The Power of Being Social

California Rice benefits from the communications revolution

It all began with “Of Rice and Rain,” 207 words from Sacramento Valley rice grower Tom Butler on the impact of rainfall during the fall 2010 rice harvest. His was the first blog post on the California Rice website (CalRice.org). Little did we know that this initial foray into the large and mysterious pool known as social media would be a life changer for me and a game changer for our industry communications.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.38.17 PMSo often dismissed as a way to wile away a slow workday or where teenagers hold dominion over weighty topics like fast food, fashion and funny photos, we at California Rice have found that with the right approach it can be so much more.

Rice Grower Bloggers

Our first order of business involved gathering material. From Tom Butler’s first few posts, we added a greater number of rice grower bloggers. They wrote about everyday challenges and successes. The weather, harvest, wildlife programs and joyful family moments provided plenty of subject matter. Our portfolio grew with guest blogs, video blogs, photos and action clips of everything from field work, planting, harvest and rice milling to loading ships and chronicling the vast array of wildlife found in our fields.

Here’s what we have learned: social media takes time, perseverance, understanding your audience and knowing how to make information impactful. This is a daily commitment with lessons learned frequently. To date, we have posted more than 600 blogs, more than 700 video clips and thousands of photos. Today, our California Rice messages reach tens of thousands of people each week, from members of the Legislature and media to those who live and work in the communities of the Sacramento Valley where our crop flourishes. Across the board gains have been made in the reach of our website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Website activity has more than tripled since 2009, with 5.5 million hits recorded last year. Our farmer blogs are consistently the most popular page on the website.

Facebook has been good to us as well. Thanks to good organic growth and minimal advertising expenses, our audience has increased nearly fourfold in the last year. Additionally, we’ve seen effective pickup on Twitter. YouTube views are approaching 200,000.

Outside Feedback

The hard work has been worth it. Hardly a post goes by without positive feedback on the information presented. What happens on rice farms may seem routine to growers, but it is a source of fascination and appreciation by the general public. In the midst of difficult issues like the drought in California, having those outside of the rice farm valuing your industry is key. It’s a process that is ever changing and will never be completed. As time moves forward, we plan on providing more information from more participants and consistently growing in quality and creativity. Our society has determined that social media is here to stay. We are happy to be part of the discussion!

Jim Morris is Communications Manager with the California Rice Commission and can be reached at jmorris@calrice.org.