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Handling a Farm Crisis

The worst has happened. An activist released an undercover video of your farm. Or there was a major accident on your operation. What do you do? What should your online response be? 

To have the best response, you really need to answer those questions before you have a crisis. 

“Know all of your potential crisis situations,” advises Jamie Vander Molen, who helps producers build crisis responses during her work at Dairy Management Inc. “This could be injury or death from an accident, disease, fire, undercover videos, food safety recalls, or animal safety concerns.”

Before a crisis hits, Vander Molen recommends following these four steps.

  1. Get online. Have a social media presence and a website. “With these tools in place, you can quickly combat a crisis by putting out your own messages and responses online,” she says. 
  2. Have crisis messaging prepared for each of the possible situations you have identified. In putting this together, you should know the answers to the issues that are most likely to affect your farm. When you write this message, make sure you incorporate the appropriate tone and empathy for the situation. Then, make sure these messages are easily accessible to your team.
  3. Know your advocates. You should have a list of ag experts you can reach out to, including associations, checkoff programs, co-ops, etc. It will also help to add online advocates to that list and third-party experts, such as your local vet. “Know that you can go to @agchat or @agvocate online for help in a crisis,” says Vander Molen. 
  4. Practice. Walk through potential crisis situations with your employees. Identify gaps and work through how you will close them.

In the unfortunate event that one of the situations becomes a reality, you first need to ask yourself if you are in a crisis situation. “Stop and answer these four questions,” says Vander Molen.

  1. Does it impact the reputation of your farm or company?
  2. Does it negatively impact the bottom line?
  3. Does it have a high risk of going viral?
  4. Does it threaten consumer trust in the ag industry?

If you answered yes to any of the four, you most likely have a crisis on your hands. To handle the online portion of the crisis, Vander Molen has another four steps.

  1. Investigate. What information about the crisis is online? Who is talking about it? “Find out who the people are and what their interests are. Also, make sure they aren’t trolls,” she says.
  2. Ask questions. Make sure you understand what online visitors are concerned about before you answer or get defensive.
  3. Respond with empathy. “Respond in a way that shows you are taking it seriously and that you are concerned,” Vander Molen says. 
  4. Take it offline. With some conversations, it’s better to take them offline. If you do this, however, make sure you follow up with concerned parties via email or by phone.
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