Knowing the Difference Between Open Communications and Too Much Information

As a PR professional, it’s odd to be on the receiving end of a media pitch.

Last January, I blogged about ArmyStrongStories as part of a discussion on letting go of control to let social media work in your favor. Well, not long ago I received an e-mail, or rather a “pitch” in PR parlance, about the new ArmyStrongStories web site and interface. It was a fairly soft pitch as they go, basically pointing out that there is a new Web interface and that provides unfiltered access to soldier stories. The Web site “brings together Soldiers and Army supporters to connect and interact online with fellow Soldiers, recruits, family, friends, community leaders and others interested in Army service.  Whether someone is a Soldier, Soldier’s spouse, family member, friend or troop supporter, they can visit the Army Strong Stories community and share their story through written or video submissions.”

This remains a great concept (not to mention a great recruiting tool). According to my e-mail source from the PR agency, social media is taking the Army by storm:

–          More than 165 soldier bloggers have signed up to participate in ArmyStrongStories

–          There have been more than 890 blog posts to date

–          ArmyStrongStories has more than 260,000 Facebook connections

–          The site also has 95,000 MySpace friends

–          And ArmyStrongStories has 27,000 Twitter followers.

This is something the Army can be proud of. Its online recruiting poster is picking up a real following, and social media is working for them as it does for any other big brand or product. It’s getting positive attention, including by me in this blog entry. And they are clearly making the most of it since they hired Weber Shandwick to help promote it.

Of course, I am sure that someone is keeping an eye on the content, if not for political correctness and brand monitoring then for possible security or data leaks. One of the things I have been learning about from my recent work with my client FaceTime Communications is the prevalence of inadvertent data leaks over social networking media. FaceTime makes security software designed to make it safe for companies to use social media, instant messaging, and unified communications by managing online conversations, including filtering for keywords and possible data leaks. Although users are getting more business value from the relationships they nurture through their social media sites, they also get carried away and can reveal too much, like the developer who is excited about the features in a new pre-released product or the sales rep who turns to his LinkedIn connections for help with a competitive bid.

When you live your life online, people tend to forget the rules of discretion or even common sense. People forget that the Web is an open forum, where you are not only chatting with friends and loved ones but also with anyone who wants to listen in. That’s the power of social media, and with power comes the responsibility of knowing how and when to be discrete.

So I’ll be watching to see how the experiment progresses. To be effective as a social media outlet, it has to be open and largely uncensored. After all, the appeal of social media is that it gives you an opportunity to express yourself without watchdogs monitoring what you have to say. But if the forum comes across as too much as a staged online recruiting poster, without naysayers or even soft critics, then it will lose credibility as an unfettered social media forum. This is clearly going to be a test case on how to build a social media community using communication that is open, but not too open.

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