Since late Mar. 2020, many universities halted normal operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing faculty and other educators to use new, digital methods of educational delivery. Although extension uses many different techniques to educate consumers, it has been slow to grasp the power of social media (Barton et al., 2017). Although powerful, the educational experience using these platforms has limitations and certain guidelines are needed to improve outcomes (Su et al., 2017; Zhang et al., 2020). Remote delivery via webinars has proven successful (Hoke et al., 2018; Particka et al., 2018) but social media platforms can potentially reach more consumers. Twitter (Twitter, Inc., San Francisco, CA) is one such tool and it has been successfully used during times of crisis, such as extreme drought (Wagler and Cannon, 2015) and hurricanes (Ruth et al., 2020).
Faced with a dilemma of using digital methods instead of in-person education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter is a potential alternative. Fields outside of horticulture have used Twitter to educate and promote information (Chung, 2017; Su et al., 2017), as well as agriculture (Barton et al., 2017; Mills et al., 2019). The horticulture industry has been especially impacted by the pandemic with substantial crop losses due to lack of labor and transportation (Hummer, 2020). The spring months of 2020 were isolating for many while the initial wave of infections surged. Horticultural research was disrupted (Hummer, 2020), as well as extension and teaching activities. Whereas teaching pivoted toward online-only delivery during the spring semester and research was minimized to essential activities, there was prime opportunity for extension to reach a captive audience that was seeking interaction.
Therefore, the goal of this project was to use Twitter as a viable way to disseminate fruit-related horticulture information in lieu of face-to-face meetings and measure engagement metrics that could lead to assessment of knowledge gain or other impact.
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