Feb. 8 2021 11:00 AM

One goal of dairy promotion is to build relationships with consumers so that they feel comfortable asking questions when they arise.

Tara Vander Dussen, also known as the New Mexico Milkmaid, understands that people need to feel comfortable if they are going to ask a question of a dairy farmer. She's been building trust for more than five years and has some sound advice for those looking to directly connect with consumers. You can follow her via her blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and TikTok.

I asked Tara a few questions about her dairy promotion efforts, and her answers are as follows.

Why is it important to advocate for agriculture?
It is important because when people have questions about their food or about dairy farming, we want them to know they can reach out to us. In order for them to feel comfortable reaching out, we have to build a relationship with them. If we have built a relationship with our consumers, they are going to be less likely to believe the first false narrative they see online. Or, when something comes up that they have questions about, they know where to find us.

Last year, when an activists' video was released, I had several followers message me, letting me know they saw this video and asking me to explain what happened or if it was true. At that point, I was so thankful that they felt they could trust me enough to send me a message and valued what I had to say instead of just believing what they saw on the internet.

What advice would you give yourself if you were just starting out today?
If I were to start advocating today, I would do things a little differently. I would really consider the platforms I want to be on and that I like and jump all in. One of the hardest things to learn is that you can't be everywhere! There are so many platforms. They are each unique and different. And they all take time. So, don't spread yourself too thin.

At the same time, decide where you want to be and go for it! For me, I started with my blog in 2015. But I wasn't actively sharing on social media. I didn't start really sharing on Instagram until January 2018. I didn't create a Facebook business page until late into 2018, and I only recently got into sharing on Pinterest. Looking back, I feel like I missed several years and great opportunities to share the blogs I was already writing. I loved Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest already, and it made sense for me to be sharing my blogs on those three platforms. I wish from Day 1 that I would have shared actively on all those platforms.

On the other hand, I don't use or even really like YouTube. So, it doesn't make sense for me to be there. I know it's a great opportunity, but it isn't the right fit for me. Instead of spending my time and energy on a platform I don't like, I channel my energy into the platforms I enjoy using.

And obviously, things change. There are always new platforms, like TikTok, that will come in and changes things up, and you can re-evaluate as you need to.

What are you excited about when it comes to advocating?
There are so many amazing ways to share! You don't have to fit any particular mold. You can share in the way you want, on the platforms you are comfortable with, and still have an impact. And it doesn't all have to be on social media.

Some of the best experiences I have had advocating haven't been on social media. They have been in real life attending different events where I was able to share about dairy farming. My favorite thing about advocating is seeing how people react to conversations and their feedback, and ultimately, encouraging them to support dairy. With in-person interactions, you really get to see the impression you can make on people's outlook on dairy. It is truly an incredible experience.

This year more than ever, our food supply chain has been at the forefront of people's minds. In my opinion, this has led to some great opportunities for sharing, and our consumers are more engaged and ready to listen than ever before.

What is the hardest part of advocating?
There are a couple of hard things about advocating, but I want to start by saying that the pros far outweigh the cons! For me, sharing has become a part-time job. I love doing it and I am passionate about sharing, but it does take time. And what you put into it is what you will get out of it. So, it doesn't have to be a part-time job for everyone, but be prepared for it to take some time, especially getting the hang of it all.

It is also a good idea to have a thick skin. Not everyone is going to agree with how and what you share, and I am not just talking about activists. Different people have differences of opinion. You can't take it too personally when you don't make everyone happy.

And lastly, the hardest part for me is the weight of responsibility for representing our dairy community. I want to represent dairy in a way that makes all dairy farmers proud. I feel that weight every time I share, especially when it's on a big stage. I don't want to disappoint anyone. I want dairy farmers to hear my message and feel like I did a good job conveying all of our stories.

If you want to get started on social media, I recommend you reach out to your local dairy checkoff and see how they can help you get started using social media to connect directly with consumers.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit www.USDairy.com or send a request to join our Dairy Checkoff Facebook group.

Don Schindler

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