Encouraging Soldiers to blog demonstrates a willingness to truthfully share our stories. Nothing will be more self-defeating than to be perceived as dishonest whether when speaking to the media or posting to a personal blog. The American public perceives that the military is willing to and does provide inaccurate information to the media. Additionally, the media believes the military is restrictive in providing access and that officers are not encouraged to speak with reporters. Soldier blogs can help change this perception. While a Soldier blogging is not the same as engaging face-to-face with reporters, it is still a way to show our interest in being open and honest when disclosing information about events that they have been a part of. In order to further demonstrate openness and honesty, Soldiers should blog under their own name and be transparent about their rank, experience, and type of military occupation. Many like to blog under creative pseudonyms, but by posting under their own name credibility will be easier to achieve. This is not asking for something extraordinary: nearly half of all bloggers already blog under their own name.
Encouraging Soldiers to blog about personal experiences will result in two potential outcomes. First, traditional media sources will pick up on the stories being published on blogs as many examples over the past few years prove they’ll do. Secondly, if there is a preponderance of these stories in the blogosphere and they are being read, shared, and linked to, perhaps mainstream media will see the appetite that exists and begin to publish more such stories on their own initiative.
The most important and interesting story for Soldiers to tell is their own. However, the Army can gain more strategic impact on public opinion if Soldiers blog entries corroborate the stories being told through official channels. By this I do not mean that the Soldiers simply repeat what official press releases say. If Soldiers are seen as puppets, this would have a detrimental impact on their credibility. If, however, the stories Soldiers tell further enlighten and personalize the information from press releases or other stories in main stream media, this could have a positive impact for the Army.
One way to accomplish this is to provide talking points for Soldiers to consider when blogging. This is no different than what we currently do in operations where Soldiers may have contact with mainstream media. The Army provides talking points to Soldiers to prepare them to intelligently engage the media about current operations. Soldiers are not simply given phrases to repeat to any question; rather, they are informed of the operation’s intent, provided with some background and key points that we desire the public to hear, and then instructed to talk about what they know and what they do – to “stay in their lane.” What I propose is that this same model be applied to the blogosphere. Provide Soldiers with their command’s talking points and encourage them to blog about what they know and what they do. When doing so, it must be made clear that Soldiers are not demanded to always include talking points in their blog entries. Rather, the Army should educate Soldiers about the strategic impact that blogging can have, inform them of the higher commanders’ intents, and allow them to tell stories of their choosing in their own words.