17. Case Study: U.S. Military
The military’s experiments with Twitter
On August 3rd, 2009 United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) signed an order which officially banned the use of social networking sites (SNS) on Marines Corps. Enterprise Network. Marines stationed allover the world who had previously communicated with collegues, fellow soldiers, friends, and family via social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Myspace using their workstations were set back approx. 10 years to when they had only telephones and minimal use of computer networks. Although the ban may only last one year if studies rule out the risk, it will give the Marines a late start in a technology that is currently exploding. The order reads: “INTERNET SNS ARE DEFINED AS WEB-BASED SERVICES THAT ALLOW COMMUNITIES OF PEOPLE TO SHARE COMMON INTERESTS AND/OR EXPERIENCES (EXISTING OUTSIDE OF DOD NETWORKS) OR FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO EXPLORE INTERESTS AND BACKGROUND DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN.” Some exceptions do exist; these include military sponsored blogs that are hosted on military servers and waivers that must be approved by several different authorities and departments including IT. (1)
The ban comes at a time when many things are happening behind the scenes for those who are not accustomed to social media. In May of this year the U.S. Army ordered all network managers give military personnel access to Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, Twitter and Vimeo on their workstations. Many SNS sites such as Youtube and Myspace continue to be blocked. The stated intent of the order by senior Army leaders is “to leverage social media as a medium to allow soldiers to ‘tell the Army story’ and to facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information.” (2) The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen is also hoping to leverage social media by taking public questions via Youtube and using Twitter to promote the process. Adm. Mullen’s recent popularity is a testament to how many people are beginning to use Twitter as a way to publicly converse with individuals who otherwise would be unavailable to them. Since Twittercounter.com began tracking @TheJointStaff in June, the ID has generated an average of 257 followers per day.
One of the most frustrating aspects about the military blocking Twitter is the confusion. Security risks have often been cited by the Pentagon and other official sources as the reason why Twitter has not been widely accepted and even banned in some cases. Former FBI special agent and founder of Methodvue, a consultancy that provides cybersecurity and computer forensics services to the federal government and private businesses, counters this by saying that “Social nets themselves don’t present a level of risk that we haven’t seen before.” He explains that “Social net risks can be managed using the same processes and techniques used to secure web access and email communications.” (3)
Here in Seattle when I visit Twitter.com on my government workstation I get a message stating that it is blocked due to being a “dating/personals” site. This false description, much like the way Twitter is presented in traditional news media, completely undermines Twitter’s ability to connect public servants and the people they serve. One prolific former Marine who is now on the Interim Board of Directors for the Social Media Club writes a blog called the Britopian. In June 2009, he did an interview with Major Dan Ward of the United Stated Air Force titled: Social Media Activation and the U.S Air Force. While describing how the military primarily uses Twitter for broadcast purposes, Major Ward noted: “What’s more interesting, though, is what we’re NOT doing with social media. Specifically, the military is not letting me use social media from the computer on my desk. The network I’m on at work blocks Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and a huge percentage of blogs.” (4)
For this book, instead of focusing on what the government is doing wrong I intend to discuss those who are pushing the boundaries and the results of their efforts. Within this chapter I endeavor to provide a game plan for using Twitter as well as a method for training public affairs personnel and ultimately everyone in the military. In doing this I provide some suggestions for best practices and how to go about creating a Twitter ID that provides useful information to an extremely broad audience with minimal security threats. My methods may also apply to other large, secretive organizations where information is much more likely to flow through a chain of command than move through a peer-to-peer network. Using several case studies and a mound of references, I argue that not only does the military have an obligation to use social media, but if used correctly, Twitter’s return on investment is particularly high.
A distinction needs to be made before we go any further. There is of course at least two categories for Twitter IDs. There are IDs specifically set up for an organization or agency and there are personal IDs which sometimes get branded to look like an organization ID (see @USNAVYSEALS). Within the military, personal IDs can be used for both personal messages (family and friends) and official business. Many top ranking military officials such as the Commandant of the Coast Guard have public affairs staff who tweet for them causing their ID to be strictly work related. Further down in the ranks we find IDs which have a mixture of personal and official business. Because some branches of the military restrict access to social media sites on government networks, I’ll focus on why everyone should be allowed access to conversations pertaining to them and how the military should go about facilitating this.
- Why the military?
- Uses for Twitter in the military
- Official documents / opinions related to Twitter
- Profiling organizations: Methodology
- Profile: @AFPAA (Air Force Public Affairs Agency)
- Profile: @PacificCommand
- Thought Leaders
- Overview of best practices
- Where to go from here
Why the military?
“Nearly two-thirds of the military’s 2.4 million members are “digital natives” who grew up with fingers on mouse pads, not pencils and paper. They’re more likely to connect with friends through text messages and Twitter “tweets” than by phone or e-mail. And when they want news, they’re more likely to get it from blogs and the Internet than from newspapers or TV broadcasts.” (5) This statistic alone provides a heavy punch for why Twitter must be used by the military. It may sound startling or even untrue, but it is a new reality and one that must be addressed.
The military was specifically chosen for this book because it was one of the largest and arguably most controversial sectors that can benefit greatly by using social networks like Twitter. Ever since military propaganda became prevalent during World War I, thanks in part to the “The Father of Spin”- Edward Bernays, Americans have been artificially educated and patriotized by military agencies using methods that are for the most part limited to one-way communication. (6) Within the last year an enormous amount of progress has been made within the military regarding social networks and bidirectional communication. User manuals that include guidelines, best practices, and even key terms are just beginning to be published. Most importantly, high ranking officials are beginning to see value in what could be one of the biggest advancements the military has seen since they began using email.
Taken as a whole, the military is an extremely complex organization. There are so many rules and regulations in place, some feel like they have become so specialized in their job that they could never possibly learn another. In relation to Twitter, while the rules are still being written, many regulations inherently restrict government computers that are used for official business. Specifically, regulations that inhibit internet downloading will likely always stay in place due to the vulnerabilities it causes to entire networks. Other Federal regulations such as the Freedom of Information Act add additional work to already understaffed public affairs offices.
Uses for Twitter within the military:
A key reason that the military should use Twitter is to communicate with the public it serves. Within the last decade many communication theorists have begun to see a shift in mass communication toward a more personal approach. More and more people are turning to communication devices other than the radio, TV, or newspaper. Because other forms of media such as Web blogs are more interactive, those who begin using them feel a sense of ownership and thus are more likely to return for more.
A case study provided by the Government 2.0 Club reveals the following information:
“Witness reports crash of Air Force C-17. Within a minute the story was on CNN. Seventeen minutes later, the Air Force countered that it wasn’t true using Twitter. Fifty-five minutes later CNN retracted story.”
This quickly became a precedent for quick response and was quickly followed by a similar incident in which an F22 actually did crash. Again, the Air Force used Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the public. This time they explained that they were attempting to locate family members before they released any details. (7)
A business continuity planning consultancy, Crisis Survivor, has created a service specifically to “…provide the means for mass communication during a crisis and for use in coordinating contingency plans.” Tony Gimple, managing director of Crisis Survivor, says; “The technology of communication during crisis situations have really evolved in the past decade. The logistics of mediums such as Twitter provide more efficient way of communicating to a large number of people. Although it is not a complete solution, it does provide another method to deliver urgent messages”(8)
One of the most important aspects of using Twitter is customer service. You might ask, who is the military’s customer? Arguably it is all Americans. We all pay taxes and expect the military to protect us. If our tax money is going toward gathering intelligence on Twitter, why not also put it toward the capability to interact with the military. One example of this type of citizen interaction with the military is a program started by Coast Guard Commander M. Andre Billeaudeaux here in Seattle. The Citizen Action Network is comprised of citizens who live on the beaches of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. These volunteer citizens have been organized and trained by the Coast Guard to actively watch our Coastlines and report suspicious or potentially dangerous activities. If a system like Twitter was adopted by citizen networks such as this, the Coast Guard and other Homeland defense agencies could provide a clear, open channel for information to be distributed in both directions. Citizens would receive the latest updates about activity in there area and public servants would receive tips that could save money and ultimately lives. CDR. Billeaudeaux is currently researching Web 2.0 tools, but is not able to implement technologies like Twitter because of access restrictions. He states that “In the military and especially the Coast Guard, our leaders need to keep in mind the public they serve, if we’re not doing everything possible to keep them informed and to listen to their responses then we maybe completing our missions but we aren’t serving the public.” As founder of the Citizen’s Action Network, CDR. Billeaudeaux has arguably been the biggest proponent within the military for public involvement. In his interview with the Naval Post-Graduate School he explains that his goal has always been better communication between the public and the Coast Guard and ultimately with all government agencies.
While digging through articles and Tweets I found a recent U.S. Air Force publication entitled “New Media And The Air Force” which defines the term “SMARTMOB” as “When users get together for an activity or event as a result of an online connection or network.” (9) Looking further into this I found the original source of the term; former MIT Press author Howard Rheingold wrote a book in 2002 entitled Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution and did a Web video presentation which is posted on MIT’s Web Site. A summary of the book at smartmobs.com gives us a better description of the purpose of a smart mob. It explains the phenomenon as being a technology that was originally adopted to support democracy but can also be used to coordinate terrorist attacks. The 1999 anti-WTO protests nicknamed the “battle of Seattle” are referenced as being one such case when Web sites and cell phones enabled protesters to become more organized and violent.
In Rheingold’s video presentation he says he was first inspired to write the book when he noticed the convergence of cell phones and the Internet and recognized it as a new form of technology that further amplifies our ability to communicate. He realized that the ability to interact via a cell phone allowed a new group of people access to information that they had previously been excluded from. One of the first examples of this he describes was when Congress immediately shutdown the hearings regarding a corrupt government in Manila. Something like 20,000 people began to demonstrate, summoned predominantly by text messages. Rheingold’s overall plan for the book was to explore how technologies such as text messaging, and now arguably Twitter, enable new kinds of social activity. (10)
My goal in explaining this is to show there are agencies in the U.S. government that monitor every possible communication channel and attempt to influence smart mob’s. Some of these resources would likely be better utilized if put toward developing a secure way for soldiers and civilian workers to use Twitter to communicate with each other and the outside world. As Rheingold synthesized, it is likely the users that will define how technology will be used and developed and if it is restricted to only public affairs offices and those who receive special permission, the uses for Twitter in the military will go largely unexplored.
According to the definition given by the U.S. Air Force, smart mobs are organized similar to a tweetup (a meeting invovling Twitter), yet their connotation is quite different. In Mashable.com’s HOW TO: Organize a Successful Tweetup, Stuart Foster explains that Tweetups are a whole new type of event. As a new kind of social activity, “Tweetups are fun, productive, and great for walking away with a lot of contacts and leads.” (11) There are many services available for tweetups including Twtvite (event manager), Twitcam (streaming video), and of course hashtags. Public meetings such as ones held by the Coast Guard for the Citizens Action Network could be available in audio, video, text, and picture format with very minimal cost or risk. Interactive meetings like this encourage active citizens to play a key role in things like homeland security and community policing efforts and would be much more accessible to the public.
Within the previously mentioned interview with Major Dan Ward of the U.S. Air Force, many of his responses focused directly on collaboration. When asked “Should the military have an active presence in social media?, Major Ward replied, “…yes! We should use things like twitter to collaborate, to discover and develop technology solutions and, most of all, to build communities. So many of the problems with DoD system development projects could be improved if we could just make it easier for people to connect, in real time and with fewer filters and barriers.”
According to Major Ward, “Part of the key to social media is the “ambient intimacy” it creates, that persistent, real-time connection between people. And that’s the special sauce that’s missing from the way the military uses social media right now. I’m confident we’ll get there eventually – it’s just a question of how long it’ll take.” (4)
As we have seen, advertising on TV and billboards is no longer enough to capture the attention of this new group of “digital natives”. A great deal of resources are now being put into online advertising however Twitter is able to provide a cheaper, likely more effective alternative. Recruiters need to be searching for conversations and directly contacting those who have shown interest in the military at any level. Rather than buying airtime and other types of ads, why not simply hire someone to personally reach out?
A recent example I found of this is a Blue Angels pilot on Twitter. I’ve seen the Blue Angels a dozen times and have completely lost interest but when I found him on Twitter suddenly I was curious as why he used it. One of the first tweets I found was obviously promoting the military, but in a way that was very subtle and direct.
A key purpose for Twitter in the military is summed up in an article in U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. Recently in the U.K., troops were encouraged by the Ministry of Defence to use Twitter to communicate with their friends and family. British soldiers no longer need to ask for permission from their commander to use social networking sites. Armed services personnel have guidelines set in place but for the most part they’re simply asked to use their common sense and not give away operational secrets. “Think about what you are saying before you describe when you are going to Helmand with x, y, or z”, a U.K. defence official said August 5th. Even if just one person from their company, regiment, batallion, etc tweets, it makes it much easier for family members to track progress and better understand what their friend/loved-one is going through. (12)
Open communication between the government including the military and the public is essential to a democratic society. Transparency is a critical component of public opinion and without it we lose the ability to analyze situations correctly. Twitter provides a direct avenue for messages to flow from the source to its audience. Often times news moderators are able to gather and present information; increasing accuracy and allowing a general audience to understand. The military is an interesting conundrum in that few professional journalists are actually allowed to work closely with the soldiers making for a news-funnel.
More communication will directly benefit the Department of Defense. Robert Carey, leader of the USN Chief Information Office explains that social media “pools collective wisdom to potentially leverage all available resources. It enables problem solving across virtually any function or process ranging from acquisition to legal, to contracting, to systems engineering. Ours is a very large enterprise, and chances are that someone on our network can contribute. The challenge we have is linking the talent out there with the problems we are facing. Social media tools make it possible to do just that.” (13)
Adjusting Public Opinion:
By measuring the public’s perception, it becomes possible to tweak your message so that it is more effective. Adam Ostrow, Mashable.com’s editor and chief, recently wrote an article describing how the Air Force’s Combat Information Cell (the AF’s brand monitoring group) analyzes social media sites including Twitter. He writes “the main goals of the project seems to be to more closely track public perception and adjust policies accordingly”. This type of tracking doesn’t always produce the desired results; however it can be useful in deciding what to do in specific situations.
Despite the security risks and common sense, Air Force One recently flew directly over New York City unannounced for a photo opportunity which caused alarm because several fighter jets were following a jumbo jet. Many people believed there city was under attack again and began tweeting pictures and video. According to reelseo.com, there was approx. one tweet per minute for five hours following this event. (14) The Air Force concluded that “no positive spin was possible” and therefore it was best to try and shift the blame to another agency or let the event blow over entirely without comment (15).
Another known way that the Air Force addresses public opinion is “counter-blogging”. Capt. Faggard of the U.S. Air Force says counter-blogging is when “Airmen counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the US government and the air force.” (16) This method of reversing negative opinions using technologies such as Twitter has arguably been a success for many large corporations including Comcast.
Official documents / opinions related to Twitter
Since beginning a civilian internship with the Coast Guard half a year ago, I’ve seen a side of social media that is incredibly complex and controversial. This is especially the case with the Coast Guard as it is an agency governed by the Department of Homeland Security that also interfaces directly with the Department of Defense. (17) As technologies that provide a more open model of communication evolve, all of the U.S. Armed Forces are having an increasingly harder time competing for the public’s attention and securing their networks from harmful attacks. The overall progression toward a new model of online communication, which includes social media, requires that organizations adopt a new way to communicate with a wide variety of individuals.
One of the most influential proponents of social media in the military is the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Adm. Thad Allen was the “first service chief to discuss the important relationship between military history and new social media.” In a Q & A interview with Coast Guard Blogger Jim Dolbow, Adm. Allen spoke of the ways that social media bridges the gap between the military and the public.
Q: What role do you see new social media having in preserving, analyzing and interpreting coast guard history for both the Coast Guard and the American people?
ADM. ALLEN: Well, Jim, I think it’s got great, great application to make visible to a lot of people who don’t have access to Coast Guard history the very rich and cultural traditions of the Coast Guard. I’m a lifelong member of the Foundation for Coast Guard History. And I myself feel that there probably is not enough appreciation for our history nor ways for people to reach out and get it. And we need probably nontraditional ways to expose them to that. I think social media can provide a great way to do that. We have our traditional sites on the .mil domain. I think ultimately we’re going to have to go across the air gap and figure out a way to get more information out there with wider access to the American public. And we’re actively talking about how we can shift a lot of our content from .mil to .com, and I think that is a way forward. (17)
Adm. Allen began the iComandant Web Journal (using the Blogger platform) on a .mil site in September of 2008. In October of 2008 his Twitter ID was created (@iCommandantUSCG) which provides important Coast Guard news and links to his blog postings. In a recent blog post he highlighted the fact that coverage of important events would be expanded using Twitter. In response to this, myself and several others responded with the fact that Twitter continues to be blocked on the majority of Coast Guard computers. His team quickly replied with several suggestions including the fact that when they Tweet about anything with a significant internal interest, they re-post their tweets on the blog. (18).
The Commandant’s Twitter handle, while still not as popular as it likely could be, offers a great example of the large scale use of Twitter for national distribution. Most likely many of our readers are working on a smaller scale and therefore I turn now to the U.S. Coast Guard district 13 Public Affairs office.
In a interview about how the 13th district uses Twitter, Public Affairs Chief Paul Roszkowski explained that very little training is given regarding Twitter. A 2009 graduate from Public Affairs school who is working in his office was exposed to a brief chapter on social media which had minimal references to Twitter. In the last few months, Chief Roszkowski has pioneered a guide for his team basically from scratch. Within this unofficial guide are methods for link-shortening, analytics, and most importantly how to save your Tweets in-order to be compliant with the Freedom of Information Act. When asked for an example of how his public affairs office uses Twitter, he explained a recent case in which Twitter was used. On 7-22-09, two individuals were lost at sea in a canoe. The local news stations were the first to report the incident so Chief Rozkowski decided to try a different slant and tweeted about how to stay safe on the water.
Army, Air Force and Navy
Within the U.S. Air Force and the Navy there are also many active proponents for the military’s use of Twitter. Capt. David Faggard, Chief of Emerging Technology at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency at the Pentagon (@AFPAA) is in charge of paving the way for the Air Force’s 330,000 communicators. One of his goals involves using “current and developing Web 2.0 applications as a way to actively engage conversations between Airmen and the general public. Yes, that’s right, the goal of the program is that every single Airman is an on-line communicator.” (19)
The U.S. Air Force’s publication entitled “New Media And The Air Force” is one of the only comprehensive social media guides created by the military that is currently made readily available to the public. Within it is a wealth of information about social media including guidelines for how it can be used, industry practices, statistics on how airmen use social media, 10 tips for using new media, examples of how it can used, and information about how to measure and evaluate communication. One of my favorite tips that is offered is summarized as “Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks”. Unfortunately the vast majority of people in the Air Force are not given the chance to make these calculated risks because they are not trusted to use Twitter on their work computers.
Navy sailors on the other hand have access to most social media sites like Twitter from their Navy computers. Navy spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Jenn Womble says “The Navy has no restrictions on the use of social media beyond Defense Department guidelines.” Many people including Navy Secretary Ray Mabus hope that branches like the Marines can find a way to allow access to social media sites while maintaining vital network security. One suggested way for doing this is to use filters which restrict harmful messages from being sent and received. (20)
One of the most fascinating things I found regarding the Army using Twitter was @Astro_Tim. U.S. Army Astronaut, Col. Tim Kopra has tweeted about his first journey into space where he stayed at the international space station. According to Galaxywired.net, Col. Kopra became “the first International Space Station crew member to use the social media tool Twitter to discuss living and working in orbit.” The Army is also embracing Twitter here on earth; in May, the Army ordered that all U.S. Army bases must provide access to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr in order to “support the intent of senior Army leaders to leverage social media as a medium to allow soldiers to ‘tell the Army story’ and to facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information.” (21)
A critic of the current ban, Andy Sernovitz, is lecturer at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. “The ban is going to hurt morale,” Sernovitz wrote in the Huffington Post.
On top of this, it’s not going to work. Everyone has access to a $99 iPhone, texting, and the Web. The Iranian government couldn’t stop Twitter. We’ll look like idiots for trying. Social media is not a new security risk. Anyone dumb enough to reveal sensitive data by social media can already do it on the phone and by email…. If the [Department of Defense] wants to avoid security risks from social media, they need to increase its use. Get everyone familiar with it and train them on proper procedures. Move it underground and you guarantee leaks. (22)
This ban does not affect Marines using their personal computers and exceptions are in place to allow public affairs staff access. (23)
My research into finding useful, military related Twitter IDs began by doing a simple search on Google for ‘military twitter’. Through this search I found milblogging.com, a site dedicated to military blogs and micro-blogs like Twitter. Milblogging.com has the largest directory of blogs (currently 2,378) on the Internet and thus is extremely useful. Another site I stumbled upon was Govtwit.com. Here I found the world’s largest list (approx. 2,300)of government agencies on Twitter.
Having colleagues, friends or family in the military can be quite helpful when trying to first establish a connection on Twitter. Luckily for me, I recently met a very enthusiastic member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who got me acquinted with several leads. The hashtags “#MilitaryMon” and “#followfriday” were especially helpful in finding members of every branch of the military; however very few official agencies use these hashtags.
When looking through military related Twitter IDs I was searching at several things including the background (particularly important for official military), format and content of tweets, transperancy and use of supplemental media. For official agency or personal IDs it is likely best to have an aesthetically pleasing background which incorporates an official logo. All Twitter accounts should be transparent by including as much information as is necessary about the author in the background. A sample of the last 100 tweets was taken and analyzed for replies, retweets, hashtags and most importantly how committed they were to conversing about military related topics. Other aspects I took into consideration were amount of followers/following, bio/bio link, number of posts, and the date the account was created.
Case Study 1: U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Agency (@AFPAA)
One of the most aesthetically pleasing and most developed IDs I came across was created and developed within the Pentagon. The agency originally began in 1978 as the Air Force Service Information and News Center. Since it has changed names several times. The most recent name, the Air Force Public Affairs Agency (AFPAA) was adopted in Oct. 2008; the same time they began using Twitter. It is somewhat unclear, but it seems that this agency may set precedence for all of the other Air Force PA offices.
@AFPAA’s bio is underutilized. Currently it states “Official U.S. Air Force Twitter: news, images, video from http://www.af.mil about our Airmen around the world.” There is no reason to add a URL here that is not click-able. Because this is a search-able field, it needs to be concise and include more keywords than just news, images, video and official U.S. Air Force. A suggestion would be to include terms such as social media, military, global, public affairs, PA and blog.
Another downside to the @AFPAA Twitter ID is its ratio of followers (6,093) to people they are following (299). Its easy to pass this off as the military not wanting to be responsible for what others say, yet they have stated they do not endorse those who they are following. There are undoubtedly more than 299 people on Twitter who have information that is valuable and thus even the AFPAA is likely missing out on a multitude of conversations they should be actively participating in.
The AFPAA uses several social media sites and does an adequate job of linking them all together. While it is often a challenge for large organizations to link their social media outlets, @AFPAA includes links (not all are click-able) to Youtube, Facebook, iReport, 2nd Life, their Web site and their Department of Defense (DoD) blog. Even a link to the U.S. Air Force Band is provided.
One of the best ways of tracking organizations Twitter progress, is by looking at tweets per month. From the time the AFPAA started their account, they continually grew until February when it topped out at 407. Since then the numbers have steadily declined with no explanation. Overall they’re moderately active with an average of almost seven tweets per day.
Another interesting way of tracking the types of conversations that organizations are having is by using TwitterAnalyzer.com. By searching occupation keywords, TwitterAnalyzer.com reveals that @AFPAA is most likely to be followed by students however they have a broad audience.
One of my favorite tweets from @AFPAA is their very first one because it describes exactly what needs to happen in order for an official military account to be successfully created. I want to highlight here that the PA dept. worked directly with the IT dept. to secure space in the social media realm. This Tweet also gives their audience a chance to find out what they can expect.
Background: Aesthetically pleasing (must have been designed specifically for my resolution) and incredibly official looking. Grade: A
Avatar: The blue Air Force wings would likely be more recognizable as an avatar. The logo that is used now would possibly look good in the background. Grade: B
Bio: Lets everyone know its official, but includes an unnecessary link and not enough good keywords. Grade: B
Transparency: Agency profile and several other social media IDs posted. No information about who the author is. Grade: C
Bio Link: Goes to airforcelive.dodlive.mil, an extremely well written blog with lots of pictures! Grade: A
Although the AFPAA doesn’t follow many people, they’re involved in a fair amount of conversations. Roughly a third of their tweets (33/100), are replies. Surprisingly for a military PA agency, only six out of one hundred tweets were retweets. Two in one hundred used the term “via” to credit where they received their information.
One of the major problems I found with this ID and many others, is the lack of hashtags. There were only 15 posts out of my sample of 100 that included at least one hashtag. The only hashtag that was used was #AFGSC. Also, more links should be provided to smaller Air Force PA offices and other military agencies with important information.
While @AFPAA may not be an exemplary model for all military agencies, they’re involved in the most important aspect of Twitter, conversations!
Case Study: Pacific Command Center
The Pacific Command Center was recommended to me by several public affairs officers because they are paving the way for social media in the military. PACOM is the Unified Combatant Command Center of the Armed Forces of the United States located at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii. Along with having an area of responsibility that spans half the globe, PACOM commands approximately 250,000 military personnel. One of the key reasons that PACOM was chosen was to provide an example of Twitter can be used to share information that is pertinent to all branches of the military. PACOM also does an excellent job of using multiple forms of social media and has an amazing Web site!
Since joining Twitter in March (2009), PACOM has acquired 1,719 followers; most of which are active duty military. One thing I was impressed with was the amount of people they are following (1,343). Often times military personnel are quite leery when it comes to following people as some feel this is a sort of endorsement. PACOM has posted 749 updates with an average of 5.3 per day.
Of the 100 tweets analyzed, only one of them was a reply. All tweets except the reply contained the hashtag #Pacom which is used only by @PacificCommand. Ultimately it could be said that @PacificCommand is nearly failing in the tweet department. While I congratulate them on creating a Twitter account and turning on the auto-tweet function, I challenge them to get involved in real conversations. Watching the analytics can become quite interesting when you take that next step and begin utilizing Twitter to have a two-way conversation with the public. One way to get started is to post a list of your favorite IDs with the hashtag #Followfriday or #Militarymon.
When looking further I was encouraged to see that about 9% of PACOM’s total tweets were retweets; signaling that there is actually someone behind the curtain.
Part of the trouble with the military using Twitter is that public affairs offices have traditionally been understaffed and with the addition of social media and several overseas conflicts they have all been stretched quite thin. According to The Washington Post, one solution that has been attempted is to contract out media work such as was done by the 25th Infantry Division currently in Iraq. “Doctrinally speaking, division public affairs assets are not manned to the point where we can provide adequate coverage of units and events,” Maj. Patrick J.O. Husted said. (24)
Background: Basic and not to hard on the eyes. Description and alias’s for other social media sites provided. Only thing missing… info about the author. Grade B
Avatar: Logo for Pacific Command. Grade A
Bio: Same as is used in background image. Good description but missing keywords such as media, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force. Grade B
Transparency: Profile includes information about what PACOM is but does not disclose the author’s information. Grade B
Bio Link: Points to PACOM’s main Web site which is very well designed and updated regularly. Grade A
PACOM uses a wide variety of media in combination with their Twitter ID. Many of their posts are links to photos that are auto-tweeted from Flickr. There are also news links which go to articles hosted on their a .mil Website and blog links which go to a blogspot.com address. Other social media sites they list but don’t link to very often include Youtube, Facebook, and Myspace.
This handle is predominantly a news feed but does offer some conversational elements. Compared to other government command centers, PACOM does an excellent job of utilizing social media and 3rd party Websites like Youtube and Flickr. Like shy people who sit in the corner by themselves at parties, Twitter users like PACOM are only one step away from starting up conversations. All they need is the human resources and some good pick-up lines.
An abundance of opinions have been posted about the governments overall lack of policy when it comes to social media including Twitter. Some of these arguments are much like a child who just won’t accept no for an answer while are others are substantiated. I will focus only on those who suggest best practices and leave the rest of them for you to convene over at a different time.
To help me get a better understanding of what a military Twitter ID could look like, I picked the following thought leaders. Over the last few months I’ve gained a lot of useful information for my vertical on military micro-blogging just by following them on Twitter.
@veryuseful – Its all in the name! I met Darren down in Portland at Rose-fest a few weeks before I started using Twitter. Darren is likely one of the most active Auxiliary public affairs specialists in the district and provides a lot of the photography used for national publications. Because of his involvement he has met more pioneers in gov. social media than I could ever hope to!
@afpadude – Another military PA officer. Suggested by @joyrenee at her presentation to our class. Often tweets about the restrictions the gov. places on social media and suggestions for what should be done.
@joyrenee – I met Joy Renee when she visited our class all the way from Washington D.C! Joy is a social media guru for the world’s largest land owner. While tweeting on behalf of GSA (General Services Administration), Joy provides a wealth of useful information about how the government is transitioning to social media.
@Cheeky_Geeky – “Dr. Mark Drapeau is a biological scientist, government consultant, and prolific writer.” He maintains a both a regular blog and micro-blog (Twitter) full of insightful information about the ways that the government could be using Twitter.
@AHEFoundation – Not sure who the author is but I found them after several searches for military twitter accounts. The posts seem to be very social media oriented and again, lots of useful info.
An overall best practice that I continually thought of while completing this chapter was creating a Twitter Application Programming Interface (API) specifically for official military business. Radian6 is one such application which is used by marketing, communications, and customer service professionals. A secure API could be the answer to many of the military’s security challenges with social media and could provide users with an abundance of tools such as 140it. An API such as this could create a uniform background image based on what branch of the service you are in. It could then input your specific info into a profile located in the background image and give your general location. Your bio could be search engine optimized using the top keywords or terms that appear in your tweets.
Two user interfaces could be available; one for agencies which would include all the necessary tools to find, measure and participate in conversations and another scaled down version for personal IDs.
With this type of application in place, the military would be able to check incoming URLs for security threats while also monitoring outgoing messages that may contain sensitive information. Another problem this would solve is violating the Freedom of Information Act by losing your tweets. An API could very simply upload the tweet and any supplemental media to a second database where it could be securely stored. Incorporating tools, used to not only to shorten links but also text, would save everyone time and would have a large return on investment.
Beyond using an API, there are several ways you can maximize your time spent using Twitter. I’ll highlight a few here but I suggest you read through the rest of the chapters and consider their best practices as well.
1. Follow the experts
By simply spending time on Twitter you will see people who offer far more useful information than others; these are the people to follow. If you don’t know where to begin, just start following the thought leaders I have provided in this chapter. When you decide you’re ready for more, start looking through who they follow and who is being retweeted.
Another useful way of finding experts is simply by searching Twellow.com for keywords related to the topic you’re interested in.
2. Test drive lots of apps
A key reason Twitter is successful is because it is so accessible. Nearly any junior level software developer can create a program that interacts with Twitter. While talking about 3rd parties which interact with Twitter I’ll refer to them here as applications because the majority of them have multiple functions.
One of the most comprehensive lists I’ve found to date is at squidoo.com/twitterapps. Here you’ll find everything including Twitter Polls, several different types of search engines, meeting organization tools, and many other apps being created as I write this.
Mashable.com provides a wealth of information about Twitter including information specifically for large organizations. One article titled “The Corporate Twitter toolbox: Twitter tools for the enterprise” provides an in-depth list of apps custom tailored for large corporation to manage social media engagement. (25)
3. Don’t send them all at once
Twitter is all about conversation. If you send all your tweets at once, your likelihood of being replied to or retweeted drastically decreases. Micro-blogging is formatted for individual, short thoughts. If you continuously tweet, very few people will pay attention to all of them and eventually you will be unfollowed. A good strategy is to spread the posts out. If you need to send a lot of info, post it on a Web page and tweet-a-link. Keep in mind that much like TV, there are certain times no one is watching and there’s prime time. For Twitter prime time is likely around 3-4pm when everyone is getting off work and planning their evening. Ultimately, be respectful of your followers and don’t forget that losing a follower is only a click away!
4. Don’t auto-tweet
Some services such as Flickr allow users to integrate their Twitter account and every time a new picture is posted a tweet goes out. This is for the most part very annoying (especially if you do a bulk upload) and also ineffective. Unless you explain to your followers why they should look at the photo they likely won’t. They may also stop following you if they feel you aren’t posting useful information. Another reason not to auto-tweet is that you lose the ability to track who is clicking on your Twitter links. You may be able to find out how many people are looking at the photo but you won’t know if they are coming from Twitter or not.
5. Use multiple IDs
Sometimes people don’t realize that all they have to do to get a new another twitter ID is input a different email address. Brian Westbrook, Direct0r of Interactive/Social Media for Sandusky Radio tweets predominantly from @BMW however if he is at a social media event or knows he will be sending a lot of tweets, he switches over to @BMWlive.
Where to go from here
One of the worst things you can do is give up on Twitter simply because you cannot access it. If you’re adamant about using Twitter and you’re currently being blocked, the best place to start is with your commanding officer who in many cases has the ability to address the issue with IT personnel. Becoming active in the discussion using the blogs that have been set up on military servers is likely the most effective step at the current time.
Using the abundance of resources that are available via the Internet, I’ve summarized the key reasons the military should promote Twitter and some solutions to the problems that all military personnel face when attempting to use social media. The profiles and other references show that the military as a whole is not yet ready to communicate socially but within the military there are many proponents for this change.
In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate something that the Linda Thomas @thenewschick said when she visited our Twitter class. When asked the best way to convince people to use Twitter she replied “stop wasting your time!” She explained that it is more important to find people who are already on-board or can be convinced easily to give it a try. It is much easier to target these people and then convince the others through shear numbers.
19. Twitter Updates
Q & A:
IDs to Follow (that were not already mentioned):
Corey Christiansen is currently an undergraduate Communication/Social Science student at University of Washington studying Digital Media Communication through a directed research agreement. Corey did approximately 100 hours worth of volunteer work with the Coast Guard Auxiliary before being hired on as a Public Affairs Intern. His experience with Twitter began the day he started class however he has been using social media such as Youtube, Linkedin and Myspace since 2005.
As a proponent of all things digital, Corey has embraced Twitter but is continually looking for ways to improve it. After implementing a Twitter ID for the Coast Guard d13 Auxiliary, he found several ways to incorporate it with the technologies that were already being used. Overall, Corey believes that if used correctly, Twitter can have a positive effect on any organization.
Another of Corey’s primary professional interests is online academics. For several years he worked as production specialist procuring educational videos for online distribution by large universities. He has worked directly with media departments at Yale, California State University at Fullerton and several others to ensure that professors are enabled with the most cutting edge resources.