08 March 2009

Educate Soldiers to be Effective Communicators

Just as important as ensuring they understand the application of OPSEC to the web, Soldiers must be educated to be effective communicators. They must be able to clearly articulate the story they have to tell, make it readable and interesting, and be aware of the best ways to get that story out to the most people possible. This is where the Army should focus the bulk of its education and training efforts concerning new media. This training should be made available to all Soldiers but not required. During regular OPSEC training, when the discussion turns to the web the offer should be made for those interested Soldiers to attend a focused session about engaging new media.

In this new media training session, it would be most effective to begin with a few examples of successful blogs. Aside from providing motivation by demonstrating how effective and far reaching many Soldiers’ blogs have become, this will also make some important points about blog layout, subject matter, and the use of pictures, videos, and other items that make blogs more appealing. Knowing that most of the widely read milblogs are written well, this training session must also review basic composition skills – a refresher on creative writing. The bulk of the training session must address the basics of blogging. Most blog hosting sites provide an interface that is very easy to work within, so the focus of the training should not be on how to set up the blog. Rather, the focus is more properly on discussing best practices: regularity of posting, accepting and monitoring comments from readers, additional features to add to the blog, and interactive features to generate and maintain interest. The training should also provide Soldiers with tips for successful blog creation: where to register their blog, how to generate interest initially, how to maintain interest and increase readership, and ideas.

Part of training Soldiers to effectively engage new media should focus on applying the fundamentals of information described in public affairs doctrine. These fundamentals are: tell the truth, provide timely information, practice security at the source, provide consistent information at all levels, and tell the DOD story.

With integrity as one of our core values and the importance of honesty in all we do, this fundamental to “tell the truth” is already a fundamental of soldiering. Blogs offer a key advantage over other forms of traditional PA when it comes to providing timely information. One recent best practices publication by the military’s public affairs community stated that blogging “empowers the average person, regardless of their background and qualifications, to rapidly distribute both information and analysis” (emphasis mine). In the public affairs community the importance of getting the story out fast is emphasized: “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”. As long as Soldiers are cleared to discuss the issue, mission, or event, their blogs are one of the quickest way to get information out. By ensuring adequate OPSEC training and understanding, leaders can safely trust Soldiers to practice security at the source.

Consistency is critical when presenting a story. In fact, inconsistency will reduce credibility. Consistency in this regard does not mean every level must be telling the same story verbatim; rather, each person/level’s story must not contradict another. Ensuring Soldiers understand that talking points apply to online activity can help prevent contradictions. Talking points and command messages can help Soldiers understand how they fit into the big picture. This understanding will likely influence their writing and help ensure consistency while still allowing them to remain unique and not appear as puppets for the Army. Blogs are a great way to tell the Army’s story – by Soldiers telling theirs. By encouraging Soldiers to blog about their experiences, they will provide more information of interest and useful to the public we serve. Major General Bergner, a recent spokesperson for Multi-National Force-Iraq, clearly sees the benefit that Soldiers’ blogging brings to the Army in telling its story:

It's the personal aspect of what bloggers are able to convey. No one can
do it with the same personal insights, the perspective, and the texture that
comes with those dialogues. That is what is so meaningful for the American
people and so important for the Army because all of us want Soldiers to be able
to tell their story, like only a Soldier can do.

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