Quite a few of you have already started to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with family, friends and colleagues. I know because some of you are my Facebook “friends.”

For others, social media is new territory. I hope that after reading this article, you will consider using social networking to enhance your ability to work in the agricultural industry. You might be surprised to learn what great resources await you in what’s referred to as Web 2.0.

Until recently, there has been some resistance to using social networking tools. They were viewed as time-wasters, silly or a way for teenagers to post useless information such as, “I’m having a coffee at Starbucks.”

Within the past year, the utility of these networks has improved substantially for working professionals, particularly in the realm of agriculture. USDA, professional associations, agricultural lobbying groups and agricultural media outlets have all developed social networking platforms.

Furthermore, the potential to use these networks to inform the urban population about problems facing agriculture has also grown. In my exposure to these resources, I have found two primary benefits: quick access to information and enhanced communication with colleagues around the world.

My introduction to social networking began when I attended the first national eXtension.org conference in St. Louis, Mo., in October 2009. I decided to attend the meeting because we had been awarded a grant to develop a Web site, www.eXtension.org/blueberries.

I went to this conference with the notion that it would be interesting. I might learn a few things, but I believed I was far too busy to incorporate anything new into my already-crowded work schedule.

I was overwhelmed by what I learned at the conference. I moved in a daze from session to session absorbing everything I could about Twitter, Facebook, SlideShare, Flickr, Delicious, blogging, Google docs and a host of other resources (scroll down for definitions). Many of the sessions were streamed real-time and watched by viewers from around the world. Evenings were spent discussing new ideas with colleagues from across the United States. I spent the majority of the conference trying to decide how I could use these new tools to enhance my Extension program.

I decided to start using what I learned while in the airport on my way home. I booted up my laptop and was on the Internet in a snap. With the help of a colleague, I set up a Facebook account and a blog in less than 30 minutes.

I decided there was no risk in just testing the waters to see if these resources would be effective for delivering information. The primary goal of the Cooperative Extension Service is to deliver the land-grant university to the people — quite literally to extendinformation developed at the university into every home in America. Traditionally, we have extended information via print newsletters, winter meetings, summer field meetings, at conferences, through phone calls, text messages, and recently through e-mail and Web sites.

Facebook, Twitter and more

Now, we have access to even more online resources including Facebook, Twitter and blogging — to name just a few. These online tools give us the chance to interact with our audience virtually. In these interactive social networks, you can post information, chat and message family, friends and colleagues 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I firmly believe that we need to maintain the personal touch in delivery of Extension programming, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that social networking resources can enhance and extend the reach of our information.

Following my first timid steps into the world of Facebook and blogging, I have now moved full-bore into using social networking as a primary component of my delivery program. I have found ways to save time by linking accounts together. The Louisiana rice insects blog posts are automatically connected to my Facebook and Twitter so that when I hit publish they are posted on my Facebook profile and Twitter feed. This distributes the blog information to all my followers and friends.

The audience includes family, friends, farmers, consultants and colleagues from around the world. This leads to discussions about observations with colleagues. The most surprising result of this information delivery approach is that I have created an interest in agricultural crop production among acquaintances that are urban dwellers and not associated with agriculture. The value of this educational component is impossible to measure, but without a doubt is positive for agricultural industries.

Paul Coreil, vice chancellor at the LSU AgCenter, recently formed the LSU AgCenter Social Networking Advisory Committee. You can expect to see many more opportunities to engage with LSU AgCenter faculty and staff via social networking resources. I encourage you to explore these tools and determine if they can enhance your career.

Personally, my biggest hesitation was in creating an account in Twitter. I had thought of Twitter as justa way for people to track movie stars and singers, and believed I didn’t have time for that nonsense.

I was surprised to find that you can follow the USDA, NIFA, the White House, EPA, USA Rice and many other agricultural-related entities. It’s a quick, easy way to stay connected to news and changes in our global economy.

I’ll talk more about social networking and online resources at a number of professional conferences this winter. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions as you take your first steps into the social network.

(Follow Hummel on Twitter @NatHummel, on Facebook or at www.louisianariceinsects.wordpress.com.)

Glossary

Definitions of terms (modified from en.Wikipedia.org):

Facebook: a social networking tool that has more than 500 million active users. www.facebook.com

Friends: within Facebook these are people you are connected with that can view your account.

Status update: posting in Facebook that delivers information to your friends.

Twitter: a website that offers social networking and microblogging services, which enables users to send and read other messages called tweets. www.twitter.com

Tweets: text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on Twitter user’s profile page.

Delicious: a social web service for storing, sharing and discovering Web bookmarks. www.delicious.com

Flickr: an image and video hosting website and online community where you can easily share pictures and video files. www.fliker.com

SlideShare: an online slide hosting service where users can upload PowerPoint or pdf presentations. www.slideshare.net

Google docs: a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form and data storage service offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. www.google.com

Blog: a type of website or part of a website. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Blogcan also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.