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Air Force & Social/New Media

I just came across this post by David Meerman Scott mentioning a new video released by the U.S Air Force regarding their use of new media.

Here’s the official description of the video from the Air Force YouTube Channel:

This video, created by the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Emerging Technology Division, shows how our Airmen are using social media to stay informed and inform others. Airmen have the ability to communicate and tell the Air Force story better than anyone else. By reaching out with social media tools, they’re able to it quickly and in their own voice. Every Airman is a communicator and these examples prove that. It’s time for you to tell your story.”

Have a look for yourself:

Question for us Canadians: Why are we so far behind? This is not rocket science. These tools are free. Terrorist networks are using them to organize themselves, meanwhile we are still blocking Facebook and Twitter access within the Department of National Defence and the various arms of the military in fear of security breaches and intelligence leaks.

Answer: Same as always, the organizational culture/mindset must change. This has nothing to do with the tools, but rather with the lack of awareness and/or fear of the fundamental paradigm shift that has occurred over the last few years. The senior officer fear of  not being in control of  “the message” and “the brand” of the military keeps them from properly engaging on these channels beyond the 1-way dissemination of information. The fact that lower ranking officers have access to the most powerful media platform in the world at their fingertips scares many in the senior ranks. The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard you try to block access, people will use social media regardless, since it is now an inherent part of human social interaction. Imagine the reaction if senior officers were suddenly told that they are not allowed to use the phone anymore since at any given time “the enemy” might be tapping their conversations (the same excuse is used to block Facebook). Chances are that such an order wouldn’t go too smoothly. Instead, a mitigation strategy should be put into place, just like with the phone (secure lines for “secret” conversations). At the end of the day, what needs to be taught here is the proper, responsible use of social media as opposed to an outright ban. Here are three things the Canadian Military should do right away:

  • Invest in training programs for recruits that show the potential power of tapping into the giant world pool of collective intelligence (fed through content creation via social media channels) as well as the flip side to this, i.e. what “the enemy” is doing. Essentially, a social media monitoring 101 workshop would do the trick. It would also quickly smarten up the recruits that have no idea everything they do online is easily track-able.
  • Create a social media engagement policy, clearly expressing what is and isn’t acceptable. This policy should be derived from existing “values & ethics” of the organization in question. At the end of the day, the same rules should apply as to those governing  in person “conversations”  with the public. Note that social media is not to be treated as a “communication” channel, hence why I specifically use the term “conversation”. Imagine you were talking with someone at a restaurant, being in the military chances are you would not suddenly disclose secret information and then proceed to swear profusely and badmouth the Canadian military. This mindset should be applied when using social media channels. Treat any digital content (including a message to your best friend) as content that could potentially be seen by your superiors, your mother, your neighbour and your enemy.
  • Create a “strategic” social media engagement plan. I say this every day, and I will likely continue saying this until I end my career, social media is not about the “tools and technology” it’s about the “people” powering those tools. If you think that by simply joining Twitter and having Facebook and YouTube profiles you are a “web 2.0 organization”, think again. True engagement takes time , commitment, transparency, and a true understanding and appreciation of the people at the other end of  “the conversation” (i.e your audience). Before choosing specific channels of interaction you should set measurable objectives, target specific audiences, write down clear risk mitigation strategies and above all, understand how these channels work by participating yourself first.
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  1. Right on, Mike.

    I think a big barrier to implementing social media strategies in government is the odious task of retraining everybody… there exists an unavoidable digital divide when it comes to social media: most people don’t have personal experience using the tools. For us, it might come easily, but it’s not the norm yet.

    And then the other big barrier is the backlash inevitable from assigning new work to employees who are likely already overwhelmed with their own portfolios. Where do you find the resources to use social media? Do you replace existing monitoring systems or add social media to the mix? How do you justify the extra cost to the taxpayer in a time of recession?

    I think an engagement policy and strategy does need to be developed, and fast. There are ways to tackle the above questions if you think strategically and set clear goals/objectives. I think there must be top-level support for the strategy, and an internal communications strategy to get employees on board, too.

  2. Ralph, it may be a hard sell in government right now, but very soon it will no longer be an option, at which point everyone will have to play catch up. I suppose that’s in tune with the overall “reactive” culture of government. That being said, there are plenty of very proactive departments and individuals within government that will soon be perceived as pioneers of government 2.0.

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