FAQ on the Twitter Convos #AgChat & #FoodChat

What are #AgChat & #FoodChat?

#AgChat is a weekly moderated conversation on Twitter for people in the business of raising food, feed, fuel, fiber. It is a virtual venue for participants on Twitter to share viewpoints and ideas about the issues impacting agriculture, such as sustainability, water, communications, agronomy, animal welfare, USDA programs, mainstream media coverage and public perceptions of farming. The goal is to create an ongoing, open dialogue among the various players interested in agriculture.

A sister chat, known as “#FoodChat,” takes place on the third Tuesday of each month, in lieu of #AgChat, and is tailored more specifically to the interests of consumers, nutrition professionals, foodies and influencers of food choices. #FoodChat gives its followers an opportunity to “meet a farmer” and also helps those in agriculture learn from consumers.

How do these chats work?

#AgChat and #FoodChat are a part of Twitter, a free social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read short messages known as “tweets.” Tweets are 140-character posts sent by each Twitter user to the author’s subscribers, or followers. #AgChat boasts is the largest online Twitter community dedicated to creating conversation around agricultural issues. The chat has captured the attention of mainstream media and many agriculturists using social media. More than 2,000 people from 7 countries and 4 continents have participated in #AgChat.

Each Tuesday, members of the #AgChat community are invited to convene online from 8-10 p.m. Eastern for a “streaming” Twitter feed. Chats begin with 15 minutes of networking (please introduce yourself and your interest in agriculture as well as your name, brief job description), followed by questions the community sends to the moderator in advance on the topic of the week. The chat is fast-paced, insightful and, often, colorful. The final 5 minutes is reserved for “pitching.” Participants can plug their blog, site, product or ask for feedback on a business-related idea.

How did #AgChat and #FoodChat get started?

Michele Payn-Knoper, principal of Cause Matters Corp., Lebanon, Ind., founded #AgChat and #FoodChat in April 2009 as a part of her work to build stronger connections between the farm gate and consumer plate. Fast growth and pundit participation led Payn-Knoper to involve a wide variety of volunteers to support the community, many of which have become directors of the AgChat Foundation

How do I get started?

Go to http://www.tweetchat.com and enter in #agchat or #foodchat as the ‘room.’ More advanced or regular attendees should join http://twubs.com/agchat and use that to tweet from during the chat. Both will automatically enter in the hashtag (#) for you. More importantly, it allows you to see the very fast-paced conversation happening in real time.

Who’s invited?

Anyone with an interest in the business of growing food, fuel, feed and fiber that is on Twitter. Followers include farmers, ranchers, moms, agronomists, agribusinesses, community garden supporters, equipment companies and anyone with an interest in farm and food. We welcome all viewpoints, encourage diversity in the community and value transparency.

We simply ask that you act in a professional manner by following the course of conversation without grandstanding or antagonizing. We will request you to introduce yourself in order to participate in the conversation or post replies. For example, “Hi #AgChat, I’m Jane Doe in San Diego and love to eat food, so want to learn more about #farms.” If you haven’t seen someone’s intro, don’t be afraid to ask them for it. We do suggest you only respond to people who are following the guidelines.

What’s the most important thing to do as a participant?

Be yourself, participate transparently and respect others. It’s a professional conversation. Just as you wouldn’t come into a meeting or a party shouting (or at least we hope you wouldn’t), these chats work best by those engaging in dialogue. That doesn’t mean we expect everyone to agree, but simply engage in productive conversation.

Why the moderator?

The moderator’s role is to creative a productive conversation, much as a professional facilitator guides a meeting to a specific point. The moderator uses @agchat or @foodchat to post guidelines at the beginning of the chat, announce the topic, pose the questions and sometimes asks for clarification. Both the topic and the questions are submitted by the community. The founder, Michele Payn-Knoper, moderates most of the chats (and is a trained facilitator), but guest moderators are usually on at least once/month. Moderating is not about ego; it is about organizing a productive chat that creates new ideas, shares best practices, promotes collaboration and highlights opportunities. Moderators are selected by the AgChat Foundation board of directors.

How should I participate?

Here are a few tips:

  • Introduce yourself, your connection to ag, affiliation, etc, even if you come in late.
  • Always use the #agchat or #foodchat tag.
  • Stay on topic or ‘respect the chat’ as some like to say.
  • Watch for questions to be posed from @agchat or @foodchat (moderator will typically announce question is closing & next question is on the way).
  • Use the question number (ie: Q1, Q2…) in advance of your response so that the people trying to following the conversation later can identify what you’re responding to.

Aside from those tips, your best bet is to follow the rules of conversation. Engage, listen and talk (tweet, in this case). If you really like what someone else says, RT their info so your community can see it. If you need clarification, ask for it, as long as a ‘side conversation’ isn’t distracting to others using the tag.

I don’t know what to say (tweet).

State your opinion, share a resource or simply say you don’t know, but would like to learn. Just as you wouldn’t toss your coffee and scream at another person in a coffee shop (we hope), we’re not asking you to agree with everyone in the chat. As long as you respond to the questions in a professional manner and stay on topic with your tweets, you’ll be in good shape.

Please don’t be frustrated if you’re not immediately acknowledged; the pace of the conversation is so fast that it’s easy to have introductions overlooked. Just keep chatting & others will engage with you. We’re a friendly group, but are sometimes on such a mission to keep up that we miss tweets! We do ask that you hold off on promoting your work, suggesting your own site or asking for specific feedback until pitch time, which happens at 9:55 p.m.

Help! I have more questions.

Contact any of the people on the AgChat Foundation Board of Directors.