06 November 2008

How best to get Soldier's blogging ...

In January, LTG Caldwell, CG of the US Army's Combined Arms Center, proposed that the Army could do a significantly better job of allowing - actually encouraging - Soldiers to engage "new media". I won't restate his thoughts here, but I'd like to discuss one aspect of his piece specifically:

Educating Soldiers to better engage "new media"

For those who've been around the military for any length of time, the thought of more mandatory training is not appealing and questionable in it's effectiveness. So, how could we best educate our Soldiers to be effective in helping to tell the Army's story - helping to get some more of the good news out there - while ensuring they're fully aware of the challenges (security and otherwise).

We already have regular training about operational security and adding a few bits about how that links to web content is too easy - but I bet most soldiers already understand what OPSEC is, why it's important, and their role in it and applying that to the web is not much of a stretch.

I'm most interested in how best to educate/train our Soldiers to be effective communicators - people who can clearly articulate the story they have to tell, make it readable and interesting, and the best ways to get that story out to the most people possible. That's were we really should focus our education and training efforts - that's the part that we're not capitalizing on right now and, I believe, missing out on because of it!

So what do you think? What are some ways that this type of education could be best integrated?


  1. I would recommend training by example: put together a portfolio of half a dozen pieces posted by folks like Michael Yon, Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal, and others. This way the soldiers can see what effective blog posts look like, how they are written, and what kind of content they contain. I believe it's also important to note that Michael Yon is most famous for his photographs, not his writing -- as good as it may be.

  2. MAJ,

    I've been following soldier's blogs and milblogs for quite some time, and I've also been keeping a couple of my own. I think the key to highlighting the courage and patriotism of our soldiers is to allow them to speak freely in the blogosphere (barring any OPSEC considerations of course). If a Public Affairs route of talking points and name-branding approach is utilized, it may take away some of the credibility of their opinions. We still have a volunteer military and there is no reason to believe that even the most embittered young soldier's opinion isn't valuable insight into his/her patriotism. Good luck with your project.

    V/R LT N

  3. The best way to get soldiers to blog is to let them speak open and freely about their experiences. This means that you can't only tell people about the good stories or good experiences. If a soldier's blog is to have some sort of credibility they need to be encouraged to talk about the strains deployments have on families, pay problems, and how frustrating it can be to get something done in the Army. Those things along with the rewarding aspects of serving, how one can make lifetime friends, and the good things we do at home and overseas.

    Most importantly, when someone high in the chain-of-command doesn't like what was written, they shouldn't order the soldier to shut down their blog. This is what happened to one of the best blogs out there earlier in the year, Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal. I'm not saying a soldier should be allowed to be insubordinate or defy OPSEC, but the chain-of-command shouldn't edit a soldier's blog. Otherwise it stops being their thoughts and opinion.

  4. Good stuff. I can see that the military if finally realizing the power behind group think and listening to the input of the troops through blogs.

    A couple of things. The thinkers out there, that are trying to get this going should study up on on some Web 2.0 issues. One of my favorite topics is Crowd Sourcing and Social Networking.

    The rule of thumb for both of these, is you need to offer a good enough reason for soldiers to use these tools like blogs or social networks. Or give them incentive to spill their guts or contribute time and thought for a crowd sourcing initiative.

    Money is one thing you can offer. Another thing you can offer is entertainment. The reason why sites like Myspace and Facebook work, is that people get entertainment value out of those places--music applications, video, chat, etc. If you want to get today's younger generation blogging or interacting and communicating their thoughts, then you have to reward them for that time and energy.

    The other thing, is you can't force an individual to do this. They have to want to blog. They have to have a passion about it or have some incentive.

    I blog, because I am truly passionate about my industry(security contracting). I like to write too. But believe me, if I did not have a passion about my topic, I would not at all enjoy the blog.

    The other thing I like about blogging, is the feedback I get from others. I love involving a community around a common theme, and I love getting everyone thinking.

    On the down side, blogging is getting drowned out by highly corporate and commercialized blogs. It is tough to get recognized in the blogosphere because of it, and Google is not kind at all these days to the small scale bloggers.

    Finally, I also like to blog, to see how many people I can bring in as readers. I follow my google analytics and it is really fun to see what topics are most interesting to the readership, and who is reading my blog.

    But back to crowd sourcing. I realize the military has the TIGR system, and that is cool. But does the TIGR system have a reward process for young troops to get involved on it. I don't know, because I have never been on it. With crowd sourcing, meaning using the crowd to come up with solutions or have them accomplish tasks that are massive, the military could be really working their really vocal and knowledgeable troopers.

    Now with blogging and social network sites, are soldiers afraid to voice their opinions, for fear of getting in trouble? Are they afraid of violating OPSEC? Are they afraid of looking weak or being passed over for command, for expressing depression or personal issues? I don't know, but really these are things that the military needs to think hard about, if they want soldiers to blog and get vocal.

    And then when they do get vocal, will leadership have the courage to listen to it? Leaders must understand that when a soldier has the guts to voice a concern, they are showing that they trust that leader to fix it. That those soldiers care enough about the the organization, to speak up, and that is such a vital part of an organization. That is how 'learning organizations' become actual learning organizations. When soldiers stop caring or voicing concerns, is when a leader should be very worried.

  5. Also, I just wanted to mention my blog, which is called Feral Jundi, and can be found at www.feraljundi.com. Cheers. -matt

  6. Too much to say, so I left my comments here.

    Good luck Major.