15 Feb Hannah Thompson-Weeman: the voice of animal agriculture
Not only is there a large disconnect from the average American to animal agriculture, there is actually a perceptible growing negative sentiment towards animal agriculture. Most people don’t have much interaction with food outside of ordering it at a restaurant or removing it from a grocery store shelf. This growing distance in generations between conventional animal agriculture and the average consumer continues to broaden.
Even though farmers and ranchers can be frustrated over the unawareness of the average consumer, the consumer is not to blame. The problem is a very small but loud percentage of the population that doesn’t believe that animal agriculture should be done, that there is no way to responsibly raise animals for production, and that no amount of animal welfare policy could ever be enough, use fear-mongering and the spread of misinformation to widen that gap even more.
Hannah Thompson-Weeman is the Vice President of Strategic Engagement for the Animal Agriculture Alliance (Alliance). A non-profit created to bridge the communication between the farm and fork, she works with influencers like the media, dietitians, restaurants, and retail groups to answer questions about animal agriculture. With an undergraduate degree and a masters both in agricultural communications, Hannah is no stranger to the communication strategies and tactics necessary to help the Alliance’s members communicate effectively on animal agriculture.
Influencing the Influencer
The purpose of the Alliance is to influence the influencers. By not focusing on the difficult and often expensive audience of the end consumer, Hannah finds the people, companies, and organizations that are the gatekeepers of information about food and agriculture.
Working relationships with trade and industry publications, as well as mainstream media outlets that are covering the topics the Alliance is working on.
Many consumers are reaching out to dietitians to ask not only is the food good for them, how it was produced and is it good for the environment. All facts for the average American consumer.
- Social Media Influencers
- Retail Brands
“We try not to spread ourselves too thin,” says Hannah about the Alliance’s small team of five. “We spend our time with the groups that are turning around and influencing bigger [spheres].”
Communication to Influencers
“We aren’t here to tell you to eat more meat or encourage consumption of one protein or animal by-product over the other,” says Hannah. “You can make your own food choices and those can be made on your own values and budget.”
What Hannah’s team wants to ensure is that the facts made by those with influence is based on facts, not fear and misinformation. It’s oftentimes forgotten that the term vegan is not synonymous with activist, and that even those who personally choose not to eat animal by-products don’t have to be against animal agriculture.
Handling the Hard Conversations
Hannah believes in radical transparency and that, if animal agriculture practices are scientifically sound, veterinarian-supported, and necessary for animal care and food safety, then we should all be comfortable talking about them. We must identify the areas of concerns that make people ask questions that we are hesitant to talk about. If we can’t explain that, then we need to take a hard look and think about why we do that in that way. If we can’t stand in front of an audience and talk about it, then maybe we need to change it.
Engagement versus Defense
It’s better to come from a place of engagement versus a place of defense. When you comment, react or share a negative post about animal agriculture you are simply playing into the hands of those that want animal agriculture gone and pushing their post in the social media algorithm. This applies even if you share the post with your own commentary.
Hannah’s advice is to write your own response or post a screenshot if you have too but all of those scenarios is a sign of defense. Engaging in the controversy of the message with radical transparency by sharing your opinion, what you do on your farm or what you have seen on other farms that raise that kind of animal is a positive way that you can engage in the conversation.
Social Media and Troll Tips
- Determine if it’s a genuine question.
Is this going to result in an argument or are they genuinely asking a question?
- Posted written comment policy.
Post a policy about positivity and zero tolerance of negativity, threats, lies or repeated comments. If someone violates that written policy, delete and/or block when necessary. Feel empowered to manage your own online space.
- Respond no more than twice.
The in-house rule for the Alliance is to respond twice. If a conversation wants to be longer than that, try to move it into a private forum.
- Stay calm and level-headed.
Don’t make a situation bigger than what it is by getting fired up. Sometimes we can unintentionally draw attention to items that aren’t a big deal because it has struck something personal within us. Don’t engage with the negativity.
Hannah says that her position at the Animal Ag Alliance has been both a challenge and a unique role. While it does come with its challenges on protecting the agricultural industry against activism, she finds that support of a strong team can give you the confidence and empowerment necessary to find success in a grueling and high-pressured position.
“My biggest piece of advice, if you want to get into a role that seems too big for you, is to grow and take risks,” says Hannah.
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