In three years, Hayden Fox has amassed 1.9 million followers on TikTok by posting often hilarious farm-related videos.
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However, the 25-year-old fourth-generation farmer said he’s most proud of the agricultural collaboration opportunities his social media fame brought him.
“One of the best things I’ve found that came out of TikTok is getting to work with Ag in the Classroom, where we designed videos to show in the classroom,” said the cash-crop farmer.
Why it matters: Social media platforms can reach a broad audience, but the agriculture sector has yet to harness its full potential as an educational tool.
Fox said when he was younger, he hated farming. He aspired to become a lawyer because he didn’t understand the depth agriculture had to offer. He only remembers seeing his parents working in the field.
At his parents’ request, he attended the University of Guelph for food and agriculture training, and his passion for farming was ignited. He wanted to share that passion with younger students.
He worked with Agriculture in the Classroom Canada to produce five-minute videos highlighting technology-driven agricultural careers like drone pilot and programmer for self-driving tractors. Fox said they zeroed in on what mattered to students.
“I made all the videos look like a TikTok because we realized that’s what’s important to them and what they cared about,” he said. “That’s what they were going to listen to, and when we voiced it like that, there was more engagement.”
Three years ago, when Fox jumped onto TikTok, it was brand new and nobody fully understood its potential. It now has one billion monthly users in Canada and the United States.
TikTok can target a demographic, but it’s built for broader audience reach, more so than YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that target specific subsections of people, said Fox.
“Anybody in the world can see this content. It’s pushed out to people in the city … people in different countries (and who) live right next door to me.
“TikTok has so much power over other social media websites because it’s reaching people that didn’t even know they cared about (agriculture).”
Fox is mystified that his 15-second video about a woman who thought a bale of hay was straw went viral, but it provided him with a robust agvocacy platform.
Recently, a woman in downtown Vancouver recognized him and said his content led her to watch more agriculture videos and learn about baling hay, though she had never been on a farm.
“Me and Dairy Farmers of Canada actually ran the first ad ever on the TikTok platform,” said Fox. “(It) was seen all across Canada, which was really cool.”
“(Required)” indicates required fields
The ad reflected positive on-farm environmental impacts, like clover and bean crops that support pollinators and purify the air. It also informed consumers that one litre of Canadian-produced milk emits less than half the greenhouse gas emissions compared to the global average.
The DFC-Fox collaboration targeted 14-to 25-year-olds but garnered views by more than one million people and generated thousands of comments, including some expressing surprise at the level of environmental stewardship farmers employ.
“Everybody in this industry is looking for the next cool thing to do and engagement can be tough,” said Kelly Daynard, executive director of Farm and Food Care Ontario.
Her organization is dipping its toe with the ready-made TikTok content generated from Ask a Farmer kiosk question and answer videos.
“You’ve got to figure out what you’re going to use it for and how it differs, say, from your Instagram or your Facebook or Twitter,” said Daynard. “It’s about figuring out who your audiences are and what you want to do with it.”
The average TikTok user spends one hour a day on the app, but social media audience attention spans are short so material must have quick impact.
“We have to reach the consumer and the audience, but we can’t just cram it down their throats. You have to do it in a way that makes it fun and quirky at the same time,” said Fox. “So, it feels like together we’re creating something.”
The audience must be along for the ride in a TikTok story but the content shouldn’t be considered pushy, preachy or too market heavy, said Fox, noting most associations tell their stories rather than show them.
In addition, information must be factual because, despite warnings, not everything is true on the internet. It doesn’t take much for society to accept something as fact.
“Social media is so powerful, but sometimes you don’t realize how much power you have, and you make mistakes, and that’s how you get Buttergate,” he explained.
“When you’re in a position of having influence or power, what you’re saying has to be factual and … you have to stand behind it.”
You can find him on TikTok @Haydenjfox.