Feel that? The earth just shifted. No, not an earthquake – rather, a mass movement of people shifted over to using social media. According to the website Online Schools, there are over 500 million active Facebook users, half of whom are likely to be logged in on any day. It is estimated that 71.2 percent of the 206 million Internet users in the United States are on Facebook. Another 106 million users sent tweets on Twitter in 2010. YouTube exceeded two billion views per day in May of 2010.

Despite those numbers, I still hear people refer to tweets as mindless babble, and Facebook status posts often seem more associated with bullies than brilliance. The uses of social media are many and like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. A hammer can bludgeon, but it can also build a house. And people are building tremendous structures with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for great information and sharing about pest management.

The key advantages are interactive access and timeliness. What once took a trip to an agricultural library, Extension office or field visit from a consultant can now be accomplished electronically in many cases. Social media offer growers new resources, new opportunities and increased communication with people who can help them solve pest-management problems.

Social media resources are beginning to show up addressing many key elements of integrated pest management. Need help learning about fire ant management? There is a Facebook page for that. Want to learn more about invasive species? Facebook is there, too. Have spruce spider mites eggs hatched in your area? Check whether your local Extension agent or university plant clinic send out tweets about pest activity.

While many pests occur on a national level, they, like politics, are often local. Specific pests may occur only in some locations. State land grant universities, departments of agriculture, and both public and private agricultural consulting organizations increasingly offer tweets and Facebook posts for growers about local pest activity.

Facebook

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we benefit from a number of professionals jumping into the social waters. One of my favorite examples that highlights the potential uses of a Facebook page is the PNW Plant Disease Management page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/PNW-Plant-Disease-Management/124973520901136). The administrator, Dr. Jay Pscheidt, adds many resource links and news items, but most popular are his question-and-answer series. Real questions submitted to him by e-mail are answered at the page. It is enlightening and timely, usually dealing with current abiotic or disease problems in the field.

Oregon State University faculty also post relevant pest information and activity updates at the Oregon State University Nursery Extension, Research & Education Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Oregon-State-University-Nursery-Extension-Research-Education/266054242123). As is increasingly common in many states, our Master Gardener program has a very active Facebook presence (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/OSU-Oregon-Master-Gardener-Program/68313153203) to help with pests for homeowners.

On a national level, the IR-4 Ornamental Horticulture Program Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/IR4OrnHort) posts informative status updates of the latest research results on ornamental pesticide trials, as well as many other topics. Anyone who has tried to keep up with invasive species knows that topic is a moving target, literally and figuratively. Get help staying current with status updates from the National Plant Diagnostic Network, Training and Education Page (http://www.facebook.com/IR4OrnHort#!/pages/National-Plant-Diagnostic-Network-Training-and-Education-Page/150509028334075). Want to know the latest on fire ants? Try Fire Ant Info (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fire-Ant-Info/117824168285360?v=wall). Growing ornamental crops out West? Consider the resources available at University of California Nursery and Floriculture Alliance page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/University-of-California-Nursery-and-Floriculture-Alliance/172471082771255?ref=ts&sk=wall).

Twitter

Tweets, limited to 140 bits, are brief exchanges of information via Twitter. This is more like the headline news scroll you see on television than the full report. With image and website link capability, a fair amount of information can move over this medium. And nothing beats Twitter for scoops. It is usually the first place one learns about a new, exotic pest infestation or a freshly minted Extension resource. One additional advantage with Twitter is that people can receive tweets as text on a regular cell phone, no smart phone is required. Your crew in the field can check their phones to learn whether white pine weevil adults have emerged or if an unexpected windstorm with 50 mile per hour gusts is heading their way.

There are abundant Twitter feeds (at ) for those working with ornamental plants, including tweets from regulatory agencies including APHIS (@USDA_APHIS) and the National Plant Board (@plantboard); state agencies, such as the California Department of Food and Agriculture (@CDFAnews), the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Division of Plant Industry (@FL_DPI) and research agencies, such as USDA-ARS (@ARSInformation).

Oddly, university research and Extension organizations have been a little reticent to jump into use of social media, but there have been many nice additions to the ranks. These include Ohio State University’s Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (BYGL) (@OSUBYGL); Steve Frank’s OrnaPests (@OrnaPests) with tweets for N.C. growers; Elizabeth Lamb’s Onamental IPM in New York (@ornamentalipm); University of Calfornia’s Center for Invasive Species Reasearch (@CISR); UC IPM Urban Program (@urbanipmer); University of Missouri’s Missou IPM (@MizzouIPM); Utah State University Extension IPM (@USUExtensionIPM); and the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Info (@UMDHGIC).

An increasing number of university plant clinics have jumped into the fray, including Texas Plant Disease Diagnostics Lab (@txplantclinic); the Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab at Purdue University (@PPDL); University of Minnesota’s Plant Clinic (@plantclinic); and the NCSU Plant Clinic (@NCSU_PDIC).

Don’t forget the private sector! Numerous organizations, companies and consultants have developed a strong outreach network through Twitter and Facebook. Many associations, chemical and biological companies, and issue advocates have both a Twitter feed and a Facebook page.

Give and take

One of my favorite aspects of social media is their interactive nature. Social media outreach tends to be quite engaging, reflecting the personality of the individuals sending out posts – as opposed to the more dry style of an official news release. This often stimulates a response, although many users prefer a more passive role, just reading the posts. Wonderfully, both styles of engagement, active or passive, are acceptable. I do get useful feedback at my Twitter site, PNW Nursery IPM (@PNWNurseryIPM), and the three Facebook sites I currently administer or co-administer. Useful too, both tools allow either private or shared conversations.

There are pitfalls to social media. Communications need to be pertinent, professional and efficient, just as one would expect in direct or written communications. All communications should be considered potentially public and lasting. Friends don’t let friends drink and tweet. Tweet or post at Facebook too often, you are likely to be “un-followed” or “de-friended.” Better to sprinkle your knowledge a little over several days versus in a flood all on one day.

Social media offer new opportunities with Internet and mobile technology to increase communication on a wide variety of information needs, including pest management. These readily available technologies allow people with like interests to connect, enhancing their knowledge of activities and resources, and developing useful professional relationships. Will Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, such as YouTube, Google+ and Blogger, continue to grow and become an integral part of the future of ornamental pest management? That seems highly likely. I’ll keep you posted.

Robin Rosetta is associate professor at Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, where she concentrates on the Nursery IPM program. She is responsible for the Pacific Northwest Nursery IPM website (http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nurspest/index.htm) as well as the OktoberPest pest management workshop series. She can be reached at etta@oregonstate.edu. Or at Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Oregon-State-University-Nursery-Extension-Research-Education/266054242123. Or try her blog at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/NWREC/blog.php?dir=133.

References