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March 8, 2023
By Brittaney MannU of A System Division of Agriculture
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.
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 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,”
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
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
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
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.