Posted by: blackvector | April 9, 2009

Protest Organized On Twitter: Why PA Needs To Engage in SN

Moldova protestersReading  a  CNN Story on Protests in Moldova, which was Twitter orchestrated, it is clear more than ever the Department of Defense’s Public Affairs capability must be plugged into Social Networking (SN). Not because SN is the latest and greatest way to communicate, I would argue it does not replace face-to-face communication, but because SN is being increasingly used to sway public opinion on nearly everything from products to political affiliations. In the case of Moldova, SN was used to orchestrate a 10,000 person protest against elections that are perceived by the Moldavian people to be rigged. I am not going to debate the truth behind that, but I am going to debate the need for PAs to access and understand Social Networking and Now Media.

Today a friend of mine proposed that SM is not a cure all, it is not the answer to all that ails an organization’s PA efforts — I agree. Further, another friend asked what about the traditional methods, do we throw those away. I would say no, we do not.  In an earlier post I spoke about the need to incorporate SM practices into existing processes. The example from Moldova highlights that the Social Networking tools can have a profound effect on a government and thus can’t simply be dismissed as snake oil, but nor can they be the panacea either. An organization must have a strategy as to what it wants to get out f SN, and then go from there tactically implementing into its processes. But, this usually has to start at senior levels.

Timely of course is yesterday’s appearance of Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Twitter (@thejointstaff). Several other senior leaders in DoD are also starting to have a presence on SN sites and indeed each service’s PA functions also have a presence of SN sites. Yet, there seems to be in some departments a general reluctance to let employees access SN sites out of concerns for security. Problem here is there needs to be a balance and a certain level of risk accepted. Imagine being in an expeditionary environment, unable to access Twitter, for example, then suddenly being caught off guard by an instant Twitter-organized protest at the front gate of the deployed location. It can happen, and I am sure we will see it happen.

Our adversaries are making great use of SN sites. One irony is they are using our own servers in the US to host extremists sites. An article in the Washington Post addresses this, Extremists Using US Services to Host Sites. It is very difficult to develop a counter propaganda campaign if you can’t access your adversaries sites that are actually hosted on US servers. The mechanics of the issue of access is a better argument for a later post, but the need to be plugged into SN sites is there. Not because necessary because it is cool and new, but because if we are not plugged into SN someone will do the talking for us on our behalf. Our adversaries certainly use SN as a cheap force multiplier, but so can we.

For the past several months, I have been working on SN and its implications for use in the expeditionary environment. The need exists for PAs to be on SN sites both at home station and in the deployed environment.

@Home Station

In the day-to-day ops of a typical PA shop, SN can leverage a simple, effective, and cheap way to engage stakeholders around the installation. Some PAs are far ahead of their peers in the SN game. On Twitter, @US_Air_Force, @180thFW, @433_AFRC, @Nellisafb and @AFCombatCamera are doing a fantastic Job at highlighting their organizations with frequent updates and interactive discussions. They also have a presence on FaceBook. One key here, interactive, they follow people back and personalize the conversation. If you are going to do it, you need to be engaging, otherwise set up your fax machine to send out news releases. There are non-PAs using SN to talk about the AF, One such person is Jen at her Blog, 20 Something and in The Air Force. A great site discussing what it is like to be in the AF — talk about a great recruiting tool, 3rd party advocacy.

@Deployed  in AOR

In the expeditionary environment, new ground for SN, the pay off maybe even bigger. On FB, Twitter, YouTube and other sites one can find several deployed members talking about their experiences with their friends and family. Organizations can’t pay for that kind of exposure. It is what we are  trying to accomplish, I would argue, with ideas like making every Airman a communicator. An organization’s best resource for spreading the word is its own people. On Twitter, one ANG member, @deployedteacher, is doing just that. He has an interesting ongoing discus ion as life as a deployed teacher serving in the National Guard. There are a few other examples as well, some have a presence on FaceBook, which I see as a valuable tool when your deployed not only to keep in touch with friends and family, but to let them know what we’re doing in the expeditionary environment from someone on the ground.

@What next?

Well, clearly a need exists to integrate SN tools into the PA arsenal to amplify DoD’s communication efforts. Yet many of the usual hurdles must be overcome: costs, manpower, security, and a fear of losing control over the message. Well folks, the costs is minimal, the manning is there, just integrate SN into existing structure, security is an issue, but PAs are Twittering at home as a result, and the control of information was lost with the advent of the Internet (in my opinion, once the Internet started, the ability to control a message or target audiences became skewed). Bottom line: PAs need to engage in SN.

Posted by: blackvector | April 7, 2009

Social Media is a Buzz Word

I have been in the field of Public Affairs for 20 years and in that time I have seen several changes to processes and methods, yet I remain to see one thing constant:  the job of PA/PR firms is to communicate.

Lately I have seen many Social Media Experts on Twitter and FaceBook and other sites touting the value of SM. Well, it still comes down to communicating to me. Several of our offices have asked me if they should create a Chief of Social Media position, to which I say, no. Social media should be incorporated into existing processes in PA/PR offices. I see these sites as a tool, not the means to an end. Creating a Chief of Social Media in an office is a redundancy since, for example, the person ends up doing the same thing the Chief of media is doing, just using a different method – sending out news releases or talking with media. I see great examples of people incorporating SM into their processes ever y day. For example on Twitter @LindyKyzer is a PA specialists with the US Army that uses Twitter to send out information about the Army, a sort of virtual press desk officer. She does not use Twitter to talk about how the Army can use SM like I see others do.

A recent post on Wisebread.Com called 7 Ways to Spot A Social Media Snake Oil Salesman got my attention. It has some great points and unfortunately there are a lot of people I have seen that meet these criteria. I liken it to the Strategic Communication experts or the Influence Operation experts or the Desktop Publishing experts or the Digital Camera experts and so on.  Each new phase of PA/PR had experts selling us on paying them for advice, yet few could deliver on the actual expectation: increased communication and outreach.

David Meerman Scott is maybe one of the best presenters I have seen discuss how PA and PR firms need to incorporate SM into their processes. His book The New Rules of Marketing and PR is certainly a must read for anyone in this profession. His latest book, World Wide Rave gets at the heart of the argument here. Companies do not need to hire SM Snake Oil salespeople or expensive firms to market their product, they simply need to integrate SM into their existing PA/PR offices and realize that their own employees are the best way to create what he calls a World Wide Rave about the organization, product, service or issue.

Every new process has an “expert” but I would argue the experts are those in the industry who can take the shiny new tool and incorporate it into existing processes to maximize the effect: communication and as David Meerman Scott says, create a World Wide Rave about their organization, product or issue.

What do you think? Maybe I am a SM Snakeoil salesman, but then again, I am not selling you this concept or asking you to buy into it, I am simply asking you to; listen – talk – transform, how we do the business of communication. One thing is for sure, it is changing whether we want it to or not and we need to hop on that train for the long ride.

Posted by: blackvector | March 31, 2009

What If Everyone Could Document Combat?

090317-A-6797M-623Visual documentation (VDOC) of combat operations is an integral part of operations to ensure documentation of the entire scope of U.S. military activities during wartime operations, contingencies,  joint exercises and other events involving the DoD Components having significant national interest. According to Dept of Defense Instruction 5040.4. This is the role of combat camera. It is true VDOC encompasses quite a bit more, but for this article, I want to present something sent to me via twitter.

The question comes from a Twitter person I follow @subbob who teaches for the U.S. Army. He asked, “What if every Airman (or Soldier) had potential to produce Combat Camera footage?” The question arose from this post A Child in the Fight. It’s an interesting question, what would/should you do in this situation. If indeed every military member could produce Combat Camera footage, then the entire event would be documented and in the expeditionary environment, we have seen documentation is key to counter enemy propaganda efforts.

Technology has come a long way in being able to deliver direct feeds from the front line to the war room. Undoubtedly, it would be valuable if indeed every person in the field could send visual imagery in real time back to higher headquarters. Or at the very least, maintain a visual record for later retrieval. A sort of Weapon System Video (WSV) only the WSV is not from an aircraft, but rather a person. In the information war, people are the weapon system are they not?

In the war of words, it would be the VDOC of the event that would be key in dispelling enemy propaganda.  Social media sites are key in the propaganda war. The use of VDOC by the Israeli Defense Forces during the recent operation in Gaza highlights how successful using VDOC in the social media environment can be. The YouTube site for the IDF was very active during the campaign. It can be accessed on YouTube here. I highly suggest viewing the site. The use of VDOC from the front lines helped the IDF dispel Hamas propaganda efforts. The key, however, is in how quickly the IDF is able to get the imagery out. As in the example above, it would be useless to have the imagery if it did not get out prior to the enemy putting out their version of the story. Indeed the enemy could have re-staged the scene in the sniper example to show American indifference toward children. Immediacy is paramount in the Now Media world.

The key will be how to get imagery from the battlefield to where it needs to be almost as quickly as the event itself unfolds. We seem to be able to do that when we carry around our iPhones, snap a picture of what we are having for dinner and then share it via Twitter and FaceBook where it is instantly accesible to 500 friends. How do we then leverage this power while balancing security risk? There are operational issues that must be addressed and clearly I am not endorsing release of imagery on the fly. However, there has to be some level of risk accepted — if we use imagery to counter enemy efforts in the information battle space. Otherwise we will lag far behind in the information war with our adversaries continuing to take the lead.

Posted by: blackvector | March 24, 2009

Rumor of C-17 crash on CNN — The Need for PAs on Twitter

 C-17 GlobemasterI do not believe one can over state the need to be plugged in to what is going on around you. We need to have a constant situational awareness so that in the event something happens, we can interact with it, not just react to it.  As I was busy crunching numbers today, I saw a pop up on Twitter that an AF C-17 crashed in Texas. It all started with a CNN report and a post on Twitter:


Then followed up by:

  • URGENT — An Air Force C-17 plane has crashed near Olney, Texas, a spokesman for Sheppard Air Force Base tells CNN.

CNN had on their web site the basic facts of a C-17 and that one had crashed in Texas. Almost as fast, the social media world starts to question validity:

  • An FAA official tells BNO News there has been no plane crash in Texas; calls CNN report “wrong”. BNO News continuing to work on confirmation.

So far no one could actually confirm anything had crashed, Reports also start to surface that it may have been a commercial jet. But soon, these Tweets start to surface:

  • Times Record Newspaper: All American Eagle commuter flights into and out of Wichita Falls are accounted for.
  • Times Record News: Hospital official says they were notified of a downed commercial plane; BNO unable to confirm. CNN reports a C-17 crash.

Within 30 minutes of the CNN report, Twitter posts start to debunk CNN, who was still maintaining the story on their web site:

  • The Texas Department of Public Safety tells BNO News they are not aware of any plane crash, despite CNN reports.

But then, a CNN producer on Twitter also started to question the story and it was starting to become clear nothing had happened. The @AFPAA official Twitter account released a statement:

  • @AFPAA We have no reports of a US Air Force airplane down in TX. Pls spread the word. not US Air Force. We’re looking into it.

So what did happen? It was simple enough but highlights how well-connected people are now:

  • @AFPAAconcerned citizen saw a C-17 doing low-levels and called 911. Confirmed the C-17 went back to Altus safe/sound

All of this unfolded in the span of about an hour. It was interesting to see it work in real time – hence why it is really now media. In fact, AF Public Affairs people plugged into Twitter is what helped squelch the rumor quickly.  It is evident by this example that Pas need to be plugged in to social media venues almost on a 24/7 schedule. This particular example happened during a normal work day, what if it had been after hours? The rumor would eventually be proved false, but may have taken longer.

Clearly PA professionals need to be able to respond to things like this quickly, but if access is blocked at their offices, how can they be effective communicators for the Air Force?

As social media grows, so to must be how PA plugs into it. Particularly in a deployed environment where the enemy can and does use SM to further their propaganda efforts. By practicing SM techniques in the home station arena, PAs can be better suited to fight counter-propaganda in the deployed environment.

Posted by: blackvector | March 13, 2009

Why are you on social media?

Reading from David Peck’s blog I found an article on the steps involved in getting a company into social media, interesting post, especially this one which is spot on.

From the blog post at

Erica Friedman Publisher at ALC Publishing, President of Yuricon:

1) What is the goal of getting into social media?
2) What ROI are you looking for?
3) What message are you sending?

“Social media” is no more a golden ticket to success than having a website was in 1996. ‘If you build it, they will come” does NOT apply to social media. You need to find the audience where they already are and address them in those spaces. If you’re throwing up a MySpace page, when your audience lives on Slashdot, you’ve just wasted gobs of money and time. Don’t assume that “audience” translates to “market.” 13000 followers on Twitter might not mean a single extra sale. You need to know what you’re doing and why otherwise, it’s just more empty promotion-speak.

I find several government agencies jumping onto the social media train without even asking where it is going or why they are even getting onboard. Citizen engagement should be the reason, as social media is a great way to enhance an agencies outreach. However, simply setting up a Twitter account or getting a page on FaceBook is not what it is about. As Friedman points out, build it and they will come does not apply. It is much like if you see a really nice, cool looking restaurant and you go in to eat, but the food is no good, you will not be back. If the content and what you are communicating via social media stinks, no one will “friend” you or “follow” you. Your effort, time, and money will be wasted.

The basic rules for public affairs and public relations apply: know the audience, tailor the message to the audience, and evaluate your efforts. Focus on who you are trying to communicate with and why, and find out what social media sites best fit your purpose. It may be some, none, or all the sites. One thing is clear, no agency can afford not to leverage the power of social media.

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