Reading 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.
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.
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.