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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10 things I can’t do from my desk

July 31, 2009

Not much changed since the last post. From my work desk in Iraq, I’m still restricted from engaging audiences on social media sites. Despite yet another article indicating that Social Media engagement is a priority for the Army.

Here’s a list of things I can’t do from my work desk that the DOD wants me to do–though not from my desk, I suppose:

1.) Download the Army’s official design templates for Web sites and Social Media

2.) Listen to the DOD Bloggers’ Roundtable–by the way you should listen to the BRT on August 4, 11:00 a.m. EST for an update on the Advisory and Assistance Brigade mission COMPLETE

3.) Post on my brigade’s blog

4.) Post tweets on my brigade’s Twitter feed @4_1AD

5.) Interact with the over 2,300 Fans who support the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division on Facebook

6.) Visit any of the Social Media sites run by my higher headquarters MNC-I, CENTCOM

Our goal at Multinational Corps-Iraq is to maximize our use of Social Media to inform you about our missions and the people who accomplish them. We’re striving to create a dialogue with you. We will do that by sharing news, information, insights and conversation with the people who support our organization and operations in Iraq. –MNC-I

7.) Conduct spot media assessment on a number of different Web sites. Cookies, schmookies

8.) Read any blogs that are not on a .mil domain

9.) Share videos, photos, and audio products with others because access to USB ports is blocked…I wonder how civilian news agencies operate? Do they require reporters to use personal equipment and run down to the local coffee shop to access the internet to file stories?

10.) Upload videos produced by Army broadcasters to DVIDS via FTP–blocked

As a Soldier we improvise and adapt where possible. However, all the 100mph tape and 550 cord can’t help me access Social Media.

*venting complete*

Oh, if I’ve missed your phone call at my desk, it’s because I’m at the MWR internet center down the street writing this blog post. Sorry.

Update: Looks like the debate over Web 2.0 access is at the highest levels of the DoD. The Pentagon’s top public affairs executive is an active participant and proponent for Social Networking.


Social Media blocked on the battlefield

July 1, 2009

Working public affairs in a combat zone brings new challenges daily.  I love my job because I get to tell the story of the American Soldier in Iraq.  Specifically, in 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

However, lately, I’ve been really flummoxed at my inability to access Social Media sites.  I feel like I can’t, know I can do a better job as a brigade public affairs officer if I had access to sites that the Secretary of Defense wants me to use.

Herein lies my professional frustration.  The Secretary of Defense has said on numerous occasions that public affairs officers need to reach audiences through social media.  You can read various statements here, here, and video here.

“Public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals.  It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaida is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.” -SecDef Robert Gates, Nov. 2007

The newly appointed Principal Deputy Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs recently said about social media, “It’s not just better one-way communication; it’s better two-way communication. It’s not just us reaching people; it is them reaching us, too.”

And he has a twitter feed on the official DOD Web site.

And almost a year ago Iwrote about the Secretary of the Army encouraging military blogging.

Before deploying my brigade established a presence on several social media sites.  Several are registered on the Army’s official social media directory.

After lengthy days at the office or covering events, I update the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division Facebook page on the SniperHill internet in my containerized housing unit…it connects at Slowsky-like 8kbps and I pay $88/month.  The money is not the issue, I consider it a personal expense for occassional professional use, however, I could do much more if I had access at my desk—just like the PAOs & other Soldiers in the states.  Access the senior leaders say I should have.  Access that keeps family members informed.

I feel bad when my brigade commander asks me “Hey, PAO, when are we going to start the brigade blog?”  I have to give him the penguin salute because I can’t effectively launch it without access to monitor the activites or have a truly interactive environment.

For those who think…“stop whining, back in WWII we didn’t have that internet stuff”…I dare you to look at our Facebook page and see what the moms, dads, and spouses say when they see a photo of their Soldier or images of where the special person works and lives.  Now, you will see the power of social media.  I’m happy to “whine” on their behalf.

Recently, the Army allowed access to these sites from bases in the states.  That’s nice, however, when a Soldier can go home to their family at night there is less of a need for social media—except the fan, follower, subscriber base that’s built in garrison can be exploited during a deployment.

Meanwhile, we deployed PAOs are blocked, blocked, blocked by the network managers.  (Except for General Odierno’s PAO who updates his Fan page daily).

For my signal friends, try explaining the classic “bandwidth” argument to the families of deployed Soldiers.  Really, how much bandwidth could about five public affairs Soldiers per brigade effect things—is our networking situation really hinging on five guys uploading photos to flickr and videos on YouTube?  Not to mention the enemy is still beating us to the punch on getting out the story.

I just want do my job as a tell the story of the American Soldier and fight enemy propaganda with truth.  I post on the brigade’s page for the Soldier on guard duty who lives in a tent and seldom has internet access and may not want it–but, his family & friends still want to know how he’s doing.  Without social media access I feel like I have the proverbial a knife in an information gunfight.

DISCLAIMER:  I have submitted a waiver for access that is going through approval channels.  And, of course, views expressed here are my own.  Not the DOD, Army, or my unit.  Hope I don’t get in trouble for this posting. *fingers crossed*

If you’ve read this far, thanks for your interest. Please help us reach our goal of 4,000 Fans on Facebook to represent each Soldiers from the Highlander Brigade deployed to Iraq


Year ahead in southern Iraq

May 24, 2009

Clearly, I haven’t posted in a while.  That’s because I’m super busy in my job as a brigade public affairs officer.  My primary base is Contingency Operating Base Adder in Iraq’s Dhi Qar Province.  Though I will spend time in Muthanna and Maysan province too.  For those worried…no, I’m not violating OPSEC…you won’t know my specific movement times or travel methods.

Days here are busy.  From my initial impressions dealing with the Iraqi media will be interesting.  There are language and cultural barriers.  Every word in English does not translate directly to Arabic and vice versa.  So context is always important.

I live near the Zigguart of Ur.  We, the U.S. Military, recently turned over control of the ancient site to Iraq’s Ministry of Antiquities.

You can see we are using Social Media to stay connected with our supporters at these links:

Facebook:  4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division FAN Page

http://twitter.com/4_1AD
http://www.youtube.com/user/4BCT1AD
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4_1ad/

Read an article about our social media efforts in the El Paso Times here.

So for the year ahead I hope to share the experiences of Soldiers in the Highlander Brigade and explain our collaboration with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the Gov’t of Iraq, and Iraqi Security Forces.  Stay tuned…


Links to Army social media sites

February 17, 2009

For my supporter, reporter, and blogger friends…here are the primary links to the Army’s presence online.

 

Twitter: [micro blogging]
http://www.twitter.com/USArmy
Flickr: [photo]
http://www.flickr.com/soldiersmediacenter
iReport: [reporting]
http://www.ireport.com/people/USArmy
NowPublic [reporting]
http://www.nowpublic.com/usarmy
Delicious: [bookmarking]
http://delicious.com/USArmyMedia
FriendFeed [landing page for all social media sites]
http://friendfeed.com/usarmy


Maiysha nominated for a Grammy

December 4, 2008

Good news!  Maiysha, who I blogged about several months ago–before her album was released–was just nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Urban/Alternative Performance” category.

Her song “Wanna Be”: is really great.  I highly recommend her album “This Much is True”…and you should know that Majorman seldom recommends entire albums.  The only others that come to mind are, Petersburg, Virginia native, Trey SongzI gotta make it” and anything by the U.S. Army Band.

Link to “Wanna Be” official music video here.

Maiysha’s competition for the award–personally, I think, she is peerless:

Best Urban/Alternative Performance nods go to:

Beautiful Maiysha

Beautiful Maiysha

“Say Goodbye To Love” – Kenna
“Wanna Be” – Maiysha
“Be OK” – Chrisette Michele Featuring will.i.am
“Many Moons” – Janelle Monae
“Lovin You (Music)” – Wayna Featuring Kokayi

As a Social Media junkie, I suspect Maiysha’s album sales would be higher if she actually followed the people, like me, who follow her on Twitter (As of 4 Dec there are only 63 followers).  Maybe she doesn’t want our feedback?  Maybe she just needs a PR person who understands that in order to be successful on Web 2.0 you need to have a two-way conversation with your audience. More Twitter strategies here. Hmmmm…time will tell.

UPDATE: Not sure if she’s read my blog…but as of this afternoon she follows all of her followers on Twitter! *pats self on back*

UPDATE2: She Direct Messaged me to acknowledge the Twittering tip. Cool!


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.