Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Only connect…..
The recent Foresight report on “Future Identities, changing identities in the UK: the next 10 years”, highlights the importance of technology and “hyper-connectivity”.  What does this really mean for rural businesses and the people who advise them?  Rural Business Adviser Simon Haley is from a generation that has embraced this technology, for both business and social life.  In his latest blog he shares some insights.

Is social media just the latest buzzword or can it really enable interprofessional working? asks Rural Business Adviser Simon Haley
Among the buzzwords at the inaugural workshop of the Landbridge Network was that phrase ‘social media’.  Most of those in the room had probably heard it before, but I would guess that few are actually using it daily in their business lives.   Social media used for business is quite different from using it to connect with friends.  But advances in technology have made communications much easier, and the borders between our personal and business lives are becoming blurred, with public profiles linking individuals to businesses.  That can mean reputations being enhanced or damaged for both.
Very simply, social media can be defined by its terminology. Being social is all about sharing and interaction, and the same conversations that happen face to face are now online, where others can listen in to those conversations and add their opinion. This means that I can make contact with other professionals across the country without having to visit them. And by making regular contacts of this kind, familiarity builds into a longer-term relationship.  This is a concept I was putting into practice throughout 2012.  But the way we use the internet and applications on mobile phones have moved to a new level, beyond simply providing information via a webpage. The world is now dominated by interaction and engagement. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are three of the most widely known social networking sites, but sites such as YouTube and eBay also come under this umbrella owing to their feedback and interaction mechanisms. 
So how do we use this explosion in social media effectively for interprofessional working? Well currently, I am involved in a project which aims to address this exact question. I run a two hour online discussion forum on Twitter every Thursday evening looking at issues within the rural industries. This platform, under the profile and hashtag #AgriChatUK, gives everyone involved in agriculture a place to share ideas, discuss pressing rural issues, debate hot topics and connect with other people in the industry.   There are open discussions, with over 4,100 followers, and a varied range of participants including farmers, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics, NFU officeholders and people who are simply interested in the countryside. I am convinced it opens up new connections within the industry.  To give just one example, a recent discussion on the role of the levy boards saw the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, DairyCo and BPEX join Twitter specifically to take part.  And the comments they received gave them a lot of useful feedback, including answers to questions they might not have considered asking.
If more professionals used social media in its most basic form simply to expand networks and connections, then I believe the right questions can be asked more quickly, and to better effect, and directed towards the right people within the industry.  But we need to look ahead too.  Social media must be developed and given its proper value. It is not something that businesses or professionals should undertake half-heartedly.  They could be using online networks to transcend traditional exchange barriers such as distance and time, and to establish valuable relationships. Social media will never, and should never, replace traditional means of linking up with colleagues, as these are still the most important and effective way of communicating, but they are a useful additional tool.  They provide another way to get messages and news out to the industry more quickly and with greater effect.
The use of these media enables people to express opinions, which are honest, reflective and happening in real time. Summaries of the discussion from forums such as AgriChatUK  help to raise awareness and will ultimately pay dividends along the value chain. Businesses need to have a presence on such media, but it is important to know which social networking platform is right for you and how to then use this to your advantage.  That could mean keeping yourself informed about new grants, or posting an instant reaction to the Autumn Statement, which other professional firms can then benefit from, rather than waiting another week for the email briefing to be sent. The more professionals that engage in using such a resource the more the industry can benefit as a whole.  So if you haven’t been using media such as Twitter, and the discussion forums, why not give them a try?  Clicking onto #AgriChatUK might be a good starting point.

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