There are no Walter Cronkites or Paul Harveys on the 2013 media scene to serve as our eyes and ears to the world. Today we have citizen-journalists: each with a smart phone and a Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest account, giving their personal observations to their family, friends and followers.
There are few places in the world where these citizen-journalists play a more important role than in South Korea, particularly with 20-somethings who eschew traditional media for personal observations.
Recently, five such social media journalists traveled to the United States as guests of USMEF-Korea to get a firsthand look at the American beef industry, from ranches to research and development facilities. The objective is to develop a fact-based view among young Koreans who have never seen the wide-open ranges where cattle graze in the U.S., or the real cowboys who tend them.
“The few stories that reach consumers through the Internet about livestock in the United States tend to focus on the sensational,” said USMEF-Korea Director Jihae Yang. “Our intent is to develop a core of people who speak with firsthand knowledge and share photos and stories that show the environment where U.S. beef is raised is very healthy and natural, and that the product is safe, wholesome and delicious.”
With financial support from the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) and the Beef Checkoff Program, USMEF-Korea solicited applications from Korean college students through USMEF’s American Meat Story page on Facebook. From 67 applications, USMEF selected five based on their proposed media plans.
The students participated in an ambitious schedule that included visits to two cattle ranches, the Agriculture Research Development & Education Center at Colorado State University, and USMEF’s Denver office for a briefing on the U.S. cattle production system, attributes of grain-fed American beef, and the role of USMEF.
The week-long experience, which included participation in a two-hour cattle drive and a variety of cuisines featuring U.S. beef, resulted in 85 real-time postings by the participants on Facebook, blogs and YouTube, including visual images and videos.
“These postings drew a high level of interest from the students’ peers,” said Yang. “They have thousands of Facebook friends who were closely watching the real-time, real-life stories. These were particularly credible because it was a friend and peer of theirs who saw, heard and experienced the things that were being posted on Facebook.”
“It was fun to meet the cowboys who take genuine effort to care for cattle in a huge ranch with great sunshine, and researchers who study to develop better and healthier feed for cattle,” said one of the student-journalists. “And last but not least, the chefs who make delicious food with beef.”
The visiting students were amazed by the broad expanse of the American countryside and the amount of space that cattle have to graze here in the United States – contrary to images conjured by the “factory farming” stories about American agriculture. They also were delighted to learn that cowboys are more than a movie creation.
“There are people who ride horses and whistle to lead cattle in the right direction and to avoid giving them stress,” said another student-journalist. “America is where they raise only 1,000 cattle on a huge piece of land. They take genuine care of the cattle.”
Yang noted that it was South Korean consumers in their early 20s who were among the most vocal groups at the candlelight vigil protesting U.S. beef in 2008. This group of young trendy opinion leaders is very active with social networking services (SNS), with an estimated 93 percent of them owning a smart phone. One Korean survey showed that 88 percent of this group trust the information they receive through SNS.
“College students are a key marketing target for major companies in Korea these days,” said Yang. “Not only do they provide fresh ideas and an opportunity to see the current situation from a new perspective, but they are the customers of the future. The comments from the participants in our program were very positive. The most important comment was ‘I want U.S. beef.’”
Through the first 10 months of 2013, South Korea is the No. 6 market for U.S. beef in volume (85,471 metric tons or 188.4 million pounds) and the No. 5 market in value at $479.5 million, an increase of 4 percent in value over 2012 on 16 percent lower volumes.
Following is a sampling of the social media postings that have resulted thus far from the Korean student-journalist team: