2015 | by Scott Lyle – Director, Centre for Digital Innovation, Zoetis | Print Article

Communication of scientific research is vital in raising public awareness on critical societal challenges like food security. However… this is not an easy task as subject matter can be highly complex with a diverse target audience. In order to improve communication, there are a number of important questions to be answered:

Where and when do audiences go online? What do they want to know? Where do they look for information? How could we communicate information across the audience? Where do social media fit in?

Novel ‘social listening’ digital techniques allow us to crawl the internet to measure exactly where audiences of interest go and what they are talking about. This offers a better understanding of professional challenges, industry insights and trends. We can then use social and community channels to enable stakeholder interaction and allow effective communication.

In February 2014, PROHEALTH and Brewlife launched their own proof-of-concept social listening campaign that spanned 12months of swine industry conversation in the UK and Belgium. What did we find?

How many online conversations are there?


The size of the pig production industry in a country does not predict online usage - smaller more vocal countries may actually be more influential. Pig production is worth €1.7 million annually in Belgium, and €1.4 billion in the UK; however nearly 13 times more online conversations took place in the UK than in Belgium on pig production.

Who is talking about pig farming online?

Journalists are the primary group driving online conversation about pig farming in the UK (37%), whereas in Belgium the government agencies predominate (34%). Farmers contribute to just 9% of online conversation in the UK. Of these farmers, 54% use Twitter as their primary mode of communication.

What do they talk about?

The key topics at the heart of discussion are:

  • Disease transmission - fears about disease spread in the EU (e.g. African Swine Fever), emerging diseases, biosecurity and vaccination, import and export trade restrictions

  • Welfare - poor animal welfare standards in Europe drive support for ‘Buy British’, debate over castration practices, potential use of alternative methods (e.g. immuno-castration)

  • Product labelling - new labelling laws impacting upon production, procedures and trade

  • Responsible use of anti-infectives - concerns over human consumption risks and drug resistance that could affect animal production

Where do they communicate?


What now?

This initial pilot study is very promising. The key now is to use this novel sophisticated social listening mechanism to communicate the scientific results of PROHEALTH effectively to the diverse range of stakeholders in pig and poultry communities. Social media are rapidly expanding and provide the ideal place to make the latest scientific information readily accessible, stimulating development of vibrant social networks within farming.


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