By Dr. Jack Payne
When we at UF/IFAS launched into the social media age a number of years ago, I envisioned sharing information through online platforms as a supplement, a Plan B. In these past few strange months, it’s become absolutely essential as part of Plan A.
Because of social media and our already established ability to package our information online, COVID-19 didn’t knock us out. In fact, we’ve actually expanded programming in ways that’ll stay with us when we can take off the masks and stand face-to-face with each other. That’s cause to celebrate today’s World Social Media Day.
The pandemic has given us a glimpse of how we’ll communicate about agriculture and natural resources in the future. When the sudden collapse of food-service markets left producers with nowhere to send their crop, UF/IFAS helped the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association connect consumers directly with producers. Those organizations quickly compiled databases that gave people the ability to shop by geography and commodity to buy fresh from the farm instead of at the end of a long supply chain. Our online networks and outreach supported that effort tremendously.
Our social media efforts are not just Facebook posts and photos. Our Extension offices are holding workshops and educational sessions via Facebook Live – and increasing the number of people participating. Our faculty are teaching courses online, providing counseling and training on virtual meetings, hosting informational webinars on everything from research to COVID-19. Our schools are celebrating the achievements of their students virtually and have found ways to show their pride in accomplishments and efforts. We worked to unveil study results through a virtual press conference, and our experts take interviews over Zoom, Facebook Live, or other tools. Our Extension teams host regular webinars to update staff as well as county and state decision-makers on moving forward safely with science-based information. We are using every tool at our disposal. Our Master Gardeners, nutrition, and other programs are creating video series on YouTube.
In the end, this transformative experience will leave us with a deeper, more effective set of capabilities to continue the land-grant mission for the people of Florida.