Postmethodically

We must respond posthaste. Must we? The word posthaste, a synonym for urgently, has its origins in communications. It literally means to send a letter quickly. It stems from a time when letters were delivered by foot or horse, and truly urgent messages were labeled “posthaste”. Now all of our posts are haste. Email, Facebook and Twitter messages are instant. This baked-in urgency means the truly important messages are possibly buried and lost. Hasty posts also mean potential costly mistakes in grammar, tone and meaning.

I have read what I think are truly valuable Twitter conversations on agronomy, equipment and marketing. One farmer’s question unravels a thread of useful sharing, follow-up questions, respectful challenges and a good collection of ideas and information. Social media can be excellent.

Elan Jury agrees. Jury is a therapist and began her career as a volunteer with the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Services. Jury spoke at Manitoba Canola Growers’ Learn to Lead event in early 2020 and for her bio, when asked “What is your favourite piece of technology?”, she answered, “Really any form of social media. It’s a great way to connect people and to get a message delivered.”

Her answer surprised me because I thought she, as a therapist, might take a dimmer view of social media. It deserved a follow up. Treena Hein interviewed Jury for a Canola Digest article called “Make social media powerful and positive,” which ran in the September 2020 edition. In the article, Jury says social media can help us feel connected and ease our stress. “We humans are wired for connection, and our relationships are an important buffer against stress and anxiety,” she says, but it needs to be used in healthy ways. “It’s like our relationship to anything or anyone, there is potential for positive benefits and potential for abuse or addiction, which in turn can impact our relationships with others.”

Hasty posting can also cause unexpected impacts on our markets in an online world where everyone is (or could be) watching.

A year ago, when the African Swine Fever (ASF) in China was at its peak, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a Facebook post saying that Canada is checking and has not found ASF in pigs in Canada.

A small organization amplified the post by sharing it with its followers, adding at the top: “ASF has been found in Canada.” Oops.

It was a simple repost by a relatively small organization, but it generated some unwanted attention. Susan Hilton, a media communications lead at CFIA, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) saw the post and started to question whether they should be checking Canadian pork.

CFIA contacted the small organization, noting: “Thank you so much for promoting our content, but Canada doesn’t have ASF.” Hilton says the organization staff realized at that point that they had missed a word. What they meant to type was: “ASF has never been found in Canada.”

“They took down the post,” Hilton says, “but by that point market prices had already been affected.”

Hilton shares a few tips to prevent your social media posts and tweets from causing unexpected consequences:

  • It is super important to re-read your words
    before posting.
  • Understand the potential impact of your social
    media, not just on you and your career, but also
    on the industry and Canada brand.
  • Stop impulse messaging, especially when it relates in any way to the business. If a post or tweet makes you mad, stop and think of how best to respond.

I’m not a grammar-police kind of person, mostly because I know all those expressions about pots and kettles and glass houses. I’ve made grammar errors in posts. So this column is a note-to-self that I’m sharing with everyone: social media can be good, but it doesn’t have to be instant to be good. In fact, I recommend Hilton’s advice to stop impulse messaging. Instead, with every post take a pause to think about grammar, tone and potential consequences for yourself, the community and even the country’s market reputation. In these times, when every message is sent “posthaste”, perhaps this calls for a new word: Postmethodically.