Facebook ‘likesWith more than 900 million users, Facebook is a great platform to express your views and feelings with friends and people with similar interests.

But some questions remain unanswered about the social network.

Can Facebook actually contribute to the bottom line of your business?

Or can it go astray against your company?

Can you influence the debate on issues affecting your industry?

Because of the nature of Facebook updates, if you be-friend your favorite organizations, for example, "The White House," you are able to post your comments and anyone going to this page can "like," comment, share or read other people"s comments.

Once you write a comment, everyone that accesses the "The White House" will view your comment.

On Facebook you can easily find all the grower associations and the local food groups for almost every state. Yet the reality is that most consumers are not familiar with the organizations that form the base of the produce industry.

I searched for the top industry credit rating organizations, the Red Book and the Blue Book, and could not find them.

They haven"t joined the social network nor has the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Dispute Resolution Corp. or the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.

The Produce Marketing Association and The Packer have joined the social media audience and their "likes" continue to increase.

I also searched for several well-known produce firms, and one with the largest "likes" is Driscoll"s, with a significant 109,590 "likes" as of late May.

As a comparison, Barack Obama has an impressive 26,801,138 "likes."

Driscoll"s is doing a great job attracting "friends" by posting beautiful pictures, award-winning recipes and sweepstakes.

Is Driscoll"s making money from Facebook?

Probably not, but for sure they are building their brand and influencing the discussion about their products.

It is obvious that people like Driscoll"s Facebook page.

Are Facebook pages telling us something about the produce industry trends? I believe so, but what is the message consumers have access to?

How is your company participating in the social media dialogue about your industry?

Facebook is like karma, the concept in Hinduism that maintains that every act done, no matter how insignificant, will eventually return to the doer with equal impact.

Facebook can be a great promoter to your organization or it can let the dirty laundry out to be inspected by anyone with access to a computer and an attitude.

A few weeks ago, Monsanto, "one of the largest profiteers of GMO food," as some people call it, decided to launch a Facebook page.

These people have courage, I told myself or maybe they understand something about the power of Facebook. But after you read Monsanto"s Facebook page, you realize that things are not looking pretty for the biotech giant on social media.

There is a posting from Monsanto saying "The court rejected the lawsuit finding that the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and plaintiffs had engaged in a ‘transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists." The court also held that there was no ‘case or controversy" on the matter as Monsanto had not taken any action or even suggested to take any action against any of the plaintiffs."

Monsanto Facebook followers responded with passion.

They wrote more than 100 comments in favor of OSGATA and against the company. And that is taking in consideration that Monsanto does un-friend people that post information they don"t like.

But the Facebook followers always find a way to sneak in and say what they need to say.

Monsanto continues working at creating trust among Facebook followers with postings about the safety of biotech sweet corn and their mission to "stop the world"s hunger."

Will Monsanto"s attempts to be liked by Facebook followers work?

It will be a long road ahead for them. Based on the comments, the trust appears to be gone.

Still, I believe Facebook could be a great promoter of the produce industry and a valuable platform to educate consumers, as long as you have good karma.

If you decide to ignore social media, it is at your own risk and the risk of shaping the debate/discussion about your product or industry.

Veronica Hoyos Leonard, Ft. Davis, Texas, is an agriculture engineer specializing in intensive production of horticultural crops and a freelance writer on Hispanic and agricultural issues.

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