Increasingly, consumers are accessing social media as a source for news and information. Age is less of a driving issue today as anyone from grandparents to college students to grade schoolers and all ages in between, is tapping into some form of social media to communicate, says Jolene Griffin, manager industry communications with Dairy Management Inc. Griffin who often talks to agricultural-based groups about social media.

Facebook and twitter are still the most popular social media venues, but other forms such as Reddit and Dig are gaining in ground.

But how do you use these different forms of social media to resonate with consumers? Griffin offers these five suggestions:

* Identify your real-life communities. Identifying online communities is as simple as thinking about your real life communities, Griffin says. Real life communities may develop from sporting events, activities with kids or hobbies like cooking and fishing. Online communities exist for just about any hobby or interest there is.

Think innovatively when identifying online communities. What are some organizations that you belong to that would be a natural fit to join online? Make a list of your non-work related interests and search for online components to these communities. “Your time spent online should be an extension of your connections and interests in real life,” she notes.

Folks in pork production often think they need to find pork or ag specific conversations to join. But it’s about sharing your pork-related experiences with a broader community, which can be as or more powerful than those pork specific conversations.

* Listen and observe. Once you’ve compiled a list of communities to join, listen and observe the conversations.

Monitor the activity. Maybe the local Boy Scout or Girl Scout troupe mentions in a Facebook post that they are looking for outdoor trip ideas.  “You could invite the troupe to your farm or offer to present healthy eating tips,” shares Griffin. Or bring a couple animals to them.

To build trust and foster relationships you do have to spend some time monitoring and observing the conversation, it’s all part of building credibility.

* Find an “in”. There might not be an immediate opportunity to share your message. The longer you monitor and observe, the easier it will be to find an “in.”

With USDA lowering pork’s internal cooking temperature to 145 F, it could be an avenue to talk more about pork, recipes and pork production with folks who like to cook.

If you follow a national shopping chain, such as Target, people might have questions about products that the store carries. If you answer questions posted to the store’s Facebook page it is a way to give pork production a positive plug.

The more you monitor and listen, you’ll know intuitively where the “in” is, explains Griffin.

* Craft your communication and responses. What we say is just as important as how we say it. We want to ensure the messages we’re putting forth are “showable,” searchable, “sayable” and shareable, says Michele Ruby, communication consultant with Ruby-Do.

Work to include photos and videos to convey your message. “It’s one thing to tell someone, but it’s another to show them a picture,” Griffin says. “When talking about planting corn this weekend because it’s finally dry, show pictures. Pictures help people feel like they were there.” It helps build the connection to real-world farming that the more of the public used to have.

Use appropriate tagging methods to ensure that messages are searchable. In Twitter you want to use hash tags, such as #farming or #dairy. Blog posts should be tagged with key words. Taking these extra steps will make sure that people can easily find your information.

Communication should be sayable; write like you would talk to the person. “You want your communication to be read as if you were conversing with the person verbally,” Ruby says. “Incorporate your own personal stories and use words that you use in every day conversation. Don’t just spit out canned facts.”

“Online posts and tweets are really conversations,” Griffin adds. “You want to make sure it sounds like your conversing in real life.” Avoid using industry jargon.

On Twitter, try to keep posts under the 140-character limit. That type of “tweet” will be more attractive to be retweeted (passed on to others), Griffin says.

When responding to tweet or someone, keep it simple. For example the Minnesota Twins recently tweeted: “What food is everyone most excited for this upcoming season? Walk-a-taco, turkey-to-go, Minnieapple pie or kosher dogs?”

If you had seen this tweet, you could have responded: “I’m looking forward to a pork barbecue. Nothing better than pork and #baseball.”

Your message shouldn’t be “I’m a pork producer and I think everyone should eat more pork,” Griffin adds. Look for fun, simple ways to talk about your products.

Another example might be if you’re a member of a cooking community. If someone is talking about summer picnics and is asking for suggestions of what to take, you could offer your favorite pork recipe.

* Manage relationships. Once you’ve become a member of an online community you need to manage your involvement. “You have a million things going on at the farm, you’re a parent and you have your own personal interests, and managing relationships shouldn’t be overwhelming,” Griffin says.

Remember to be proactive and not just reactive. Embracing social media should be a unique experience to you and your interests. The idea is to look identify communities that you’re interested in, and use the opportunity to bring food and agriculture into the conversation.