All Reasonable Efforts to Market Cooperative Extension

I must confess, while living most of my life as a working wife, mother, and homeowner, I was completely unaware what Cooperative Extension was, or how its programs wove a thread behind the scenes that actually impacted my life.

All that changed when I stepped into the land-grant light 15 years ago. Since then, it’s become a personal mission, as well as a professional calling, to promote Cooperative Extension to the people who are, well, like I was —living within Extension’s influence, yet completely outside its reach due to my lack of awareness.

Whenever I find myself in a social situation suitable for small talk, I conduct a little experiment. I try to ascertain if my new acquaintance is aware of Cooperative Extension. The “so, what do you do?” question usually surfaces early. I reply one of three ways, each evoking a different reaction:

1. Me: “I work for the University of Delaware.” Reaction: “Oh, do you teach?”
2. Me: “I work with 4-H.” Reaction: “Oh, do you live on a farm?”
3. Me: “I work for Cooperative Extension.” Reaction: Quizzical look. Furrowed brow. Long pause. “Hmmm, and that is…?” Usually, an offered hint of “Master Gardeners” is followed by relieved recognition!

Sadly, variations of this exchange happen all too frequently, particularly when I am out of my professional, agricultural milieu. It’s a frustrating reality.

Cooperative Extension succeeds in reaching the rural, newspaper-reading, baby boomers and older demographic. We have an effective history and we’ve built strong relationships within these communities. They attend our workshops and contact us directly with questions. We have a right to be proud, but never complacent! Attracting new audiences is imperative. It is also our mission.

Person holding smart phone
Cooperative Extension professionals need to embrace social media as one tool to reach new audiences.

We all know what “All Reasonable Effort” means. Reasonable includes social media. In some rural regions, smart phone use is the only means to connect to the Internet. The  Pew Research Center reports, in 2015, the following demographics for social media on mobile devices: Whites, 65%; African American, 56%; and Hispanic 65%. Not surprisingly, Pew’s 2014 report on social media use by age, show young people as enthusiastic adopters:

• 89% for ages 18-29
• 82% for ages 30-49
• 65% for ages 50-64
• 49% for ages 65+

Embracing social media is essential for Cooperative Extension. Our outreach in this arena will cultivate potential participants and future supporters. Cooperative Extension needs to be where the conversations are occurring. In future posts, I’ll offer best social media practices learned during my 2014 eXtension fellowship, and beyond.

Image source: via Creative Commons License