should all know where our food comes from. For a long time, activists were the only voices on social media and a gap began to form between farmers and consumers. Now, with farmers joining consumers and activists in the conversation, we get a better, more complete picture. Farmers have nothing to hide and they are proud of the work they do. Social media gives them the opportunity to share that with consumers and to keep both sides of the story available for the consumer to make up their own mind.
Without getting too personal: how do you feel about activists online? Do they inspire positive change? Or have people already made up their minds and are just fighting? Are farmers handling their interactions with their critics effectively?
Several years ago there was never really any talk of mental health amongst farmers. Farmers were (and still are) massive believers in phrases like ‘toughen up’, ‘don’t complain’ and ‘don’t make excuses.’ These are phrases heavily drawn upon in our community to power through difficult times. Our lives are tough. The work we do is hard. Why make it harder for yourself? In an article posted in the Globe and Mail just last year, it was revealed that “40% of Canadian Agriculture Producers say they would be uneasy seeking help for mental illness because of what others may think.” There is a mentality within farm culture that is perpetuating the problem.
Farming is a high stress job. Many factors are completely out of your control. It is long hours and very hard work, even on the coldest, darkest days of the year. Even in storms, blizzards and heat waves. There is a lot of gambling, a lot of financial stress, a lot of physical stress and a heck of a lot of loneliness. Unending amounts of loneliness. Some farmers go weeks without seeing another human. We talk to ourselves, to our livestock, to inanimate objects. Isolation does something to a person – literally. It has physical effects on your body leading to cardiovascular disease, increased nervous system activity, increased inflammation, loss of sleep, increases the risk for dementia, increases your susceptibility to infection and the list goes on. I personally work alone all day most days. I like being alone, but it does start to take an effect on me. I like it better when I work with my mother and we can talk and joke while we work. We’re more productive as a team and I can see it has a positive impact on my mother’s overall well being too.
Enter Social Media
Social media has changed the game in my opinion. With more and more farmers joining social networking platforms we have more people opening up and discussing things. Media campaigns and events like Bell’s Let’s Talk Day actively invites them to talk about what ails them. It shows them that they aren’t in it alone and the importance of reaching out. The conversation wasn’t being had until a few brave souls came forward. Now organizations like Do More Ag exist to try to push us even further into helping ourselves. I’ve witnessed firsthand farmers who had previously been locked vaults and preachers of the ‘toughen up’ mantra, acknowledge and accept mental health as a concept. I’m sure that seems like a small step, but from my perspective, it’s huge.
We are now able to stifle loneliness, reaching out to farmers across the globe and comforting them. Letting them know that we are also going through the same things. Perhaps just offering encouragement or sympathies during a rough harvest, a flood, a drought… A recent crisis in the Ontario beef industry serves as a good example. When a processing plant shutdown cripples an entire industry and farmers face frightening financial hardship – every kind word helps. It’s a step away from the edge. It’s a gentle hand reminding us that it is alright, we’re human and we can’t control the forces that be.
The Flip Side
If I learned anything from Star Wars (and church), it is that in order for there to be a light side, there also has to be a dark side. Social media has done wonders in terms of connecting us with others and making the world a smaller, more accessible place. At the same time, studies are starting to suggest that social media may have negative effects on our mental health. On social media we constantly compare ourselves to others. Social media also opens us up to a world of people we could have easily avoided in our isolation. Online we encounter critics and bullies that use the protection of anonymity to say ruthless and painful things they might not say to your face. Especially if the career you’ve dedicated your life to is one that doesn’t align with the views of others.
Trolls are everywhere. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, you are going to get trolled on social media. It’s the nature of the beast. That said, farmers are deceptively fragile creatures and we are already seeing the evidence that online bullying is having a big impact on their mental health. It’s been a hard road to get farmers to acknowledge mental health problems are legitimate, let alone open up about it. To have a stranger attack you when you’re just stepping out of your box is enough to push you so far back into the box you’ll never come out again.
Long Story Short
Social media is having a huge impact on farmers’ mental health, some good and some bad. The issue of mental health in agricultural is a massive topic that needs more attention and more aid and I for one am optimistic about social media’s help in that. We are able to create more awareness and provide more resources that farmers might not have known about before. Just being able to socialize with other farmers innocently over a social network is so good for people living in rural areas. I see the effects firsthand in my friends, neighbours and family.
What are your thoughts? Does social media help or hurt mental health? Are attacked groups like farmers particularly vulnerable? Were we safer in isolation or does being able to connect with the good apples outweigh the potential attacks from the bad ones?
If You Need Help
If you need to talk to someone you can use the Ontario Mental Health Line. Call ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600
More resource are available here. There are local crisis hotlines in some counties across ontario.