March 26 2018 08:45 AM

Engage with consumers in their comfort zone to better spread the message of dairy.

One of my favorite Paul Harvey stories is "The Man and The Birds. If you don't know the story, definitely check it out.

Basically, it's about a man who doesn't go to church at Christmas with his family because he doesn't believe in Jesus. After his family leaves for church, he finds a flock of birds struggling in the weather.

He desperately tries to help the flock find shelter in his barn but can't get them to follow him. He then realizes they are afraid of him because he is so much different than them.

He wishes that he could become a bird, so he could gain the flock’s trust and they would follow him to shelter. He realizes this is why Jesus became a man, in order to get people to trust and follow him.

I believe this story also tells us something about what's going on with our consumers and trust. Full disclosure: I am a Christ follower.

So many times when I'm talking to farmers about urban consumers, there seems to be an "us vs. them" attitude. Farmers don't understand, and sometimes don't want to understand, the consumer's lifestyle, their concern over food and farming, or the work they do in the cities.

Farmers will say, "If we just tell them, then they will trust us."

To me, it's a lot like the story above. No matter how much you preach to them, they aren't going to move. They need to feel that you are just like them, only living in a different area. And in many ways, you are.

So how do you get them to follow you?

Visit the city.
The most effective way is to visit the cities. Several co-ops do city tours where farmers interact with urban consumers. If you can't do that, then follow them online using Instagram or Twitter.

Join their online groups.
Instead of spending so much time in online ag and farm groups, consider joining some online dad groups. Or mom groups. Or drone groups. Or NFL team groups. Or food groups. (You don't have to be a foodie to be in a foodie group.) Or parent groups. Or political groups (be careful there). Or film groups. Whatever you like doing, get into that group.

Engage in their conversations.
Learn what they like to talk about and what they are passionate about. Ask questions of them. Get to know them on a personal level. Be nice. Be friendly. Be curious.

Answer their questions.
When you've been there long enough, the trust will build and you'll become their farming expert, their go-to guy or gal for food production. You will be their farmer friend who loves living outside of the city.

Discuss issues politely.
Remember that you are there to encourage people to see your side of things. Fighting and shouting has never persuaded anyone. I use the example of arguing with a friend. You don't want to hurt the other person or put them down. You want them to be happy about the choice they make, and you are concerned about this.

If you can understand their point of view and see the world the way they see it, then you have a good chance of understanding and addressing their concerns and possibly earning their trust.

Maybe they'll even follow you, like the story says, back to the barn or online through social media.

If you want to practice using social media to engage and persuade people, reach out to your local checkoff, or you can contact me at You can also join the Dairy Hub where we offer lots of social media-based trainings.

Don Schindler

The author is a Senior Vice President of Digital Initiatives at Dairy Management Inc.