I had the chance on Dec. 14 to chat with Michele Payn-Knoper, principal, Cause Matters Corp., Lebanon, Ind.

12:58 p.m. Tom Karst: Hi Michele. Thanks for taking time for a Fresh Talk chat today.

12:59 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: No problem, glad to help.

1:02 P.M. Tom: Well, I’ve come to know you, so to speak through the 140 character world of twitter. And people should know you’ve been nominated for quite an honor in regard to your work in social media. Before we get into that, how do you describe to people you haven’t met "what you do"?

Chat - Michele Payn-Knoper

1:05 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: My work as a professional speaker and social media strategist focuses on building connections between the farm gate and consumer plate. I founded Cause Matters Corp. eight  years ago to give a voice to the people who feed the world. My programs, online and in person, include agricultural advocacy and social media.
In a nutshell, my passion is serving the people in agriculture - all types - to help grow food literacy in our country.

1:06 p.m. Tom: Where did that passion develop for you - and when?

1:07 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: The day I was born on a farm. :) On a more serious note, I’ve had firsthand experience with seeing the impact of misinformation spread by anti-agriculture activists groups. I fell in love with speaking as a 4-H & FFA member.

1:08 p.m.  Tom: I’m sure your dad and mom appreciate that comment!

Michele Payn-Knoper: I  hope so.
 Though a lifetime and career in agriculture, I’ve had the good fortune to meet wonderful people. I consider it a privilege to help those who work so hard in producing food, fuel, feed and fiber.
1:09 p.m. My passion also grows every time I hear stories about the 98.5% of our population that do not understand agriculture. It’s our job to help them!

1:10 p.m. Tom: Obviously Twitter has not been around forever. So when did you first venture into that world and what has it been like defining your role? By the way, I must say you have some very devoted followers and friends out there who appreciate what you have done with #agchat and the ongoing conversations about agriculture on twitter... So, again, what was the start of it all?

1:12 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: September 2008 was when I first started in the Twitterverse. However, I really thought it was a fad and somewhat ‘stupid’ until January 2009. the changing moment was when I started tweeting (sending 140-character messages) weekly food facts. The day I saw the L.A. Times Food Section begin following me was the day I decided Twitter was a tool agriculture needed to leverage.

1:15 p.m. #AgChat was founded on April 7, 2009. Yes, we have quite an enthusiastic community who participates in this weekly moderated conversations. Typically 1000-2000 messages are exchanged over the two-hour period on a topic selected by the community. Over 800 agriculturists from around the world have participated in conversations about agronomy, public perception, food insecurity, etc. It’s grown into a landing place for the ag community on Twitter, allowing people to build relationships, collaborate and find business value in Twitter.

1:17 p.m. Tom: That is a valuable forum and I know you must be flattered and honored with the support you get from your online community. What’s a typical week like for you?

1:18 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: While I very much appreciate the support of the #agchat community, it’s really about raising agriculture to a higher level of understanding. I’ve seen collaborations formed across the agrifood business, relationships unfold and an increase in understanding around modern food production practices. That matters more than any award!

1:20 p.m. My typical week is... untypical. Much of my time is spent on social media strategy, be it my own or helping clients create a hub to grown their own community. The first and last quarters of the year find me on the road a great deal to speak at various agrifood functions. I’ve earned my Certified Speaking Professional designation, which means my business has grown and developed for five plus years.

1:21 p.m. Writing also takes a portion of my time, as does trying to help ag folks get started in social media. Of course, my family time is also in the picture (and not last), so it’s all a balancing act - much as it is for your readership.

Tom: And it sounds as if you have traveled far afield for your speaking engagements — what’s the biggest trip you have had this year?

1:22 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: Two weeks in Egypt, working with wonderful people to develop an agriculture education program similar to what we have for FFA here in the States. Very rewarding and exhausting work.

Some of the most rewarding work in my career has been in developing countries. At some point, I plan to do more of that in order to help agriculture on a more global basis.

1:23 p.m. Tom: You have a webinar called "Farming your online community" Why is it important that ag companies engage in social media? If they do want to go for it, what the first piece of advice you give them?

1:25 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: It’s important for agricultural companies and producers/growers to engage in social media because of the conversations and communities that are being developed around food. There is a great deal of misinformation that being proliferated by anti-ag activist groups, some of which have grown their following 36x since the beginning of the year. If you want to be a part of the conversation, then your voice has to be present.

Michele Payn-Knoper: First piece of advice is to jump in - this isn’t rocket science. My webinars (see http://www.mpk.info) focus on getting people started, as well as going deeper into Twitter. Go to Facebook.com or Twitter.com and enter in your email, plus a password. Voila! You now have a presence! :) In all seriousness, while organizations do need to engage, I highly recommend a hub so that it is a strategic and efficient investment.

1:28 p.m. Keep in mind that social media is really about relationships and community. On the up side, it gives you a one-to-one connection with a customer. On the down side, it’s not about slapping your brand on a bag. SM has to be community-oriented, not marketing.

1:30 p.m. Tom: Tell us about the Mashable Award you are up for; when does the voting end and are you getting some extra notoriety because of this award nomination?

1:32 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: Some folks from the #agchat community created a covert campaign for this while I was in Egypt. They were successful in having @mpaynknoper nominated as one of Mashable’s Top 5 Twitter Users of the Year, the only ‘real’ person amongst celebrities. Voting ended last night at Midnight and the agricultural community made its’ presence well-known; the support was simply overwhelming. At the end of the day, it was a good opportunity for agriculture to tell our story.

1:34 p.m. Tom: From the amount of work you do with the ag community and the presence you have, the recognition is certainly well deserved. Thanks for making time, and again, where can people find your Web site?
1:35 p.m. And twitter handle, of course!

1:36 p.m. Michele Payn-Knoper: Thanks for the interest; I’m always glad to connect with folks in the agrifood business. I’d invite you all to check out my blog at http://causematters.wordpress.com, visit my website at http://www.mpk.info, or become a fan at http://facebook.com/causematters.
Of course, you can always find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mpaynknoper.

1:37 p.m. Tom: Very good. I hope many more of our readers check out Twitter in the days and weeks ahead. Thanks again, Michele

Michele Payn-Knoper: Thank for having me.  And we’ll see your readers in the social media community!