UACES Facebook Ag communications researchers aim to enhance industry’s connection with consumers
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Ag communications researchers aim to enhance industry’s connection with consumers

March 8, 2023

By Brittaney Mann
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts

  • Limited research characterizes blogs about the protein industry
  • Research can aid ag communicators in strategically writing about the industry

(695 words)

PHOTO: Download photo of Jefferson Miller

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Understanding how food and agriculture blogs are used can help improve how industry communicators talk to consumers, said Jefferson Miller, professor of agricultural communications.

Jeff Miller07
PROTEIN BLOGGERS — Professor Jefferson Miller wants to help agriculture communicators improve their blogging skills. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller)

Miller, a researcher for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and professor for the agricultural education, communications and technology department, set out to describe blog posts about animal agriculture production.

“I think it’s important that we categorize and characterize the blog coverage of this topic so that other communicators can see how blogs are being used in the industry,” Miller said.

Miller said he chose to focus on animal agriculture production and the protein industry because limited research on blogs about that industry exists. The project aims to help food and agriculture industry communicators use blogs effectively.

“We want to help agricultural marketing communications professionals understand how to use blogs in a way that promotes the positive aspects of agriculture production,” Miller said.

Kylie Hackworth, a former graduate student at the University of Arkansas, worked with Miller on the research as part of her graduate thesis. She received her master’s degree in agricultural and extension education in 2019.

Jill Rucker, an associate professor, Casandra Cox, an instructor, and Karli Yarber, a senior graduate assistant, all in the department of agricultural education, communications and technology, joined Miller on the project.

 Perusing protein-related blogs

The researchers began by selecting blog posts to evaluate. Their goal was to find a variety of blogs targeted at the general public in which the bloggers wrote about animal production, animal-based protein or protein alternatives. Eventually, Miller and his team identified eight blogs representing three categories: professional blogs written by experts like dieticians; organizational blogs representing industry or activist groups; and personal blogs written by non-experts on a variety of topics.

Using a specialized coding system and NVivo 11 content analysis software, the researchers analyzed 37 blog posts selected from the eight blogs. They evaluated the posts’ prominent themes and categorized their tones as positive, negative or neutral.

The most prominent themes were the environment, consumption of protein, alternative protein sources and alternative dieting. Bloggers discussing the consumption of animal protein and its dietary benefits wrote positively about the industry, and bloggers discussing the environment and consuming animal protein tended to criticize the industry, Miller said. Blog posts about alternative protein sources and alternative dieting had a mixture of positive and negative tones about the protein industry.

“Each of these themes that we saw, the connection to positive or negative, wasn’t really a surprise — it would maybe be what you expect to see,” Miller said. "We were just able to describe the themes and tones empirically, through a credible research approach."

When bloggers discussed the environment, they often spoke about the risks of animal agriculture production on the environment, Miller said, and with the consumption of protein, bloggers discussed the benefits of consuming protein.

The role of many agriculture communicators is to promote the animal production industry, Miller said. Communicators can use this information to share relevant, science-based information with bloggers in the agricultural industry.

“That’s really what the bottom line is — trying to get ag communicators to be more strategic,” Miller said.

The research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, “Improving Consumer Understanding of Agriculture Through Blogging and Microblogging.” The research was published in the Journal of Agricultural Education in 2022.

Miller conducts research for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. His program focuses on the impact of social media and blogging about agriculture and food production on communications. He teaches agricultural communications courses through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

Miller also directs the University of Arkansas Agricultural Communications Experiential Learning Lab, coordinates a summer internship exchange in the United Kingdom and researches the best way to establish an agricultural communications academic discipline in the U.K.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.

Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.