Quite a few of you have already started to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with family, friends and colleagues. I know because some of you are my Facebook “friends.”

For others, social media is new territory. I hope that after reading this article, you will consider using social networking to enhance your ability to work in the agricultural industry. You might be surprised to learn what great resources await you in what’s referred to as Web 2.0.

Until recently, there has been some resistance to using social networking tools. They were viewed as time-wasters, silly or a way for teenagers to post useless information such as, “I’m having a coffee at Starbucks.”

Within the past year, the utility of these networks has improved substantially for working professionals, particularly in the realm of agriculture. USDA, professional associations, agricultural lobbying groups and agricultural media outlets have all developed social networking platforms.

Furthermore, the potential to use these networks to inform the urban population about problems facing agriculture has also grown. In my exposure to these resources, I have found two primary benefits: quick access to information and enhanced communication with colleagues around the world.

My introduction to social networking began when I attended the first national eXtension.org conference in St. Louis, Mo., in October 2009. I decided to attend the meeting because we had been awarded a grant to develop a Web site, www.eXtension.org/blueberries.

I went to this conference with the notion that it would be interesting. I might learn a few things, but I believed I was far too busy to incorporate anything new into my already-crowded work schedule.

I was overwhelmed by what I learned at the conference. I moved in a daze from session to session absorbing everything I could about Twitter, Facebook, SlideShare, Flickr, Delicious, blogging, Google docs and a host of other resources (scroll down for definitions). Many of the sessions were streamed real-time and watched by viewers from around the world. Evenings were spent discussing new ideas with colleagues from across the United States. I spent the majority of the conference trying to decide how I could use these new tools to enhance my Extension program.

I decided to start using what I learned while in the airport on my way home. I booted up my laptop and was on the Internet in a snap. With the help of a colleague, I set up a Facebook account and a blog in less than 30 minutes.

I decided there was no risk in just testing the waters to see if these resources would be effective for delivering information. The primary goal of the Cooperative Extension Service is to deliver the land-grant university to the people — quite literally to extendinformation developed at the university into every home in America. Traditionally, we have extended information via print newsletters, winter meetings, summer field meetings, at conferences, through phone calls, text messages, and recently through e-mail and Web sites.