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Using Social Media for Crowd-Sourced Citrus Production and Research

Originally published online in January 2013, updated August 2013

Social media websites are changing the world. Facebook, a popular social site, has over 1 billion active users each month. Six-hundred million of its users connect using a mobile device. One out of three people in the United States checks into Facebook every day. In the US,  Facebook has over 170 million users and it penetrates in one way or another to about 73% of the nation’s online population. Social media is a great way to connect with the public. It’s  where you need to be nowadays if you are marketing a product or communicating a message. As a simple example, loyal buyers of citrus products might sign up to “like” a Facebook citrus page, which in turn might send them coupons for products at the grocery store. In marketing and communication, social media websites help you engage your audience in a two-way conversation. This way, they learn more about you and appreciate more what you have to offer them. Citrus industry organizations are becoming more comfortable with these ideas, but there is nevertheless a lot more that could be done.

Perhaps you don’t see a need to get involved with social media at this time. There needs to be both a reason for and an incentive to use these systems. But what if doing so could help the citrus industry more effectively deal with, and perhaps solve, some of the issues related to production and devastating diseases? Wouldn’t that be reason enough to at least learn a little more about what is possible with these technologies? To answer that, we have to go beyond the obvious. The rest of this article advances some new ideas on solving problems such as greening using social media. Hopefully, there’ll be greater discussion and participation in these areas as we move forward into a new era of citrus production and research.

Social Media Best Management Practices

While it’s hard to say if there’s a right way or wrong way to go about it, there are some “best management practices” you should follow if you want to use social media. These practices include knowing how best to use technology to engage your audience, how to submit your information to search engines, selecting the best keywords for your message and so on. There’s quite a bit more to it than just posting your information online and hoping for the best. You need to know how to interact with other technologies provided on the Internet for your information to have the greatest value.

Maintaining an active blog is a also an important tool for online communications. The key point here is “active”–you need to keep a blog up to date. Blogs are currently not used very effectively in citrus, so there are opportunities for imaginative blogging that could help the public understand more about the industry. This could help growers and scientists when they look to the public for research funds and to manage disease outbreaks. In a way, periodic research reports published online could be considered a type of blogging. Once you think of research communication with this paradigm, new opportunities for communication and technology development open up. It’s important also not to undervalue reader comments that appear on blogs. Some of the most innovative and effective communication programs in the recent past involved actively engaging an audience through the comments section of blog pages. As an example, take a look at the bottom of this post. There’s a space for you to leave a comment about what you’ve read here. If several people leave comments, we have a conversation. If we have enough participants in the conversation, who knows? We might come up with a truly innovative new idea that can help many growers. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if your message is truly important, you need to work with a professional who knows social media systems so that your efforts are effective.

Social Media–Public and Private

Let’s dive a little deeper into what makes up social media systems. Different social sites serve different needs. Facebook and Twitter, for example, are  informal and often involve friends posting brief personal updates. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is primarily a system that connects people for professional networking. Blogs are another example of social media, which allow publishers to create longer messages than are possible on sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. One common feature between most social media sites is that the information posted is generally intended to reach a lot of people. It is also designed to facilitate multi-way communications between authors and readers. This is great if your goal is to socialize with a lot of friends, market a brand, or get an important message out to the public.

Social media’s popularity makes you wonder how these types of technologies can be used not only in marketing, but also more effectively in citrus production and scientific research. To explore this idea further, social media sites can be considered “public” or “private”. The well-known sites above are public in the sense that most anyone can easily sign up and start using services almost immediately. In contrast, private social networks can provide a way to improve efficient communications between people within a single organization or group of cooperators. Only those specifically granted access to that private network can see the information and interact with other users there.

Social Media and Citrus Freezes

Depending on the services and security needed, private social networks can be valuable in citrus operations. This is achieved by connecting everyone to the same stream of communication, which is often called an “activity stream” (Fig. 1). Briefly, an activity stream is a reverse chronological listing of brief status updates from network participants. Your colleagues might opt to receive your updates through push services, or they may prefer to log in to their account and get all their updates at once. Status updates are usually short, but can be longer depending on the message and the application. Usually, you have options to post a brief reply to a status update. An example of a status update in citrus on a freeze night might be, “It’s 32 degrees at the edge of the grove.” A reply might be, “Thanks, we got the irrigation over there turned on now.” You could communicate this information with a phone call or email, but the advantage of the social platform is that it is faster and you can more easily communicate with all your team members at once. Self-starters within your organization could then know that certain actions are required without having to be personally contacted. Interactions like this between colleagues can improve operational efficiency. Applications like this in a citrus operation are limited only by your imagination and the ability of your colleagues to adopt a new technology.

 

Podio Desktop

Fig. 1. Screen grab of the desktop interface for Podio. This example shows an activity stream for a hypothetical citrus operation. The activity stream appears in the middle column and different workspaces are shown in the left panel. The right panel show some of the custom apps created for recording different types of business information.

 

Podio (podio.com) is but one of many platforms available for groups wanting to create their own private social networks for data aggregation. Podio gets everyone on your team on the same page by connecting them all to the same activity stream. In this sense, Podio is like a private Facebook that is only visible to the people in your organization or defined group. However, what sets Podio apart from Facebook is that it can easily be scaled for project management, task assignment, team collaboration, meeting management, data collection, timesheet tracking, and more (Fig. 1). In other words, Podio is a private social network that can operate according to your business rules.

Social Media in Citrus Production and Scientific Research

One example of using Podio is to help with harvesting optimization (Fig. 2). A recent issue facing the industry was the extensive fruit drop that occurred in many parts of the state. Fruit drop metrics are helpful in determining how to dispatch harvesting crews. A field surveyor, for example, could rate the fruit drop in different groves using their Podio iPhone app, then attach a cell phone image to each observation and post it to their Harvesting activity stream. The harvesting dispatcher back at the main office can immediately see this information on their desktop and can direct operations accordingly. Another example expands on a technology I first introduced to the citrus industry back in 1998. We collected and aggregated rust mite management data from growers using the Palm Pilot PDA and used a cloud application we developed to analyze that information in real time. Similar platforms such as Podio can be immensely helpful for aggregating data across many growers to uncover trends about tree responses to fruit drop, insects, diseases and horticultural management programs. New variety responses to horticultural practices would be a perfect application for this type of technology. I call this kind of group participation in production and research “crowd-sourced” because the data originate in the field and is sourced to the cloud by growers. It’s an even more appropriate term when you consider that now, more than ever before, our ability to produce depends largely on sharing information and communicating to other growers about our observations and experiences.

Podio Phone

Fig. 2. Screen grab of the iPhone interface for Podio. This example shows a series of fruit drop ratings performed so harvesting operations can be efficiently scheduled.

 

The Podio platform operates seamlessly across your desktop, mobile phone and tablet. Allowing for differences in screen size, Podio looks and works much the same way on each device. Your activity stream is a central part of the display, and the various projects you have set up can be found by navigating the display as dictated by your device.

In the next article in this series, we’ll go into a little more depth on exactly how a social media citrus research platform could work. But the above examples should give you some ideas of the potential for these systems. But despite their obvious advantages, social media, and private social networks in particular, might not be for everyone. You have to dedicate some time to setting a system up before it is deployed to your team. If you use an off-the-shelf cloud platform, the setup and testing process can take a day or so. Add another day or two for team training. In some cases, a more custom system may be needed. But, like any computer system, familiarization is the key. Once you get to know your system and come up with your own ways of using your private social network, you might not want to go back to the old way of doing things.

Author disclaimer  The information in this article is provided “as is”. The author and publisher of this article disclaim any loss or liability, either directly or indirectly as a consequence of applying the information presented herein, or in regard to the use and application of said information for any purpose whatsoever. No guarantee is given, either expressed or implied, in regard to the merchantability, accuracy, or acceptability of the information.

 

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