IFOAM – Organics International Helps Farming Community Create User-Generated Content for Hashtag Campaign

“We Put a Lot of Work Into Creating Materials to Help People Participate in the Campaign.”

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A happily smiling person wearing a blue headband is peeking out from behind the leaves of a large vegetable that she’s holding up for the camera.

IFOAM – Organics International has an online video library that sports more than 80 videos of organic farmers around the world showing the work they do growing our food. That’s an impressive number of videos, and here’s the story of how they collected all this amazing user-generated content.

#IGrowYourFood Global Action Day

Every year in September, IFOAM – Organics International organises the #IGrowYourFood Global Action Day, which is a chance for the people who grow organic food to show off their work and be celebrated.
The campaign lets farmers submit content directly to IFOAM – Organics International or via social media using the hashtag. All content is collected on a social wall, embedded on the #IGrowYourFood website. The most outstanding videos are also displayed in the video library, turning them into an incredibly useful content resource for all of the organisation’s endeavours.

Screenshot of the #IGrowYourFood website with the social wall linked prominently in the top navigation.

I had the opportunity to sit down with two people from the IFOAM – Organics International team: Patrick German, Senior Digital Communications Coordinator, and Julie Cornu, Communications Coordinator. We talked about whether there’s a tech gap to breach when working on a digital project with the farming community and how IFOAM – Organics International created a wealth of resources to support farmers in the creation of user-generated content.

Patrick German

Patrick German

Senior Digital Communications Coordinator, IFOAM – Organics International

Julie Cornu

Julie Cornu

Communications Coordinator,
IFOAM – Organics International

Could you tell us a bit about IFOAM – Organics International?

Patrick: We’re a membership-based organisation celebrating our 50th year. We were founded in 1972 and act as the global umbrella organisation for organic agricultural movements worldwide. So in our day-to-day work, we are representing and promoting organic agriculture as a tool for sustainable development and more sustainable food systems.

We have self-organised structures in different regions of the world or focusing on specific sectors. And in our office here, we focus on advocacy, projects, and communications activities.

So your members are not individual people but organisations?

Patrick: That’s correct. We also have some people who join individually as supporters, but to be an official voting member, a certain percentage of your activities must be related to organic agriculture. So, for example, if it’s a shop, over 50% of its turnover needs to be related to organic production.

Screenshot of a social wall post by IFOAM introducing Naturland, one of the IFOAM members.
One of IFOAM – Organics International’s members in Germany is Naturland. Source: Facebook

Those who qualify with those criteria can also vote in the general assembly every three years. And that’s where the organic movement can elaborate, define and decide the direction that the organic movement takes. For example, in 2008, the General Assembly voted on the official definition of organic agriculture and, in 2005, the four principles of organic agriculture.

What role does social media play in your work?

Julie: We use it to share our work, amplify activities, and make sure they’re visible to other like-minded organisations who might want to partner up, as well as to potential members since we are a membership-based organisation.

It’s also a key tool in our advocacy work. We have an advocacy component to our work as we advocate for organic agriculture and organic farmers on the global stage. And social media is a vital tool for that because a lot of those conversations nowadays happen on social media.

What is the #IGrowYourFood campaign, and what were you hoping to achieve with it?

Julie: The Global Action Day started in 2019 as one day during the year to celebrate organic and agroecological farmers and give them a space to share a message on social media and then be amplified by us and by other organisations. We use the hashtag #IGrowYourFood and invite not only our membership and network but everyone to share a message on that day to raise awareness of organic agriculture, its benefits for the planet, and the people and their livelihoods.

The photo shows a smiling farmer happily showing of the mangoes growing on his farm.
Muhammad Riaz is an RSP (Rural Service Provider) from Haripur, Pakistan. (© IFOAM – Organics International, NMA II Project)

We find that sharing messages from the field or the people actually carrying out the work is a lot more interesting and engaging for other organisations because they get to hear directly from people they might not usually hear from. So that’s how it started.

Today, it’s gained a lot of traction. We get a lot more videos every year, which is really cool. And we also have some strong partnerships. For example, UN Biodiversity has picked up on #IGrowYourFood on social media, which is incredible. We just started with a small communications team here at IFOAM – Organics International, and we’re going international; it’s getting picked up by some strong advocacy bodies purely through social media. So that’s a fantastic outcome.

Screenshot of a post on the social wall that’s come in through Twitter from UN Biodiversity. The post features Rita Otu, a female farmer in Nigeria.
Source: Twitter

We found in the last year that the campaign also provides an opportunity for farmers to connect with each other and see what’s happening in the community around the world. So, all in all, it’s a celebratory moment for the people growing our food sustainably around the world.

Patrick: It’s also the first coordinated hashtag campaign that we’ve done. Previously, we’ve had hashtags, such as #LuvOrganic, which was around before I came along but wasn’t used in a coordinated way. It was just kind of attached to posts. Before #IGrowYourFood we had played around with the hashtag #EatHonest, which was kind of the foundation for them working on a more coordinated approach with #IGrowYourFood. 

By making it a hashtag, we opened things up a lot. We receive a lot of videos directly, which we then publish ourselves. So we could have just stuck with that, collecting videos and publishing them ourselves. But using the hashtag opens up the floor to anyone with access to a smartphone to just put the hashtag in and join the conversation that way. It’s a nice way to open up that discussion. And we want to hear specifically from those organic farmers and give them a chance to share their stories and challenges. So that’s why we went with the hashtag.

Why did you add a social wall? How has it helped you achieve your goals?

Julie: It’s cool to be able to point everybody to the social wall where they can see that conversation happening live. And we really push the social wall as the focal point for the Global Action Day on the day itself. Because obviously, you can go on social media and follow the conversation. But it’s nice to have the #IGrowYourFood website and the #IGrowYourFood wall. We directed everybody there, saying, “look, this is where it’s happening; you can watch it there”.

Screenshot of the social wall as it is embedded on the #IGrowYourFood website.

And when we promoted #IGrowYourFood, we also showed the wall and told people that that’s where it will go down live on the day. And because it gathers all the different channels, you can see everybody’s content altogether. It’s very engaging and intuitive to be able to scroll through.

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Did you have to moderate the wall, given that the user base for the hashtag is much broader than just your immediate members?

Julie: We obviously kept track of what was going on. I don’t remember having any negative experiences where we had to go in and remove anything manually. In general, the conversation was very wholesome and organic.

Farming sometimes has this reputation of not being digital or modern, and we know from other showcases that that’s not entirely true, but sometimes there can be a tech gap to bridge. So how did you promote the campaign?

Julie: We put a lot of work into creating materials to help people participate in the campaign. We have a tutorial on how to film yourself that Patrick created. We also have PDF instructions on how to take pictures, how to frame stuff well, and how to be more social media savvy, making sure you use that hashtag.

A screenshot from the #IGrowYourFood website with the video tutorial for creating a campaign video. There’s also guidance for crafting your message and creating a script for your video.

Because, as you say, farming isn’t exactly known for being very big on social media, so we put a bit of work into getting some of the maybe older members or older farmers on board, but there are a lot of really active youth farmers out there. They’re huge on TikTok, and a lot is going on on Twitter and Instagram. So in that sense, people are already pre-mobilised, and it’s not too difficult to get people to participate.

In terms of promoting the campaign, we mobilised our network and reached out to our partners, either via individual contacts or general emails. Otherwise, we heavily promote the campaign on social media throughout the year. We try to ensure that all our activities weave back into #IGrowYourFood. We constantly remind everyone that we’re celebrating farmers this September and to prepare their message.

We also organise webinars leading up to the Global Action Day, where we explain what it is and how it works. And during this webinar, we show the social wall and make sure they know that if they use the hashtag, they will appear on the wall.

Screenshot of the #IGrowYourFood website showing a step by step guide to participating in the Global Action Day. There’s also a promotion for the webinar and a link to the Trello tool kit.

Patrick: The tools that we prepared to guide people aren’t restrictive. We don’t say, “you have to do it like this”. It’s more about guiding people into best practices when making a video so that they can be understood properly; making sure that they’re filming themselves in a quiet environment so that what they’re trying to say can be heard; making sure that the lighting is okay, so people aren’t distracted by the production. But it was also cool to see how people took that limited guidance and got creative. Some did a tour of their farm. Some edited their videos, and some didn’t. And that’s also fine.

You got a large volume of video submissions, a type of user-generated content that’s usually quite hard to get from people. How did you pull that off?

Patrick: We leverage some of the activities we organise otherwise to promote the Global Action Day campaign. So, for example, when we run a project that organic farmers are involved in, we make them create a video as part of the project deliverable. Or, when we hold trainings, we send a videographer to capture some of these testimonials.

This year, we also created a Canva template that we could send people a link to and then they could go and replace the images and the text with theirs. It was pretty cool to see that being used. You never know how it’s going to go.

We also created an online submission form where they could upload videos. It’s very easy to go through the steps and make sure that they have ticked all the boxes. So we made it as easy as possible to receive submissions.

Some people, like our members, may want us to publish the video as well as them sharing it on their channels. And those we can feature in the official video library we’ve set up.

So in the official video library, you only feature the ones sent to you directly, not those submitted via the hashtag?

Julie: Basically, yeah. The Global Action Day is open to everybody, and people can post their videos. But, as Patrick mentioned, we also invite people to send videos to us. And then the really good ones — ones from our partners or project deliverables — we put on our website, which hosts this #IGrowYourFood library. We can only do this when we have the file itself.

Screenshot showing the first page of the video library on the #IGrowYourFood website

We also have a Youtube playlist that they go on. But yeah, it’s only the submissions we directly receive that we put on our website. And that’s a lot of work because Patrick has to process that content and make sure that it’s formatted correctly, has our slide at the end, and so on.

So the library’s the best of the best, but you can find all the submissions on the social wall?

Patrick: Exactly. It’s kind of like a longer-term storage place for it. And on the actual day itself, it’s not used. It’s the social wall that’s used.

Julie: What’s great is that this content is evergreen; we can use it all year long. For example, on International Women’s Day, we can always get a video submission from #IGrowYourFood where a female farmer from Chile gave an important message about women’s livelihoods in rural communities. So we can use that content all the time. 

What’s also great is that many people who engage with #IGrowYourFood in September use the hashtag all year round. So the social wall is continuously updated. There’s always something new. It’s never just static from the last Action Day. Just today, I was looking at it, and people I’ve never even seen before are using the hashtag, and it’s showing up on the wall. It’s also nice to see who’s following our content and who we could potentially engage with for future Global Action Days simply because they’ve somehow picked up on the hashtag.

You had the wall embedded on the website. Did you show it anywhere else as well?

Julie: Our team has it up during the Global Action Day, and then the rest of the office can come and see. It’s also super motivating for us to see it live the way that everybody else is watching. And just to see all that content coming in.

Patrick: We have played with the idea of having a physical social wall at an event, but then the pandemic came and shut that idea down. But it’s still an idea that we’re thinking about for future events, for #IGrowYourFood. Maybe we can get some screens or, you know, a wall display or something and see how those work.

Your campaign is incredibly global, and the people who use the wall speak many languages. How do you handle that?

Julie: That’s one of the challenges I hope we can tackle in the future. We’re limited in-house with the number of languages we speak. I speak French, and we have a Spanish speaker here as well. So we try to translate our materials and make sure that we’re inclusive of those languages, but we can’t with the others. But obviously, not everybody speaks English. And a lot of the farmers are in the global south. So we need to look into how we can be more inclusive of that.

Generally speaking, when we get video submissions from partners or people in the field, they come in the local language, but we ask people to submit captions. So even though it’s in the local language, we also have English captions, which makes it accessible to our network.

Patrick: We also tried to give the people we’re personally in touch with good guidance for how they can collect a transcript for their video. But aside from the global aspect, we’re also happy if those messages just get shared in people’s local circles. At the very minimum, that’s a great way to get local conversations going. We don’t necessarily need to understand all of them as well.

Our takeaways

The campaign stands out with the many fantastic submissions of user-generated content it has received. Video isn’t easy UGC — it involves quite a bit of work to plan, create, edit and submit video content. That makes the results even more impressive.

Guidance bridges potential knowledge gaps

The crucial thing that the IFOAM – Organics International team has done that has enabled the collection of video content is that they provided a wide range of materials to guide participants through the process of submitting their videos.

They provided a tutorial video, instructions in PDF form, a Canva template, and webinars — to name just a few. There’s even a Trello board that collects all the resources and basically acts as a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to participate. 

They’re making it super easy for people to participate, lowering barriers and bridging potential knowledge gaps. The important word here is “potential” because in any given community, people will have a range of technical abilities, and it’s helpful to provide resources that cover all eventualities. Some people might need an in-depth tutorial video, while others just need the basic info on what exactly they should be submitting. 

Furthermore, not everyone prefers to digest information the same way, so it’s smart of IFOAM – Organics International to provide materials in all kinds of formats. And by creating guidance for both video and pictures, they gave people further options for how to participate. And, as Patrick says, all the guidance still leaves room for individual creativity.

Don’t procrastinate your hashtag campaign

You know how they say, “the early bird catches the worm”? Hashtag campaigns can be stressful if you have to source a lot of UGC in a short time frame. IFOAM – Organics International has alleviated some of that pressure by getting an early start and onboarding people throughout the year during other activities.

They even built the creation of an #IGrowYourFood video into the deliverables for other projects and even gave the option of having a professional create the video for them. 

Overall, all these measures ensure higher video quality, making it more enjoyable for others to watch and making the videos more shareable.

It’s all about the community

#IGrowYourFood is clearly all about the community. The hashtag allows farmers around the world to find each other, and as it spreads, it points IFOAM – Organics International to new people in their community, people they can engage with in the future. It’s helpful that the hashtag got picked up by bigger organisations, such as UN Biodiversity. A boost like that can be incredibly helpful for any campaign.

I also like how IFOAM – Organics International approaches the fact that UGC can come in many languages. Instead of seeing this as a problem, they have recognised that sometimes in a campaign, it matters less that everyone can understand all the content and more that local communities get to contribute content and see themselves represented. Of course, the translations and captions still make the content more widely available, and that’s good too.

UGC content can be evergreen content

Many people are excited about all the UGC they have collected, and then they put it in a corner and ignore it. But, as Julie says, the videos collected under #IGrowYourFood are evergreen content and can be reused for other events and occasions throughout the year. 

The video library is a great way to store this UGC. It can easily be dug out for other events or to promote the next #IGrowYourFood Global Action Day.

Feature photo: Selina Nkoile (© Nashipai Maasai Project)