The Animal Agriculture Alliance recently kicked off its 12th annual Stakeholders Summit with a wide range of speakers, from online moms to the former Under-Secretary for USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.

While the speakers came from different backgrounds and had very different personalities, one theme resonated above all the rest. In the first presentation of the day, Joe Miller, General Counsel for Rose Acre Farms, stated about consumers: “they don’t need to know us, we need to know them.”

The theme of getting to know our true stakeholders, asking them what they want, and giving it to them is one that resonated during most presentations throughout the day.

Beyond the actual presentations, however, Summit became an excellent case study about just how much words matter. The presentations on May 1 were streamed live via the Internet. Individuals both “for” us and “against” us were able to see and hear each and every presentation.

Our speakers were aware of this, but I don’t think anyone—myself included—expected the live streaming video to get the number of views it did. Nor did I expect quotes from certain presentations to become fodder on Facebook and Twitter, at least not to the extent that they did.

It’s easy for me, as a communicator working for a national non-profit, to take the view that “all press is good press.” I’ve been called a “firecracker,” so when the activist groups began to “spam” our Twitter feed, taking quotes out of context and attacking our speakers, I was indifferent.

Well, truth be told, I was pleased. In my mind, if the activists help generate buzz about the very important issues being discussed, that means I can continue to talk about them and educate consumers and media in larger and larger forums.

That being said, I recognize not everyone shares this opinion. Specifically, my Midwestern heart was hurting for our Joe Miller as he was called out in the very public social media platform: Twitter.

To set the record straight, Mr. Miller was discussing farm protection, or as it is more commonly and “catchily” known: “ag gag.” Mr. Miller was discussing undercover videos and what they’re used for, the actual text of the legislative measures being discussed in various states, and the legal arguments for and against these measures.

As an attorney, Mr. Miller is perhaps better equipped to lead this discussion than anyone else. The problem came, however, when Mr. Miller was discussing constitutionally protected property rights (a subject, as a recent law graduate myself, that still makes me shudder).

Mr. Miller stated that, “no one has a right to know where their food comes from.” He immediately stated, for clarification purposes, that he was discussing property rights, in legal terms, but his quote was instantly taken out of context and misrepresented far and wide.

I often struggle with helping industry members understand that the media, and in particular, social media, are not the enemy. This struggle is exponentially increased, however, when quotes are taken out of context and blasted around social media.

People feel criticized and attacked, and naturally, that puts them on alert. However, this mentality is a dangerous one for the industry to continue to adopt. Nearly everyone in the ag industry recognizes that consumers want to know where their food is coming from, and often, the best forums for reaching a large number of consumers and answering their questions are newspapers, radio, or television.

Collectively, as an industry, we have to be willing to seize opportunities to comment on stories and correct misinformation, if they are offered. Just because we might be asked the “hard” questions doesn’t mean that those questions are wrong. More crucially, it doesn’t mean the media is against us.

I sincerely hope our Summit didn’t force Mr. Miller to take the Alliance off the Christmas card list, because his points were well reasoned, intelligent and deliberate. Moreover, the topic he discussed is crucially important.

One last thought: sometimes the beauty of social media is that it moves so fast that thirty minutes later, the gang is latched onto another topic.