Let’s hear about the issue, then your opinion

Remember your parents telling you “If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it!”?

Well, thanks to social media, you or yours no longer need to seek permission to give an opinion. You don’t even need anyone to ask you for it. You can just give it freely, and you sure don’t need anyone to tell you to keep it to yourself.

You have the tools to give it, over and over again. But does that mean you should?

I think so. Freedom of speech is a basic tenant of democracy.

But first, think about your message, and make sure people understand the issue you’re talking about. If they don’t understand the issue, your opinion will have less meaning.

I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve prepared for a Farm Management Canada webinar this Wednesday, about blogging and advocacy.

To me, blogging is one of the pithier forms of social media. Writers can sink their teeth into a blog post.

As such, it’s a grand forum for those with informed opinions to get ahead of an issue or set the record straight about agriculture. And indeed, getting out in front of criticism is a proven public relations tactic.

But here’s the problem. Bloggers can be very passionate about their subjects, especially if they feel like their backs are up against the wall. The natural inclination is to stand tall in defense of the sector you love, or the cause, or the rock star, whatever you’re blogging about, and try to head off criticism at the pass. It’s understandable why they want to rush forward with opinions prior to setting the stage for them.

But breathe deep. With blogging, you get chance after chance (i.e. blog after blog) to make a point. You have all kinds of opportunities to address whatever topics come to mind. So take your time to address the important first step of stating the issue. Otherwise, you run the chance of alienating those who don’t get it, and reaching only those who are like minded and know what you’re talking about, without any background support.

Because if the goal of a blog is to invite dialogue and engage others, then the mission fails.

This issue-first approach is not restricted to discussions about blogs. A University of Guelph student enrolled in a science elective told me about a recent experience that involved reaching out to the agricultural sector on the telephone, to analyze meals that were grown through various farming methods.

The first call was to a processor, where her request for a conversation was laughed at. The second call, to a farmer, was met immediately with the question “what’s your opinion of conventional farming”? after which followed a tirade by the farmer against certain farming techniques.

Not much mention of issues here! It may point to some kind of saturation. Perhaps the ag sector feels inundated with such questions from people trying to understand the nuances of farming.

But the kinds of responses received by the Guelph student don’t advance people’s understanding of agriculture, nor do they build up consumer trust. I understand conventional agriculture is under attack on all sides. But unless those who are truly curious to learn about the sector have an opportunity to engage in some meaningful dialogue, the chasm will deepen.

There’s another role for blogs – maybe they’ll help promote understanding, and lessen the number of phone calls farmers are expected to take.

In any event, this is three-step process I’ll be discussing during Wednesday’s webinar: state the issue, then the development in the issue that’s sparking a conversation (or news story, blog post or whatever), then your opinion.

I believe that’s an effective way to communicate about complex issues and advance the dialogue about them.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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2 Comments

Charlene

I find the Socratic method works very well. Asking someone a question rather than going off on a tangent seems to work well to open a conversation. As many of my teachers said “mouths closed, ears open”.

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Owen Roberts

I agree — ANY approach beats going off on a tangent. I’m thinking about whether asking a question would work for blogging. A journalistic approach is to ask a question, then immediately answer it. However, that approach can get pretty tired, because every story could, in theory, start with a question.

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