June 19 2012 09:29 AM

Facebook and Twitter profile pictures allow friends, neighbors and strangers to judge us on paper. Does yours say that you're an animal welfare expert?

by Lucas Sjostrom, Associate Editor, Hoard's Dairyman

We're in a constant fight for face time with consumers against our animal rights foes. Animal rights activists are very good at messaging. Using donated resources to hire a professional staff, their war chests tower over that of animal agriculture. According to HumaneWatch.org, the Humane Society of the United States probably has about 450,000 active supporters and a budget of just under $122 million.

Their high-quality messaging doesn't stop at television advertisements and mailing campaigns. Think of the pictures you've seen of animal rights leaders. They fit in two main categories; posing with an animal in the picture and professional dress. Sometimes they are both.

Yesterday, I spoke to the Minnesota Agricultural Ambassadors Institute in Red Wing, Minn. About 40 young agriculturalists serving as various livestock and crop ambassadors are taking part in the three-day leadership-training event.

During part of my presentation, I played a game with the attendees using pictures. On the screen I put head shots of animal rights activists, animal welfare specialists and a few farmers. Then, without telling the attendees who was represented in the head shots, I asked them to make a judgment of the people in the pictures based on what they could see about their knowledge of animal welfare and food safety.

Based on the pictures, the animal rights activists received pretty high marks. The attendees commented that they "obviously cared about animals" and "worked on a farm." One of them was holding a dog and the other one was petting a sheep.

Our agricultural leaders looked professional, "political" (standing in front of a flag) and educated. Those aren't bad terms, but wouldn't you rather be associated with animals? The picture that received the best marks was a dairy farmer standing with a cow in his parlor. The student leaders commented that he looked like a hard worker, a farmer and a person who cares for animals all day.

When picking your next profile/timeline picture on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, think about the message you're sending across. Can people look at you and instantly give you credibility in the area of animal welfare? If not, it might be time for a status update.