Thirty-six thousand and counting. That’s how many views Nick McMichen’s 9-minute, 5-second cotton picking video reached within 24 hours of posting on Periscope one Monday morning.
Cherokee County’s McMichen and farmers nationwide are tapping into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and other social media channels as agricultural advocacy avenues. At 45, he is quickly becoming an international sensation by debunking agricultural myths and transparently showing farm life.
“If we don’t speak for ourselves and tell our story, no one else will,” said McMichen, who tweets, posts and shoots videos about life on his row-crop farm. “Social media outlets are powerful tools we can use to spread our message.”
Periscope might be the most effective media at McMichen’s fingertips. An interactive smartphone application where farmers — or general users — videos of activities like cotton harvest, Periscope allows farmers to answer viewers’ questions in real time.
Viewers from as far away as Hong Kong, South Africa and Eastern Europe tune in to McMichen’s feed and usually know little about modern agriculture — or agriculture in general.
“Many people that view my videos have never seen cotton before,” said McMichen, a State Wheat & Feed Grains Committee member. “When they see our farm, they can ask questions. We’re getting our message to a target audience we’ve never before been able to reach.”
McMichen’s teenage children introduced him to social media, but the self-proclaimed tech junkie soon discovered its advocacy value and the importance of content and timing his posts.
“At certain times of day, you get more hits than you ordinarily would,” said McMichen, who uses analytics applications to scout the best times to post.
After attending a social media workshop at American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting, Joel Sirmon picked up his smartphone and told his wife, Patti, they needed to get to work.
“Farming isn’t big in America like it used to be,” said the 59-year-old. “I want to tell people that farming is what made — and still fuels — this country.”
Like McMichen, Sirmon seeks to dispel myths and misconceptions about agriculture.
“Consumers might think potatoes just come from the store or peanuts grow above ground,” said Sirmon, who uses Facebook Live to share videos of farm life.
He also learned to distill agricultural information and terminology into forms the public understands.
“These are ordinary words for us, but some people don’t know what they mean,” Sirmon said.
The Baldwin County farmer said his goal is to show the farming process from planting to harvest on social media. That way, consumers get the whole picture of farming sweet potatoes, cotton and more.
Although he posts less frequently than McMichen’s almost-daily posts, Joel and Patti Sirmon often write captions together to fully explain video footage.
Sirmon said he generally films from a tractor cab so followers see modern technology, like autosteer or hard-working H2A seasonal agricultural laborers gathering freshly turned potatoes.
“Video helps broadcast what we, as farmers, go through,” he said.
Limestone County’s Brady Peek, 23, has used social media longer than McMichen and Sirmon, but that’s expected of a millennial. Peek began using Facebook as a high school junior and said he sometimes feels he doesn’t share enough of his experiences – good and bad – on the farm.
“I feel like there’s a fine line between posting too much and not enough,” said Peek, who posts pictures of his row crop farm every few days.
While the general consensus is younger generations are better at social media, McMichen attended a National Cotton Council meeting earlier this year and was more technologically active than some attendees in their 20s.
“Social media has nothing to do with age,” said McMichen, whose 88-year-old grandmother uses Facebook.
Peek gravitates toward Instagram and Snapchat because, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“The picture describes what I’m doing on the farm better than words ever could,” he said.
While Peek said he realizes the importance of sharing agriculture’s story with the public, time – or lack thereof – often interferes.
“Sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time to use social media,” Peek said. “But with Instagram and Snapchat, you post or send a picture and don’t have to say too much.”
Peek said he usually doesn’t have issues with Instagram followers or Facebook friends criticizing agriculture, but rare attacks on GMOs are spurred with some Instagram hashtags.
McMichen sometimes encounters inappropriate questions on Periscope and advises social media newcomers to carefully sift through and respond to questions.
“Make sure you know your facts, and answer all the questions you can,” McMichen said. “Once you learn how to use it, you feel more prepared.”