Figuring out the distinction between the personal and professional use of social media is turning out to be quite a challenge for me. I’m in school training to be a social worker, but my long-term career goal is to be a farmer. Allow me to explain. This coming May, my partner Camille and I will be moving to a 160 acre farm just outside of Knoxville, TN. The land hasn’t been farmed in some time, and the plan is for Camille to start growing sustainable organic produce on it as soon as possible (the goal is to even have some crops in the ground before May 2014). While she is getting the farm up and running, I’ll hopefully have a job in the social work field that will support us financially. Our dream is that the farm will become successful enough that I’ll be able to stop working a 9-5 job and focus solely on farming and running the business we have built together. As a social worker, it is important to maintain a very professional image, both online and off, so I think it’s prudent to keep your personal and professional lives mostly separate when it comes to using the internet. As a farmer the rules are different, so I’ll need to be making some very important decisions about my online persona in the future.
Farming is not so much a job as it is a lifestyle. You live where you work, so your personal life is completely intertwined with your professional life. In order to be a good small-scale farmer, it is essential that you connect with the people living in your community. You want them to know who you are and what you stand for as a person as much as you want them to be informed about what you’re growing. The diagram above outlines the differences in expected content between personal social media on the left and professional social media on the right. As a farmer, this line between personal and professional social media content is blurred. I want the people of Knoxville to know that I’m passionate about social justice, interested in brewing my own beer, and maybe even that I’m scared of heights because I want them to know that their food comes from a real person. That being said, a friend pointed out to me that it is important to not have any wasted tweets or Facebook posts. If I’m telling my customers that I’m scared of heights, I had better have a reason for doing so. I could include a picture of me up on a ladder working on a project to communicate my fear of heights while simultaneously giving customers an inside look at what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis on the farm.
The Facebook page of D and A Farm provides a good example of what a farmer’s social media presence can be like. They include lots of pictures of their crops, both in the ground and on the dinner table, and they share the contents of their weekly CSA boxes. On a more personal level, they also post pictures of themselves and the people they love spending time on the farm. Darby Farms is another good one. Their page showcases the professional interactions between the farm and its customers, but they also post many links to articles about issues that are important to them. I think that striking a balance between the styles of these two pages is something that I want to strive for in my own social media endeavors in Knoxville. I want there to be a continuous, reliable exchange of information between me and my customers while also communicating my personality and passions. I think that’s the social media sweet spot for a farmer.