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.

Advertisements

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


Grassroots campaigning is like dating

January 2, 2009

Originally posted (10/22)…LONG POST (GRASSROOTS ORIENTED)…MYSTERIES OF MALE DATING BEHAVIOR REVEALED BELOW…You have to click the links to fully appreciate this posting (especially the “older people” one)

The Obama campaign is courting voters like a skillful man goes after the woman of his dreams.  Up today on Ben Smith’s blog at the Politico.com are some interesting stories about Obama’s integration of Calling, Canvassing, and emailing.  Back in Dec ’07 & Jan ’08, ten months ago, mainstream publications ran stories on the strength of Obama’s ground game (click links for articles):  Obama’s Ground Game Advantage, Inside Obama’s Iowa Ground Game, Obama’s and Huckabee’s Ground Game . Numerous other publications and bloggers have discussed the mechanical advantages of David Plouffe’s campaigning strategies.

A few months ago, I mentioned to a classmate that Obama is registering masses of voters in Virginia.  The naysayers scoff and say “new voters don’t vote…young voters don’t go to polls…they’re to lazy…”

Another groups of naysayers and pundits have asserted that the “Bradley Effect(the idea the white voters lie to pollsters about who they are supporting and will balk at pulling the lever for a black man when inside voting booth) will kick in on election day.  Turns out the pollster for the 1982 California Governors election said his polls were old. The winning candidates pollster said the election ended up how he predicted it in last minute polling. The Bradley Effect has been debunked here and here too. It doesn’t exist!

And finally there are people who say “Black people are only voting for Obama because he’s black.”  In 2004, Blacks went for Kerry 88%; In 2000, Blacks went for Gore by 90%.  Could it be that black people overwhelmingly vote Democrat?  Does the fact Obama is leading in some of the “whitests” states in America (ME, IA, VT, NH, MN, WI) and losing some of the “blackest” (MS, AL, LA, SC) mean anything?  A vote is a vote…bottomline

Back to my opening paragraph.  When a skillful guy really wants a girl he will call her; he will check in periodically to say “I’m thinking about you”; he will invite her to events she likes; he will ask her questions to get to know her better; he will have his friends and family say positive things about him as third-party endorsers; he will wear his best clothes in her presence; he will show he’s good dancer, brave & athletic; he will demonstrate his smarts; he will send her emails; he will impress her by name dropping his rich & powerful friends; he’ll show he cares by helping older people and inspiring younger people; he will demonstrate he’s a man of faith, and he will always say “baby it’s all about you“…most importantly he will repeat all of these actions until he closes the deal.  Meanwhile…the angry dude and his hatin’ friends will try to discredit the guy with scurrilous accusations, school-yard gossip, and name calling.  But the angry dude can’t get his message through because the skillful guy has sent an overwhelming amount of positive messages and has cultivated a relationship with the dream gal.  Sometimes, even in politics, nice guys finish first.

More stories on grassroots campaigning:  here, here, and here


Factcheck: The military embraces blogging

July 20, 2008

RUMOR:  The military does not allow servicemembers to blog.

FACT:  The military embraces blogging and even runs a few blogs on the .mil domain (See examples of official blogs, here, here, here, here)

Military bloggers provide the Naked Conversations that much of the general public can benefit from.

I found it really interesting that my Social Media classroom blog run by Professor Garrett Graff is linked to a large Military blog.

I agree with Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, IV that the military should embrace blogging (and other Social Media).  Caldwell was previously Senior Spokesperson for Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I).  His current duties include serving as Commandant of the Command & General Staff College.  He has published a policy letter that encourages blogging on .mil and commercial websites.

Caldwell’s views on the importance of internet/social media (as outlined in the policy letter):

Interactive internet activities are an essential part of our responsibilities to provide information to the public, usher in a culture of change within our Army’s officer Leadership, Development, and Education and support military operations.  Leaders within the Army need to understand the power of the internet and leverage as many communications means as possible to communicate what the CAC is doing and more importantly to “Share the Story” of those serving in uniform and highlight the incredible sacrifices they and their families are making.

Here is one of the blogs from a classroom of Army Majors.

In fact the Army has accounts at twitter, youtube, and flickr.  Though they don’t have many followers, subscribers, contacts, respectively; consider these sites a sign that Senior Leaders are embracing social media.

UPDATE 1:  I just found this link where Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army says:

Senior Army leaders have fallen behind the breakneck development of cheap digital communications including cell phones, digital cameras and Web 2.0 Internet sites such as blogs and Facebook, Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a trade conference on July 10. That helps explain how “just one man in a cave that’s hooked up to the Internet has been able to out-communicate the greatest communications society in the history of the world — the United States”.