Army needs Social Media help…from civilians?

June 9, 2011

Today, there was a great article in Wired.  It was about the Army’s proposal to hire Social Media experts for Afghanistan operations.  This was not a Wikileak; it is a real request for proposal for civilian public relations experts.  (The request is also for well-qualified Dari and Pashtu speakers to participate in the Social Media mission–thumbs up to getting strong linguist for this program.)

I guess I shouldn’t be totally surprised.

Heck, you can read about the Department of Defense spending $384.4 million on Strategic Communications in 2011 or about the billion plus spent on Information Operations for the past few years in a report by the Center for International Media Assistance.  For those keeping score…$384.4 million is enough dough to pay tuition for 50,000 high school graduates to attend college this fall.  The Politico reported that the DOD actually requested $988 million for communications funding for 2010…it didn’t pass.

The reason why this Afghanistan Social Media decision pains me so much is because the minimum qualifications that the Army is looking for–bachelor’s degree and Secret security clearance— is equal or even less than the qualifications of the 150+ public affairs officers we have on active duty.  And of those public affairs officers, several of them have earned Army-funded graduate degrees from top schools like Georgetown the official grad school for Army public affairs officers, UNC-Chapel Hill, Middle Tennessee State, and USC’s Annenberg School. And we even send officers and sergeants to work at Google each year.

Are none of them good enough to run a Social Media program in Afghanistan?  Heck, who’s running these seemingly successful sites right now?  See them here, here, and here.

If you’re still reading this post you’ve probably come to conclusion that I’m courageous or crazy…perhaps both.

Don’t get me wrong here, I agree there is a great need for continued investment in online communications and engaging audiences domestic and international through Social Media. I just think this should be done by training people already in uniform to accomplish these goals.  Really, by the time most photos, tweets, and blog posts are approved by the layers of strategic communications folks at big headquarters in Kabul, Baghdad, Kandahar, it’s a bit too late or too far removed from much of the populace we are trying to influence–many of them are illiterate or don’t have access to the internet.  Meanwhile, the terrorists and Taliban types are able to cause mayhem and make it go viral because they post from the point of origin–often on mobile phones.Soldiers online

I propose the Army purchases smart phones and commercial internet for their public affairs staffs at the brigade combat team level and arm them with the same communications tools as the terrorists.

Last time I checked, a 3G iPhone runs about $200 $49.  If you bought one for every 100 troops in Afghanistan (about one per company-sized unit), the total costs would be about $200,000  $49,000 + usage plans.  The troops already know how to use smart phones & Facebook.  After developing a policy for what to post and battle drills for when to post, I assure you a positive and tangible impact will be made in our information war.

Where there’s no cell coverage…use a Bgan antenna.

Ideally, we’d shift to training more Afghan journalists so they can tell the story of their country and of their security forces through their own lens.  Developing skills for local reporters should be long-term goal.

Well, I’ve said my $0.02.  I’m not critical of the mission, just the method.  I believe we have people, Soldiers & Department of the Army Civilians, who are ready, willing, and able to accomplish the communications goals for the Afghan War.  As an added bonus, after Army folks complete this task they will retain the experience for future operations.  Seems like a cent-sible solution to me.

Honest two-way communication is the best to build relationships and influence people.  I believe in the Defense Information School’s motto:  Strength through Truth

I figure I can’t get fired for this post, however, I might just get orders to Afghanistan. I’m ok with that.

DISCLAIMER:  Views expressed here are the authors own and not necessarily the views of the Army or Department of Defense. Nor is the post an official statement of the U.S. Army.  Just one guys opinion.

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Ten Things I’ve learned at Georgetown

November 28, 2008

In a few weeks I’ll finish my academic requirements for Georgetown University’s Masters in Public Relations/Corporate Communications.  Georgetown has an applied curriculum (Master of Professional Studies) approach to their program structure.  Essentially, you learn something in class from the professor’s lectures & assigned texts; then you complete projects and writing assignments to actually demonstrate proficiency.   In contrast, other programs focus on theory of communications and fixate on research.

Real Public Relations is not "spin."

Taz didn't go to Georgetown!

So I’m thankful this holiday season for the following things I’ve learned:

1.)  Effective communications brings good ideas to life

2.)  Public Relations practitioners should think of themselves as persuaders (H/T Profs. Mike Long & Don Neal)

3.)  A professional communicator’s personal code of ethics should exceed the standard of their employer

4.)  Facebook is not evil nor is it only for millennials.

5.)  When writing a speech remember that “nobody cares” so make it engaging and appealing to the ear (More tips here)

6.)  Your classmates are a key part of your network (H/T Ashley Duque Kienzle)

7.)  Social Media is so important to communicators that it can impact the outcome of presidential elections

8.)  Nonprofits can benefit from skill-based volunteerism by communications professionals..Social Impact Communications (H/T Denise Keyes, Jen Gilman, Joy Bates Boyle)

9.)  The most successful PR Professionals seem to have worked their way up the ladder in a variety of roles in a variety of cities (advertising, public affairs, branding, press secretary; nonprofit, agency, government)

10.)  Achieving at Georgetown is similar to anything else in life.  A positive attitude, strong teamwork, and good mentors are required.

I suppose this list is sorta boring.  I guess that’s to be expected since I’m blogging on a Friday night during a holiday weekend. *shrugs shoulders*

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about Georgetown’s program.  I think it was well worth it.


Should the media cover military funerals

July 10, 2008
Fired ANC Public Affairs office

Fired Arlington National Cemetery Public Affairs officer

Hopefully my 18 month academic lobotomy at Georgetown will ensure that I make sound decisions when I graduate and embrace the media.

Recently the Public Affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery was fired for honoring a fallen Soldier’s family’s request to allow media at their loved ones funeral.  In April, one funeral was reported on by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.  Today he has a full article about Gina Gray getting the “boot”.

In small towns across America there are monuments to honor our fallen Soldiers.  Remembering those killed in action is a necessary to keep the civilian citizenry engaged in the sacrifice Service members make while they “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.”

Attending the funeral for Second Lieutenant Lisa N. Bryant at Arlington National Cemetery is an event I will never, ever forget.  I saw a similar event depicted on Army Wives and was touching but not quite the same.  The Soldiers of the Old Guard caissons platoon are among our Army’s finest ambassadors.  Their story and the story of the heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice on battlefields should be told.

I won’t speculate on any families reason to have media at a funeral.  What I do know is we celebrate our fallen heroes all the time.  Just a few weeks ago there many hours of live coverage of Tim Russert’s funeral and; Metro (Washington’s mass transit system) had it’s highest number of passengers during President Reagan’s state funeral.

This is all interesting to me.  There’s a balance between policy and free press.  Here’s an example of conflict between the two.  Most often the military has a hamonius and mutually beneficial relationship with the media.

What’s your opinion?  Have you ever been to a military funeral?