he North Dakota Department of Agriculture is hopping on the social media bandwagon in an effort to get the word out about the many people and products that make North Dakota so unique.
The ag department's latest effort is "North Dakota Now," a podcast that features news, information on the latest developments in the ag department, and a profile on Pride of Dakota member companies.
A podcast is an audio show that is listened to on the Internet or downloaded and then listened to on an audio player like an iPod.
"North Dakota Now" airs every Wednesday at 11 a.m. on URL Radio, a locally-owned Internet radio station in the Bismarck/Mandan area. The station's Web site is (theurlradio.com). An archive of all "North Dakota Now" podcasts can be found at (northdakotanow.podbean.com). There is also a link on the ag department's Web site at (www.agdepartment.com).
Sara Kelsch, marketing specialist for the ag department, said the podcast will be a good way to give listeners information about the ag department as well as Pride of Dakota member companies. The first show aired Dec. 8.
"We're fairly new but we're excited for the opportunity to be able to use these podcasts to educate people about some programs in the department and also for our Pride of Dakota members to use the podcast to help them market their companies as well," Kelsch said.
Kelsch said the idea of starting a podcast came from a number of different sources. They had been hearing a lot of buzz about URL Radio, which Kelsch said is only a couple of years old, and they are also in the middle of developing a new ag department Web site and wanted some new content for it.
"This is kind of a joint venture and we thought, well this might be a fun new thing to try to increase communication and marketing of our companies and educate the public about what our department does in general, too," Kelsch said.
"I think a lot of people don't know exactly what the ag department all does. It's a way to inform them about the different areas we work on," she added. "The department is very diverse in that we have regulatory, we have marketing, we do some stuff with noxious weeds, livestock, and then of course Pride of Dakota. So we wanted to mainly educate and help promote our Pride of Dakota companies."
While farmers and ranchers in particular might be interested to hear more about the ag department, Kelsch said "North Dakota Now" isn't just aimed at them. She hopes people not in the agriculture industry can also find the segments fun and informative, and would like listeners from all walks of life tuning in every week.
Doug Goehring, agriculture commissioner, agrees that reaching out to the general public is an important part of the podcast.
"Well much like most of the other social networking tools out there, we're just trying to reach a different audience, and we're trying to engage our Pride of Dakota members," Goehring said. "And it's also an opportunity to do some sharing and forming, promoting of agriculture."
He said the news segments aren't meant to break new news, but rather go over stories from the past few weeks, elaborate on them and share them with a different audience.
The show had been in the works for months before it finally debuted, with Kelsch admitting things moved at the speed of government at first. With several episodes under their belt now, "North Dakota Now" is moving along nicely on its weekly schedule.
Each show runs about 20 to 30 minutes in length, with Kelsch and Ted Quanrud, ag department spokesman, serving as hosts. So far the show has been sticking to a standard format that begins with some news, then upcoming events, followed by a featured area in the ag department, and ending with a Pride of Dakota member interview.
While that format has worked just fine so far, Kelsch said they will probably be adding other segments in the future that feature guests not directly related to the ag department.
"The topics and the guests we have on there are really unlimited. We're just kind of getting used to putting the show together and getting our feet wet, so to speak," she said. "We're really open to making it as diverse and interesting as we can."
Although there hasn't been time enough to get much in the way of public feedback yet, Kelsch said preliminary numbers from URL Radio indicate there were a couple thousand listeners to the first episode on Dec. 8, which she found very promising.
"We don't know what to compare that to, but we were pretty excited," Kelsch said.
Goehring said the comments he's heard have all been positive, and said the segments help give a voice to the ag department and allows the people working there to connect with the public and ag community in a more personal way.
While a flurry of meetings has kept Goehring busy, he managed to do an interview for the third episode about his recent trade trip to Cuba, and said he would like to do a regular segment every week to help keep people up to date with his role in the ag department.
"North Dakota Now" is just the newest implement in the ag department's social media toolbox. A Pride of Dakota Facebook site has been pretty successful, according to Kelsch, and has over 4,000 fans.
"We have very active fans, and do member feature stories and contests and have prizes and trivia and all sorts of fun stuff," Kelsch said. "We have very interactive and enthusiastic fans on the Pride of Dakota Facebook site."
A recent contest highlighted National Chocolate Day by asking fans to tell why they love chocolate, with the prize being a Pride of Dakota chocolate bar. The ag department uses fun little things like that to keep people engaged while also giving some exposure to various Pride of Dakota members.
"And recently (we) did start a Facebook site for the ag department as well, and that's more news and industry-based," Kelsch said.
Pride of Dakota and the ag department also have Twitter accounts, which are in turn linked back to the respective Facebook accounts. With a 140-character limit for each post, the Twitter service features a variety of quick news bites, many of which also appear on Facebook. While many people use both services, some prefer one over the other, which is why the ag department uses both to reach as many people as possible.
Those looking to get in on the fun can search for "prideofdakota" and "NDagriculture" on both Facebook and Twitter to find the respective accounts and follow them.
Kelsch said the fans they have on Facebook and Twitter are pretty varied, but tend to skew more towards women. There has also been a recent increase in younger fans. While Kelsch said that's a great development, they aren't specifically targeting a younger crowd. Rather, they are targeting anyone interested in Pride of Dakota products or North Dakota agriculture.
"We really feel like social media is for anyone who's interested in using it. That's kind of what we feel about Pride of Dakota products, too," Kelsch said. "It's never too early to realize there's good products made right here in the state."