• 13Oct

    I am always scanning the Web for informational tidbits, and one blogger I have been following is Jeff Cole of JJC Communications LLC, who posts his PR101 observations every Monday. Last week’s blog particularly caught by eye, “PR 101 – Lesson 31 – Social Media Is Everywhere – Even Places I Didn’t Expect To Find It.” In this installment, Jeff recounts what he uncovered about how the Air Force is harnessing social media to facilitate coverage of the war in Afghanistan.

    How progressive! The military embracing an open forum like blogging! Of course, “open” is a relative term when you talk to the government.  

    “There has been a major debate in the Air Force over social media. There was an “old-school mentality” over its use, [U.S. Air Force Captain David Faggard, Chief, Public Affairs for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing] said. From talking to Faggard and reading about the Air Force’s social media efforts, I think the senior commanders are having had the same debate many C-suite executives are having. The Air Force commanders are in their late 40s and 50s. They grew up reading newspapers and watching television news. In their worldview, those mediums still dominate. They are not sure about social media, what it is, and what it can do.”

    As Cole notes, bloggers have become field reporters like Ernie Pile in World War II. And why not, Twitter is playing a major role all over the world any time a disaster or political upheaval strikes. When traditional communications channels close, the Web is still there with fresh information.  And I noted a story on CNN today that military recruiters have met their goals this year for the first time since the draft was discontinued in 1973. The report said it may be largely due to the economic downturn, but it also has to be due to the fact that the military is now hipper than ever with pages on Facebook and channels on YouTube. 

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    Of course, the U.S. military is still erring on the side of caution, and there isn’t a consistent policy. There is still a huge concern about data leakage. The U.S. Marines banned use of Twitter, MySpace and Facebook from its networks as a security risk – see the article in Wired. Letting the social media genie out of the bottle clearly can have some disastrous side effects as well, but the same concerns are true in any corporation.

    I have been working on a project for a client, FaceTime Communications, which just shipped a new unified security appliance that monitors and records Web 2.0 traffic to prevent data leaks and promote compliance. Theoretically, with the right policies in place, it prevents Facebook data leaks such as status posts like “Our patrol attacked this well-protected village today,” or a LinkedIn query such as “We are working on a multi-million dollar deal with Acme and I need information…” As Faggard notes:

    “In my personal opinion, the military is still trying to figure it out… Of course, anyone talking to a blogger, or writing a blog, cannot violate standard Air Force rules. You cannot talk about war plans for instance or about operational plans.”

    But like the Internet, the blogosphere cannot be controlled, which is what scares both the military and corporate leadership. However, they can control the message by being proactive, and embracing the social medium that will help them deliver the message (with apologies to Marshall McLuhan). This means attacking the problem on three fronts:

    1. Taking a proactive approach and embracing social media, as the Air Force is clearly doing with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube;
    2. Using a reactive approach where you are using social media tools to track the conversation (both good and bad) on the Web – check out the Air Force’s “Counter Blogging” strategy and their Web, Posting Response Assessment; and
    3. Applying strict policies and procedures, bulletproof security technology, and common sense to prevent leaks of sensitive information.

    The U.S. military has been fighting its battles in the public press and in the trenches for as long as we can remember. Social media is too powerful a tool for them to ignore, and could be the most effective weapon in their PR arsenal once they figure out how to use it effectively.

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    Posted by Tom Woolf @ 9:46 pm

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