Extension finds new ways to reach Iowans

ISU Extension and Outreach knew the pandemic would impact the way many of its specialists did their job. Rather than reject new ideas, extension embraced them.

One of the ways extension is getting information to Iowans is the "Tips from an Expert" Facebook Live series. The live event hosted on Facebook gives anyone a chance to get questions answered by extension experts.

"We have a lot of information that would be beneficial to Iowans right now," extension social media specialist Leah Feltz said. "Extension is research-based, so there are times that it takes a little bit longer to get that resource into the hands of people."

The virtual event eliminates that delay, allows people to ask questions important to them and puts a face with a name  at a time when many extension specialists have little in-person interaction, Feltz said.

Live events

Extension began hosting the sessions in May, which last from 20 minutes to an hour-plus. Topics range from gardening to parenting during a pandemic to recovery from the derecho. Feltz lets need, rather than a schedule, dictate when a session will happen, having completed nine since May.

"I do a lot of social listening with my job, so I am one of the first extension employees to see a route we should go," she said.

The events are live, but archives allow viewers to take in the information on their schedule. Feltz, who moderates the sessions, follows up on questions posted after the event to get them answered.

Topics have drawn more than 60 live viewers, but several have more than 2,000 views once archived. Feltz continues to make adjustments as more people return to work.

"We are still working on things like what is the best day or time to have these sessions," Feltz said. "We see consistent engagement that shows it is worth our time, and we are reaching audiences we have connected with in addition to new audiences maybe extension hasn't traditionally connected with."

Trying new things

Facebook Live sessions are just the latest way extension is pivoting to reach Iowans online. With so many events going virtual -- including field days -- extension staff have shown their willingness and ability to communicate through new channels.

"Our state and county staff really embraced virtual education," Feltz said. "When March came around, they had to do a pretty abrupt U-turn to reach their audience."

That led to the creation of new extension YouTube channels and expanded podcast offerings from one to eight. It has been especially important in recent months with Iowans dealing with more than just a pandemic.

The expanded digital offerings reach a new generation of younger people more likely to consume information on their phone or tablet than walk into their local extension office.

"We have a big tie-in with agriculture, but we have something for everyone, and I think it has been fun to see those new connections develop," Feltz said.