When determining how best to prepare Soldiers for “aggressive” blogging, my starting point is the military’s public affairs guidance in JP 3-61. This publication outlines the fundamentals of information which are: tell the truth, provide timely information, practice security at the source, provide consistent information at all levels, and tell the DOD story (p1-5,1-6). Let’s investigate how each of these can be applied to a Soldier when in the blogosphere.
- Tell the truth – well, that can’t be said much more clearly. With integrity as one of our core values and the importance of honesty in all we do, this fundamental of information is already a fundamental of soldiering. Interestingly, the authors of a study on credibility state that “people have a general distrust of public relations professionals … individuals ‘from the field’ are perceived as having a higher degree of competence and are viewed as less likely to deceive” (p13). This finding certainly suggests the value of information directly from Soldiers, and blogs are a great way to transmit that information.
- Provide timely information – this is where blogs offer a key advantage over other forms of traditional PA. As the authors of “Engaging the Blogosphere: A Joint Public Affairs Best Practice” (from the Joint Public Affairs Support Element (JPASE), an enabling organization of U.S. Joint Forces Command) suggest, blogging “empowers the average person, regardless of their background and qualifications, to rapidly distribute both information and analysis” (emphasis mine). JP 3-61 further discusses the importance of timely information: “The first side that presents the information sets the context and fames the public debate. It is extremely important to get factual, complete, truthful information out first” (p1-4). As long as Soldiers are cleared to discuss the issue/mission/event, blogs are about the quickest way to get information out. And what a better source for that information than a Soldier or Soldiers who were there!
- Practice security at the source – admittedly, this is the single most concerning detail about blogging. Ensuring our Soldiers practice security when blogging requires two things: proper education and trust. Proper education comes in several forms, one of which already exists as a regular training requirement for soldiers. Annually, every Soldier must attend a training session about OPSEC. This training is conducted at the unit level and typically consists of standard training material coupled with pertinent information specific to their unit and/or location. Simply adding some discussion about how the principles of OPSEC apply to all manners of transmitting information (phone calls, e-mail, and blogging) would help ensure Soldiers understand all aspects of OPSEC. Additionally, in accordance with the Army's current blogging policy, before a Soldier is authorized to blog about anything pertaining to the military, they must have a conversation with their commander and their unit security officer. The security officer has an important role to talk in detail with that Soldier about OPSEC as it applies to their blog and the things they should be very careful about when blogging. An article about OPSEC in the discusses some of the security concerns about Soldier blogging.
- Provide consistent information at all levels – like security, this also provides some concern for commanders. Consistency is critical when presenting a story. In fact, inconsistency brings credibility into question. Consistency in this regard does not mean every level must be telling the same story verbatim; rather, each person/level’s story must marry up properly without contradicting each other. For this reason, PAOs often publish “talking points” for Soldiers throughout an organization to use when interacting with the media. As discussed in an earlier post, ensuring Soldiers understand that these talking points apply also when their blogging can help prevent contradictions. This must be done with care because we certainly don’t want to “use” our Soldiers nor do we want that to be the perception. In the case of blogs, I believe “talking points” and “command messages” can be used to help our Soldiers see the bigger picture and better understand how they fit into that picture. This understanding will likely influence their writing and help ensure consistency.
- Tell the DOD story – like “tell the truth,” I can’t say this one much more clearly and blogs are one great way to help accomplish this fundamental. Several commands (i.e. US Army Combined Arms Center and the US Army Corps of Engineers) but most are primarily for internal communication: keeping the command informed, seeking ideas from the organization, and generating discussion from within. Some of the posts are about current events/actions within the command that help keep the country informed. By encouraging Soldiers to blog about their experiences, we can take this one step further by providing more information of interest to (and, arguably, needed by) the public we serve.
I think it is clear that Soldiers in the blogosphere have a very important role to play. In order to ensure they are properly trained and equipped for this mission – just as we must ensure for every mission – well thought out programs and policies will be required. This is where the bulk of my project lies. LTG Caldwell has published a blogging policy for the US Army Combined Arms Center which provides a great starting point for an Army-wide policy.