26 August 2009

Uncle Sam Wants You ... to weigh in on new media policy

the Department of Defense has recently launched a blog (discussed in several articles) to seek input from the public as the department seeks to develop new policies concerning all things new media. According to the new DOD blog, it's purpose is to seek out "insight from various Defense interest groups and think tanks, including Veterans groups, industry groups and individuals who have insights they can share regarding how Web 2.0 capabilities can be used to transform how the Defense Department operates." Posts on the blog have dramatically slowed (looks like the last one was 13 Aug) - not sure what that's all about - but the posts that are there have a decent number of comments. Clearly this issue is one that is of interest to many. Weigh in on the discussion over on their blog where their clever slogan is: "Collaborating about collaboration, Soliciting public input though Open Government".

Also, Patrick Thomas, a doctoral student at Kent State University, left a comment on a recent post here on this blog requesting participants for a survey he is conducting as part of his research into military blogging. Specifically he's looking into "blogging practices—how and why they blog, and their perceptions of their blogs’ audiences" and is "interested in what military blogs add to a growing body of research on the importance of social media (like blogs) in people’s everyday lives." I recently completed his survey - it took less than 5 minutes. If you are a military blogger, I encourage you to take the few minutes to help him out in his research. He's got a consent statement left as part of his comments that he asks you read before taking the survey.

14 August 2009

Interactive Field Manuals: A Reality!!

Wow! The Army has made a giant leap into making use of new media. We had a discussion on this blog a while ago about the concept of interactive field manuals - electronic manuals in which Soldiers could leave comments, ideas, videos, etc. It's becoming a reality, according to a recent news report.

According to this story, the Army has opened a number of manuals up to wiki-style editing. And, any Soldier can do the editing. Interesting! The story also states that there are a number of manuals that will not be opened to editing - our capstone doctrine. That makes perfect sense. There are some foundational pieces of our doctrine that need to be developed in a more organized fashion. But for those more tactical level manuals having interaction with Soldiers is an incredible step for the Army.

There is a permanent team identified for each manual that is responsible to review all edit. Also, Soldiers must post edits under their own name, and since we have to log in with an ID card, there's not a way to be anonymous.

I haven't played around with the manuals yet since I just heard about it this morning. Once I experiment a bit and see what the use has been like so far, I'll put some more thoughts together and share them here.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Being executed well? Share your ideas.

**QUICK UPDATE, 4 Sep 09: seems like the Army's pilot project is getting a pretty decent response although there are still several significant concerns to work through. See this Stars and Stripes story for more details.

03 August 2009

Wings Over Iraq: Blogging and Senior Military Leaders

Starbuck, over at Wings over Iraq, posted some interesting excerpts about the role of blogging in the military. Particularly, the role that senior leaders see for it. I won't rehash it here (he's got several links if you want to read even more on it.)

Suffice it to say that this "new media" buzz is much more than just buzz anymore in the military. It is true discussion about the pros and cons of it and the opinions still widely vary (primarily for the reasons discussed elsewhere in this blog.) I expect that the discussion will continue for some time and we won't find true consensus any time soon. In the meantime, I still think this is one great outlet for the stories to be told and for folks to be able to read about what life is like from a Soldiers perspective.

02 May 2009

Be a "fan" of GEN Odierno

I had read a while ago that GEN Odierno was on Facebook, so tonight while I was on the social networking site, I decided to check out his page. It's worth a look! It's blog-like in that the posts are short and tell a quick story about something going on in Iraq. There are plenty of pics and what pleased me the most about it was the open comments.

It is clear that the comments are not being controlled because there's a variety of good, bad, and ugly posted there. The majority of the comments just things like "keep up the good work" or "we support you, General", but there are a few on there from folks who clearly are not "fans" despite being such in Facebook vernacular.

For those seeking to keep up with the war from various angles, GEN Odierno's Facebook page offers yet another way to help get the full picture. Check it out and see what you think.

22 April 2009

Is Twitter really "all that"?

I have not been sold on this Twitter idea since I first heard about it. Seems like something that I could use if I want to feel important. What use is there in people "following" me on Twitter ... keeping up with my every move? Or telling them when I've updated my blog? Just follow my blog. One blog describes Twitter as "a rapidly proliferating communication platform that is helping define a new era of technology as centuries old media models are disrupted. " What does that really mean? What does it do? What does it change? How does it improve anything?

What would make me decide to blog about my doubts about this ever-increasingly popular microblogging? Several bits in the news lately.

Earlier this week, there was a story about Army challenging Ashton Kutcher on Twitter - what does that even mean? Both the Army and the Air Force have actually been "tweeting" for some time now. On the news this morning that the co-founder of Twitter was part of a State Dept delegation to Iraq to see how their government can make better use of social media (yeah, I saw the story on the old-fashioned, mainstream news, while watching my old (i.e. not flatscreen, not HD) TV) - hey that's a double paranthetical statement (pretty cool).

**As a side note, the Army's move is doubly interesting given it's concern about Twitter just a few months ago ... **

What is the big gain that social media will give to the Iraqi media? Will they be better able to communicate with their constituants? Will they be better able to have active debate? I'm doubtful. Hopefully, reports in the coming weeks will demonstrate that my doubts are unnecessary and there is something more to this than I can see right now.

What is our own government doing with social media? Not much. I was fascinated when the new administration announced the new White House blog ... but that's turned out to be non-interactive. In other words, they're using a new media term but still doing old media stuff like posting their own press release-like material. Where's the interaction - the feedback from the citizens the blog is meant to engage (or, is it just to inform)? Would Twitter improve interaction? Would it increase discussion? Again, I'm doubtful.

There is some discussion on one of the CGSC blogs about the usefullness of Twitter to the Army. Some decent points are made, some good anecdotes are shared, but I'm still unconvinced. Not everything that is new and all the rage is necessarily good. Perhaps we'll find this Twitter rage is just a fad. Perhaps we'll find that having our military services "followed" is not as helpful as some think. Or, perhaps I'll be proved wrong ... it's certainly happened before.

And, oh yeah, I wasn't really sold on this whole blogging thing before I started this project. Maybe I should begin tweeting!?

20 April 2009

Obviously slowing down on the blog ...

To my faithful readers, you've likely noticed that I haven't been posting much lately. That's due to a couple of reasons:
* been really busy with other stuff
* the academic project is completed and my brain is not as focused on this topic as it once was
* I feel like there had been some great discussion about ideas here but I'm short on new ideas to kick around

My intention is not to stop blogging here ... but you can expect that the posts will be much less regular. I will likely reserve posts for new ideas that I hear about (or the few that pop into my own head).

The comments that have been left along the way over the past six months or so have been extremely helpful personally as I try to decide just how I really feel about Soldiers blogging. Many of you have brought up points and counter-points that I would not have otherwise considered. Others pointed me toward some other great thinking and writing on the subject. Thanks to all of you. The project that began as something of an experiment turned into something extremely beneficial - personally, academically, and professionally.

I hope that when I do post in the future, the discussion will be just as useful as it has been in the past. Who knows, maybe someone out there in a position to change the Army's policies toward new media has been positively affected by the conversation you took part in. I hope so.

23 March 2009

Would you use "interactive" FMs?

As this project about blogs kind of winds down, I keep thinking about other ways that we (the Army) could make better use of the new media technologies. One thing that I keep coming back to is the idea of "interactive" FMs.

Imagine that when you open up an FM or TM or any other manual through the digital library that you could leave comments - maybe something you did to implement doctrine in an operation or training exercies, maybe an idea for better organizing your unit, maybe some after action comments about how something went. Then imagine that when the manual describes something and refers to a figure, that figure is interactive - you can click on various aspects of it for more detail, or maybe it's animated to show the progression of a process.

We already have a process in place for sharing our ideas and comments through the center for lessons learned, but the rest of the Army doesn't benefit from those until the next edition of the manual is released. This "interactive" FM would speed up that process dramatically!

What do you think? Is this idea worth pursuing? Or is it off-the-mark? Weigh in by leaving comments - and take part in the current poll!

14 March 2009

WOTN contributing to the discussion

The writer of War on Terror News has recently contributed to this discussion about the role of milblogs. He's got some good comments that are worth the read if you haven't already. For some reason, he can't post comments on this blog, so he's left comments at Milblogging.com and has addressed the subject on his own blog (a couple of times). A couple of highlights worth repeating here.

On the need for trust:

Officers are often weary of the Troops acting like teenagers or publically embarrassing themselves and hence their command and the Military itself, but it is often the Commander as well as the Private that ends up chastised for the mistake. NCO's implement the policies, even when they disagree with them.

But the Troops will rise to the expectations of their leaders. If leaders expect the Troops to act maturely, they will. If the leaders treat the Troops like kids, they'll act like kids. In both cases, someone will break the rules, someone will screw the pooch, and someone will get in trouble, but it is a LOT easier to lead mature Troops empowered to make decisions and trusted to make decisions, that understand the boundaries, than kids that must be told when and what to do at every turn.

On the value and risk of blogging under your own name vs a pen-name:
One part of maintaining OPSEC in MilBlogs is to prevent identification of to what unit the blogger is assigned, hence where he is assigned, hence what his duties are. This is achieved by a "pen name," i.e. anonymity. If "Joe Soldier," (a one time contributor here) were to blog about an operation he was on "somewhere in Iraq" or even "somewhere in Anbar," it would still be possible to research and dig in to find out who he was or where, but it would take a lot more work than if he listed those in his about page. Witnesses to the events and those knowledgeable of the person would likely figure out who he was but the casual reader and even the dedicated reader might not be able to recognize him even if they walked past him

Further, it is important for the Troops to protect their families from potential threats. It is simply too easy in today's world of information and technology to take a few details and figure out where and who a person is. With Troops being on the front lines, their families are at risk not only from terrorism but from identity theft and criminals. There is no way that I would tell the world where my family was one less observer down or tell "Jody" where a lonely wife was. "Jody" and criminals are good enough at figuring those things out without my help. Hometown news releases already help them.

He's got lots of good thought in his own posts and several other interesting points are brought up in the comments to them. I encourage you to read them, think about them, and weigh in on the discussion!

I appreciate all the discussion about this subject on this blog and elsewhere. Certainly, the more people who weigh in on it the better the solutions that will be generated ... and that's really what it's all about. Solving problems, not just talking or complaining about them!

09 March 2009

Concluding the Recommendations

I can hear the sighs of relief now (or are those sighs of wanting more?). Over the past couple of weeks, I've outlined what I think are the most important recommendations that the Army can implement in very short order. These recommendations were based on several months of research, discussion with public affairs professionals, and, of course, through dialogue on this blog. Thanks again for participating in the discussion here. Now, the conclusion of the recommendations ...

New media is being increasingly used by citizens and businesses. Blogs are numerous and regularly read by many. YouTube is among today’s most popular websites. Businesses use new media to better engage with their customers. The military has incorporated several capabilities of new media in service portals to improve communication and facilitate professional dialogue. When blogs first surfaced in large numbers at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Army reacted first by banning posts but quickly modified that policy to provide oversight of Soldiers blogging. Since this time, the Army has struggled with deciding whether to embrace or ban new media engagement by Soldiers. The result is poorly articulated policy and a perception that the Army wants to muffle its Soldiers in the public arena. Many senior leaders recognize that this is not effective policy and recommend the Army make more effective use of new media.

By not just allowing but encouraging Soldiers to blog, the Army will improve strategic communications, improve public perception of the institution, and not increase the risk of OPSEC violations. In this paper, it has been shown that of three options - maintain the status quo, ban new media use by Soldiers, or encourage and enable new media engagement – the best thing to do is to encourage Soldiers to engage new media. Soldier blogging fits in the principles of strategic communication and public affairs’ fundamentals of information. Additionally, allowing Soldiers to blog not only gets more stories about the Army’s accomplishments out to the public, by having Soldiers rather than public affairs professionals writing the stories improves the credibility of such accounts. This, in turn, will undoubtedly improve the public perception of the Army as an organization that values and trusts its Soldiers.

Such a decision must not be made blindly, of course. In order to make this change, new training programs must be developed. These programs must stress the importance of OPSEC and make clear to Soldiers how OPSEC principles apply to online activity. Importantly, these training programs must also teach Soldiers to be effective writers and provide guidance on developing interesting blogs that will draw readers in and keep them coming back.

Such a decision can also not be made without a level of trust of Soldiers. Leaders must develop clearly articulated policies that enable Soldiers to understand the limits placed upon them when blogging, but these policies must also make it clear that the organizations leadership trusts its Soldiers to behave appropriately online. This trust must be articulated, but it must also be exhibited. Commanders can spot check their Soldiers blogs to ensure they are following the rules, but care must be taken that the blogs remain unique, honest, and open – the Army must avoid doing anything that creates the impression that Soldier blogs are puppets for public affairs or their unit commanders.

By developing effective training programs and clear policies, the Army can safely and effectively encourage Soldiers to blog and engage other new media. This is not something that should be done simply because new media is “all the rage” among the civilian community. It is something that should be done to improve the Army’s communication and dialogue with the American public – the public whose support is critical during long, important wars like the ones currently underway. Encouraging the use of new media by Soldiers and units can assist in achieving victory in the War for Public Opinion.

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.