April 22 2019 09:00 AM

Follow this advice when trying to correct misinformation on social media.

Have you ever seen something so outrageous about dairy farming online that you wanted to jump in and tell someone how wrong they were? I have, too.

From animal rights activists to alternative beverage marketers, I sometimes feel my blood boiling, and I want to strike out and put them in their place. But that's exactly when I know that I'm too emotional to respond. The right words won't be there for me to help correct the misinformation, and the odds of me making the situation worse for dairy are too high.

In this situation, I follow the same advice I give dairy farmers. It works if you don't let your emotions take over the conversation.

1. Research who you are talking to.
With face-to-face conversations, you can see who the person is and size them up quickly. With social media, you don't have that ability, but you can research them by clicking through their profile or by a quick Google search. This is always the first step because there are some profiles that are designed to "troll" people. Trolls simply try to get a rise out of others and aren't there to learn and discuss topics.

Should you talk to animal rights activists? I don't think this is the best use of your time. Very rarely do activists want to have a civil conversation, and you are highly unlikely to convince them or the audience watching the conversation of anything. Unless you are truly experienced in these types of conversations, my advice is to delete their comment and block them from your profile. It's not worth your time or thoughts.

PRO TIP: Correcting misinformation is definitely something we all should be doing. I would recommend commenting on misinformation in a post. However, news coverage posts about animal abuse allegations are different. In these instances, please be careful about commenting or sharing. Engaging with these posts only gives them more power in the social media feeds and more people will see them. Unless you have evidence that it is not abuse, I would refrain from bringing more attention to the post.

2. Ask some clarifying questions to find out what they want answered.
Please don't assume you know exactly what they are writing about. Social media is conversational, and many times we leave out crucial pieces of information. It's better to repeat the question to them in writing to assure you understand it and can provide the correct answer.

3. Take time to find the correct information and think about your personal experience on your farm about the topic.
Third-party verification with scientific evidence about a topic is probably one of the best ways to correct misinformation, but people still may question the source. What they can't question is your personal experience on the farm. Relaying that to them via video or photos can work very well to get your message across.

4. Once you have the information together, share it using themes you have in common.
For instance, kids are a great common theme between people. No farmer would ever want to hurt their own kids with what they do or produce. Animals are another potential subject. Farmers love animals much like urban customers love their cats and dogs. Take the time to explain how the needs of a dairy cow differ from a household pet, yet your cows get everything they need from veterinary care to a well-rounded diet to proper living conditions.

PRO TIP: Keep your information and answers together in an easy-to-find place such as Google Docs or Evernote (free apps). This way, you will quickly find the answers you've given before. If you need help with answers, you can join the Dairy Hub. It has a large library of commonly asked questions with talking points that you can personalize in your voice.

5. Focus on your empathy and tact when responding to the conversation.
Never use negative language when you are trying to persuade someone. Be careful with words like “no,” “never,” and “but.” One of my tricks is to treat the person talking to me like a respected family member. I want them to be persuaded to my point of view, but I don't want them to think I'm condescending or educating them like a child.

6. Sometimes you won't agree on a subject and that's okay.
If you handle it well and are respectful, they will most likely not remember what you said but how you said it. They will see you as someone they can talk to if they have more questions, and that's the trust we all are trying to build.

7. You will need to practice.
It takes some time, but you'll get better at answering questions and building trust with consumers. If you would like to practice these techniques, please reach out to your local checkoff for communications training to help you get better at handling tough questions. You can find their contact information at dairy.org.

What are your favorite techniques for correcting misinformation online? I would love to hear them. You can leave them in the comments below or reach out to me at don.schindler@dairy.org. If you would like to know more about what your national and local checkoffs are doing to build trust with consumers, please join our Dairy Checkoff Facebook group.

Don Schindler

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