26 December 2008

Toward more guidance Soldiers could use ...

Thanks to the Unofficial Coast Guard Blog for pointing me towards a couple interesting pieces about corporate blogs. While the comments on the posts are geared toward the civilian world and "official" blogs, the suggestions are really appropriate to anyone blogging. In this case, I think they should certainly be included in any training for Soldiers who are interested in entering the blogosphere.

The first post is on thenextweb.com which stated, first, that only 1 in 6 people find corporate blogs trustworthy. I'll ask some more questions about perceptions toward official military blogs some other time. For the time being, suffice it to say that this, at its roots, is a problem with credibility! So, how then do the authors suggest we can improve this? Consider this comment about corporate (i.e. produced by the PR department) blogs:
the pieces of personal PR are often isolated, living a life within the .com domain of the company. No outgoing trackbacks, social media presence, or articles about phenomena outside the safe haven of the offices.

Turn this around and there are several suggestions for authors to consider:
  • don't link just to your own blog or others in your "world" - in other words, use variety
  • allow and show trackbacks - it allows your readers to follow tangents of your stories
  • have variety in your posts - something beyond the "safe haven" of Soldiering? Okay, the analogy doesn't fit, but the idea still does ... keep variety in your topics
Another bit from this post that is worth commenting on is:
Teach a PR person the fine art of community management 2.0. Give him a free pass for Twittering, Digging, Stumbling, and blogging all the day

Replace "PR person" with "Soldier" and you've got a good suggestion applicable to this project. Again, perhaps its a bit of a stretch to apply this completely to Soldiers - I'm certainly not advocating allowing them to blog all day! Nor am I convinced of the usefulness of Twitter from the "war for public opinion" perspective. But, the most important part of that quote is "teach" - in order to help many of our Soldiers be effective bloggers, we need to teach them about it. I'm still working on ideas for how best to do this education thing ... more to follow on that subject.

The final bit of that short post (I believe these comments my be longer than the original post, but anyway ...) that is worth highlighting is:
Oh, and don’t forget to have a look at some fine examples

This is nothing new. It's been mentioned on this very blog by Tristan_Abbey:
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.

The other post linked from CGB is to Web Strategy by Jeremiah which discusses various attributes of the best blogs. I found these to be not earth-shattering, but written well, simply, and applicable to guidance that can eventually be put in the hands of Soldier bloggers, so I'll reprint them (edited) here. For the full list and a way to diagnose your blog as "great", "good", or "horrible" check out Jeremiah's original post.
1. Writing style: Written in a human voice
2. Topics: Discusses the lifestyle (or workstyle) of actual customers
3. Humility: Admits when wrong and discusses in open the short comings of the company and product and demonstrates in public how it will be improved
4. Linking Behavior: Links out to other sources, even competitors or critics as well as the next listed
5. Customer Inclusion: Allows for customers to guest blog, or includes snippets of their experiences
6. Dialog: Comments enabled and published instantly
7. Comment Moderation: Comments (other than spam or off topic) are allowed, including direct disagreements
8. Frequency:While more isn’t always better, having a steady rhythm of content is important

Obviously, that list is tailored for folks in the business world, not in the military. Regardless, the ideas still apply. I found items 1 and 2 to be exactly what many of you have said attracts you to milblogs - they're written by, and in the voice of, a Soldier on patrol and they contain personal stories you won't read anywhere else. Words like product and customers could easily be replaced with mission and public and the suggestion would apply to a Soldier.

On the topic of useful tips for effective blogging, you may also want to take a look at:
One of the main products that I intend to produce from this project is a one or two page "smart sheet" that would be aimed at helping a Soldier enter the blogosphere for the first time and begin to tell his or her story. Any other ideas that you have for things that should (or should not!) be included on such a product, please leave them here. Also, if you've come across (or created!) any useful lists of dos and donts of blogging or ways to increase interest and readership in a blog, those would be sincerely appreciated. Thanks!

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Have a blessed Christmas celebration whereever you happen to be right now. Please remember to pray for those many service members who won't get a whole lot of a break today as they continue to serve away from their families. Our family anxiously awaits my brother, Joe's return home!

23 December 2008

Defensive blogging

A story this morning on milblogging.com caught my eye for a couple of reasons: it involved the Army Corps of Engineers (my branch) and it involved what I'll term "defensive blogging". The story is about allegations by the website Levee.org that Corps of Engineers employees left comments "targeting citizen critic using tax payer money" and were "re-writing history" (the news report by WWL TV can be seen here.) I have no idea if this is an organized effort by the Corps of Engineers, but it certainly highlights one way that the military can (and, I'd argue, should) engage the blogosphere - by leaving comments on blogs to correct or complete a story.

It's one thing to manage your own blog as an individual or an organization. The Chief of the Corps of Engineers does have his own blog, though it appears to mainly be for internal communication rather than public engagement. But simply posting your own ideas or editorializing on news only gets so far - it only is read by readers of your own blog. Posting comments on other blogs is a way to get your opinions (or facts) out to a brouder audience. This is particularly important if incorrect information is being posted and discussed in blogs. I'd argue that we, as military members, have an obligation to set the record straight when when we see incorrect information floating around.

You may recall stories about CENTCOM's blogging activities from a while back. They do not maintain their own blog; rather, they actively engage other blogs by leaving comments. They are required to be completely open about these posts - which it sounds like these Corps of Engineers employees did not do - which seems a very reasonable requirement. From the stories about CENTCOM, the comments they leave have been received rather favorably and part of that is due, I imagine, to their upfront manner.

Having a small organized team with the task of trolling the blogosphere and correcting or completing stories about your organization seems a very valid and important use of resources. This seems to be something most major commands in the Army (at a minimum) should consider. It's probably not practical or necessary to have an organized team like this at the battalion or brigade level. At those levels, though, we could empower Soldiers to perform the mission. This is, admittedly, a bit more risky because it is not controlled. But if we provide them with information, power, and trust, then I believe they won't let us down.

So, as the Army continues to wrestle with how to best engage the blogosphere, this is one very important tactic - defensive blogging. This is probably a tactic best used by the PA folks around the Army, but there's no reason that it shouldn't be in every Soldier blogger's arsenal.

When you're reading other blogs, or even stories on main stream news websites, do you feel free (and obligated) to correct anything that is untrue or does not present the complete story?

Other thoughts?

300th uniqe visitor stopped by yesterday

Wow! I continue to be amazed at the number of you who have stopped by to peruse these discussions. Thanks for your interest in this subject and project! Perhaps you were #300 yesterday (22 Dec)? That's 300 unique people (or at least IP addresses...) in a little less than a month. Wow! And you're stopping by from all over the world: United States, Germany, Portugal, Colombia, United Kingdom, Canada, Egypt, Australia, Netherlands, India, France, Sweden, Russian Federation, Spain, Thailand, Mexico, China, and Poland.

I encourage you to leave your opinions, ideas, and thoughts in the comments to the posts - don't worry about it being missed, I read all comments that you post and try to respond if you've left something noteworthy, insightful, or in any way helpful. I really do appreciate your participation in this discussion.

If you're one of the regular readers, please consider "following" this blog so you'll be notified when something is posted/updated. Plus, you get acknowledged in the followers "mosaic" to the right!

22 December 2008

Are milblogs biased?

One of the main complaints that I've often leveled at the main-stream media is that they are biased: negative stories, against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, liberal, etc. When we toured the CNN studios several weeks ago, we asked the executives about this perception of bias. They danced around the accusations of liberal- and conservative-bias. One did admit that they are biased toward conflict by discussing the elements of a good television news story. The best stories are the ones with dramatic footage of something out-of-the-ordinary happening. The best stories are about topics that are somewhat controversial or, at least, unusual. The best stories are the ones that engage people - they excite emotions in some way.

Similar elements could be listed about what makes the best milblog post, the post that gets the most interest and readership. These stories appear to be the ones with the most personal elements - a dramatic telling of a patrol from an infantryman's perspective, a memorial post to a fallen comrade, or the joy of returning home. Many of the most popular milblogs also include photos or videos that add to the emotional content of the post. But are these posts biased? Do most milbloggers write because they're against the wars and have found blogging as an outlet? Or are most milbloggers pro-military and pro-war and seek to use their blogs to balance what we percieve as the negatively-biased main-stream media with positive blog entries? That's the subject of the current poll (look to the top right of this webpage). Please weigh in with your opinion about any bias you percieve from milblogs you read. Thanks!

We use official blogs for a variety of reasons

Thanks to the eight who responded to the most recent poll, it appears that we are quite mixed on why we access official websites and blogs: the results were evenly split between the four provided choices. Folks head to these official sites to gather or verify information to use just to improve their understanding or to comment or editorialize about on their own blogs.

Like the findings from other polls, this is not too surprising, and I anticipate that the creators/managers of official military sites target these (and likely other) reasons. This finding (again, I admit/understand it's not scientific at all!) corroborates the idea that the military should seek multiple ways to engage the public. Websites are one way; news releases another; and, I contend, new media should be used in increasing ways.

What are the main reasons you access official military websites or blogs?
  • 25% (2) To get more details about something I heard about
  • 25% (2) To see what spin the officials are putting on a story
  • 25% (2) To gather informaton and links for my own blog entries
  • 25% (2) To search for stories I haven't seen anywhere else

18 December 2008

GOs in the Blogosphere

I am very encouraged by a recent post on BlackFive - information about the Army's new training manual, FM 7-0, and a request for feedback on the newly released manual. This is a significant development because this appeal for dialogue did not occur on official Army websites but on one of the most popular milblog sites! This suggests that the Army is certainly understanding the important role that milblogs are playing in modern communication.

Equally as significant as where this request for feedback appeared is from whom the request was generated - BG Abe Abrams, the Deputy Commanding General (Training) for the US Army Combined Arms Center. In addition, BG Abrams did not stop with the post. He engaged in dialogue in the comments to the post with several folks asking questions about the manual and the new ARFORGEN system of managing our Army forces. I'm impressed with this leader's engagement in the blogosphere - it's a great sign that more senior leaders are grasping the reality of new media and seeking ways to better engage our audiences through it.

This is likely just one example of many more to come of the Combined Arms Center, under the leadership of LTG Caldwell (a firm believer in the power of new media).

I encourage all of you to take a look at the new manual and participate in the discussion about it. Like all Army manuals, it is always open for comment and is in a constant state of revision - so share your ideas about it. I also encourage you to take a look at the blogs on the Combined Arms Center's website (you'll have to accept their very basic rules). There is interesting discussion on a variety of topics that may be of interest to you.

17 December 2008

Are unit blogs a good idea?

There are a growing number of them out there: blogs created by military organizations (or businesses, for that matter) that serve to provide command information to the public or enable internal communication. These are often seen as outputs of propaganda at worst and, at best, providing no new insightful information. It seems to me that we are just barely scratching the surface of what could be and have some ground to make up in the perception arena.

One idea that has recently come to mind (partly inspired by Prof. Lawson's article) was for a unit-level blog. This blog would be:
  • maintained by a responsible and effective writer within the organization (whether that's a company, battalion, or brigade - higher than brigade and we lose some of the "muddy boots" perspective)
  • provide information similar to what is often provided to families through family readiness channels but would be tailored for the broader potential audience
  • maintain a blogroll of all blogs of Soldiers in the organization. This would provide one way for the Army to keep up with many blogs and could provide interested readers with a broad perspective on the activities of the particular unit

By maintaining such a blog at the unit level, readers would be presented with a broader perspective than they currently can get by looking at somewhat random individual blogs, it could significantly assist in the distribution of stories that otherwise don't get told or are buried in other press outlets, and potentially could serve as a link between official statements through traditional PA channels and the very unofficial stories told by milbloggers.

Is this idea way off mark or is there merit to it? I'm interested in your thoughts.

10 December 2008

This week’s poll: what value are “official” blogs?

As you’re perusing the discussions on this blog (and leaving your comments since you're an active participant, right?) don’t forget to voice your opinion through this week’s poll (top right of this page). In this discussion about Soldier engagement of new media, I’m curious about what folks think about official military websites and blogs. Specifically, this week’s poll asks you what you personally use them for. Thanks for your participation!

Fill the gap: milbloggers roles in communicating with the nation

By this point in my reading, research, and dialogue with the readers of this blog, I’m now completely convinced that we (the Army) must do more in the blogosphere. Really, we need to do more with new media in general, but for this post I’m restricting comment to blogs. Knowing that we must do more, there has been some valuable discussion about how we can encourage and educate Soldiers to effectively engage the blogosphere. Some useful tips to consider when blogging have been offered; justification for Soldiers’ blogs has been provided in light of the fundamentals of information espoused by the public affairs community; and discussion about the need for credibility has begun.

I turn my attention in this post to some things we should encourage Soldiers to blog about: what I’ll call “filling the gap.”

What gap I am talking about? The gap between what the media thinks the American public wants to hear and what the American public actually wants to hear. Contained in a book we read for class here about military-media relations were survey results that supported what I’d been thinking/guessing for a long time – main stream media is a bit out of sync with main street America. The book (The Military-Media Relationship 2005), a report by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, is based on surveys conducted of the public, military members, and members of the media as well as round table discussion involving representatives of both the military and media. The discussion and several graphs (which are referenced below) provide valuable insight into what blog topics may be the most interesting to the American public. If the Army is to encourage Soldiers to blog it is the following items/topics that should be specifically encouraged.

1. Stories about the rebuilding effort. Charts 1A and 1B (p 50, 51) clearly show that the media overestimates the public interest in coverage of terrorist activities and even more strikingly underestimates the public’s desire for stories about the reconstruction effort. Knowing this, Soldiers can fill a significant need – tell stories about their involvement in reconstruction. There are many engineer Soldiers out there today rebuilding schools and hospitals (and have been doing so for quite some time!) There are many medical Soldiers deployed right now who are helping to provide needed care to many who haven’t had such care in quite some time. There are many civil affairs Soldiers who have been involved in helping to establish local governmental organizations and are helping demonstrate the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. These Soldiers need to have their stories told – and main stream media isn’t doing it to the degree that the American public desire. So let’s blog about our experiences! (By-the-way, Chart 1B also shows that the public wants to hear more stories about individual Soldiers – and what better source than the Soldiers themselves through their blogs.)

2. Positive stories about events in Iraq and Afghanistan. To begin this discussion, it is clear that stories that are not inherently positive must not be spun into something they are not. Nor can negative stories be ignored or brushed under the carpet. The American public absolutely has a right to know the full costs of the endeavor we are currently engaged in. However, Chart 13 (p 70) shows that while 68% of the media believes they provide balanced information, 70% the public sees the coverage as predominately negative! So, what can Soldiers do about this? Provide their own coverage of the many positive events that are occurring on a daily basis while remaining real and fair about what it is really like to serve as a Soldier in these current wars. This blends nicely with item 1 above – stories about reconstruction efforts are inherently positive.

3. Demonstrate willingness to share our stories and be truthful when doing so. Nothing will be more self-defeating than to be perceived as dishonest whether when speaking to the media or writing our own blogs. The American public’s perception is that the military is willing (and does) provide inaccurate information to the media – Chart 12 (p 69) shows this. Charts 8A and 8B (p 62, 63) infer that the media believes the military to be restrictive in providing access and that officers are not encouraged to speak with reporters. Extrapolating from this a bit, I suggest that blogs provide an outlet to 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 we’ve been a part of.

If the traditional media is not going to provide the information and stories that the public wants, using new media is the best way I can think of to do so. There are a couple possible outcomes if we can be successful at doing this. 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’re getting read, shared, and linked to then perhaps traditional sources will see the appetite that exists and will begin to publish more such stories on their own initiative. The first outcome I’m hopeful would happen; the second I’m a bit more doubtful about (quiet the cynic in me!) but would be very pleased to see occur.

So, I’m curious about what you think of these ideas. Am I na├»ve? Would Soldiers latch on to such guidance? Or, do most Soldiers do this anyway through their blogs? Leave your comments here and enter the discussion.

Is MyBase the first step into the wave of the future for military recruiting, training, and learning?

You’ve likely already seen the news blurbs about the US Air Force’s recent launch of MyBase. It’s designed in SecondLife as a recruiting tool with the goal of eventually growing into a virtual education and training site for the service.

An Army Times report this week also stated that the US Army was pursuing something very similar. The Army’s foray into this virtual land was discussed in Virtual Worlds News last week.
So is this just the military’s attempt to be “hip”? Or is it a legitimate sign of the changing culture within our leadership? Only time will really tell, but I for one am encouraged by it.

08 December 2008

Results are in: 3 out of 5 blog to keep family and friends updated

Last week's poll asked what prompted you to enter the blogosphere. Most (3 out of 5 ... yes, only 5 responses this week, again quite unscientific) said the primary reason was to keep family and friends updated while deployed or out of the country for other reasons. 40% (2 people)said that is was because they felt strongly about a topic. I certainly realize these polls are not scientific and are, therefore, not valid for adding to the academic discussion (congratulations, by-the-way, to the Milblogging.com webmaster - The World's Coolest Dad!). They are, however, a source for some commentary ... and, perhaps a way to generate some more discussion. Thanks again to the participants -- now PASS THIS LINK ON SO MORE PEOPLE WILL VOTE IN THE FUTURE!!

Despite the very low sample size, the results corroborate what I'm finding as I survey milblogs. The majority, so far, exist (at least at first) simply to share stories with folks back home. Several of the top ranking milblogs then morphed into something a bit more - reaching a broader audience. But, even those that have grown large readerships remain primarily focused on sharing accounts of events that the author has been involved in. These personal accounts are what seem to attract many people to milblogs - stories that they can't get from main stream media. This also, by-the-way, matches the reasons that you stated you read milblogs - to get the Soldiers' sides of the story and their opinions about it.

As I see it, there's not much the Army can do to change the motivation for Soldiers to try their hand at blogging - it's not something we can (or, admittedly, want) to do. However, for those that are interested in a way to keep family and friends up-to-date as they're deployed, a blog offers a great method! And, importantly, the Army should do a much better job at educating them to blog as effectively as possible because, unlike e-mail or an old-fashioned letter home, blogs are immediately accessible by anyone who wants to read. Therefore, every Soldiers blog is a piece of the Army's communications whether we like to admit that or not. Not that every Soldiers blog should be controlled by the Army (in fact, as discussed previously, even the perception of control detracts from the credibility.) But just as we owe it to our Soldiers to train them to be successful with the various weapon systems they use, we owe it to them to train/educate them to be as successful as possible using new media.

The detailed (?) results from the poll, if you're interested ...

What triggered your entry into the blogosphere?
  • 3 (60%) Wanted to keep family/friends updated while I was deployed/away.
  • 0 (0%) Wasn't satisfied with what was out there about the war(s), so I started my own blog to write about it.
  • 0 (0%) I enjoyed online discussions so started a blog to control one.
  • 0 (0%) Really enjoy writing, so a blog seemed like an obvious thing for me to start.
  • 2 (40%) Felt strongly about a topic (wars or otherwise) and wanted to write about it.
  • 0 (0%) Just wanted a place to rant, share my opinions, etc.

04 December 2008

The benefits and enjoyment of blogging ...

... are becoming apparent to me. When I began this blog, it was primarily a way for me to become acquainted with the process, language, and basics - since I had never blogged (or even commented on blogs) before - but it has quickly become much more than that. I am pleasantly surprised that between 24 Nov and today - less than 2 weeks - over 100 unique visitors have stopped by this blog (161 since 19 Nov!). The tracking process that I use doesn't show me how long they stayed or how much they read, but just the fact that so many people were at least interested in this topic is very encouraging. What's even more encouraging is that these folks are accessing the blog from 14 different countries! Amazing! Of course, that probably doesn't mean that there are 14 different nationalities - some are likely US service members serving overseas - but one German public affairs officer has left some comments.

This interest is very encouraging. It is clear that many people are interested in how the Army can make better use of blogs and new media in general. I'm encouraged by the variety of comments (from service members, retirees, spouses, and professors of communication) all of which shine a unique light on this subject and all of which provide valuable insights.

One of the benefits of blogging that I have read about and some of you have alluded to in the comments is the community aspect - the interaction. That has already become clear to me through this experience ... and this blog has only been in the blogosphere for about one month. In that month, I've learned a tremendous amount, been pointed in new directions for material to dig into, and gathered valuable insights into how the Army can approach Soldier blogging to greater effect. Lets keep the discussion going ... please continue to share your insights and opinions as well as any other work that's been done that may assist in making this project as useful as possible.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to peruse the discussion going on. Thanks to all of you who participate in the weekly polls - the feedback provided through those help me focus my thoughts and opinions about blogging. Thanks even more to those of you who have taken the time to weigh in on the discussion. Several of you have provided valuable insight into milblogging and have linked me to material that will have a great impact on this project. Thanks especially to the 8 of you who have chosen to "follow" this blog! Your interest is greatly appreciated. If you're not a "follower" but are interested in this discussion, please consider becoming a "follower" (look to the right).

I look forward to continuing to learn from you and, together, developing valuable suggestions for the Army to more effectively put "Soldiers in the Blogosphere."

30 November 2008

Results are in: Most milbloggers blog to report or editorialize on events

Probably not an earthshattering result from this week's (nonscientific) Soldiers in the Blogosphere poll. Thanks to the 7 of you who took the poll this week (numbers are down - I'm going to attribute that to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend).

Why do you blog? [respondants could select multiple choices]
  • 14% (1) - To get things off my chest (vent)
  • 57% (4) - To share my ideas on what's going on (editorialize)
  • 71% (5) - To share with people what's going on (reporter)
  • 28% (2) - To record for posterity the happenings of my life (journal)
  • 14% (1) - To practice my hand at writing (aspiring author)
So there are the results - looks like the average respondant chose 2 reasons. I must say that I was a bit surprised about the low percent who use blogs to "vent". Thought for sure it would be a more popular reason, but that's an encouraging result. Venting our emotions on a blog may not produce the most accurate or well-thought posting.

The two top reasons selected (reporter and editorializer) are good to see. In last week's poll, most people said they read milblogs to get Soldiers opinions about events and to get the "real story" not available through the main-stream media.

As we continue this discussion, and I progress on the project, these results will be good to keep in mind. Knowing intent is critical when deciding how/if we can get more benefit from the work Soldiers are already doing in the blogosphere.

Take a look to the top right of this blog for this week's blog - what triggered your entry into the blogosphere? Curious to know what led you to start your own blog (assuming you have one). Will post the results in a week.

NOTE: if you're interested, I've started keeping the old poll results graphs at the far bottom of the right column. For posterity's sake . . . .

29 November 2008

Social Networking during crises ...

In the coming weeks, I'll get around to discussing the Army's current policy about social networks (banned on government computers) and kick around some ideas about how we may be able to make better use of such technology.   In the meantime, take a read from ABC.com about how folks were using Twitter, Facebook and MySpace during the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  Interesting information about current trends and governments concerns about it - which echo some of the Army's concerns.

Can/should TroopTube compete with YouTube?

So far, I've only blogged about blogs - discussing how the Army benefits from Soldier bloggers and how we can develop new policies and guidance that will encouraged Soldiers to blog. But this project is about new media in general, so it's time to start discussing other aspects ... video sharing.

YouTube has taken the world by storm - there must be something inherently funny about a cat falling off a kitchen counter - and over the past few years it has grown to be much more than just posting random goofiness. Folks post messages, try their hand at short film-making or animation, trailers for movies, and footage from their combat experiences.  

The Army has established policies that ban the use of YouTube on government computers (along with several other sites - claiming excessive bandwidth needs).  However, some in the Army believe that YouTube offers some distinct advantages to getting messages out and countering insurgent videos / propaganda (in fact, take a watch of LTG Caldwell address the most recent Milblogging conference discussing how the Army can make better use of new media).

Recently, the Army launched its own version of YouTube - called TroopTube.  The Army pitches it as a way to boost morale for deployed Soldiers by providing a site to send video messages back and forth with home.  Other news sources view the site with a bit more skepticism.  

TroopTube is not a bad idea but it will not replace YouTube for a few reasons.  First, we can't compete with the YouTube "brand name" - people know it, go to it, talk about it and it is so broad that it offers something that appeals to nearly anyone.  TroopTube, on the other hand, is focused on such a narrow topic and a small group of people (comparatively).  Secondly, it requires an account (which is available to anyone; not just military folks) which will potentially turn some people away.  Finally, it is censored.  Instead of simply trusting Soldiers and family members to post responsibly, videos can be edited.  While not inherently a bad thing - we should absolutely do our best to project a positive image - the message it sends is harmful.

If we agree that posting videos of operations and other events (in accordance with OPSEC requirements, etc) can help us win the "War of Ideas", then TroopTube will not get those videos seen around the world by a broad audience - only YouTube will be able to do this.  If we want to capitalize on new media, we must authorize use of the new media - even if that use is restricted to particular people in an organization (PA and unit commanders, for example).  And, just as with blogs, we need to educate our Soldiers to understand how OPSEC applies for things posted to the internet, how to prepare videos that will capture people's attention and convey the important messages needed to be told.

24 November 2008

Results are in: Folks read milblogs for a variety of reasons!

It should come as no surprise, but we read milblogs for a variety of reasons. Last week's survey asked you to share why you check in on milblogs and the results were:

What do you value most from reading Soldier's blogs?

  • 2 (18%) Augment the viewpoints published by main-stream media
  • 1 (9%) Learn what its like to be a Soldier
  • 4 (36%) Understand Soldiers' opinions about current events
  • 4 (36%) Get the "real" story (I don't trust spokesmen or reporters)

Thanks to the 11 of you who took part in this (unscientific, but interesting) poll. That's a few more than we had for the first poll. As you can see, the most popular responses were to get a Soldier's take on what's happening and because you value their input more than official spokespersons or reporters. I find the results fascinating. When I crafted the poll, I anticipated that the first answer (augmenting mainstream news) would be the leading response. Guess that's justification for why this project needs to be done.

In order to make these results a bit more meaningful, it would be great to have even more participation - please forward this link around to anyone and ask them to be a part of this discussion. I've appreciated the comments from the wide variety of people so far (military, DoD civilians, military spouses, and citizens with an interest) - thanks! Keep the dialogue going.

Reasons why you blog

Some of you blog to get things off your chest, others because you want to try your hand at writing, some to report what's going on in their part of the world, others may be dreaming of a book contract someday down the road (i.e. CBFTW, Kaboom, Big Tobacco), still others may want to offer their opinions on current events.

This week's survey (look to the right) asks you why you personally blog - note that you can select multiple answers in case more than one applies to you. Results will be discussed next week. Thanks for your participation!

Please send this blog address around - the more participation in the polls (and, more importantly, the continuing dialogue) the better. Thanks for spreading the word about this project.

21 November 2008

Toward guidance Soldiers would use ...

In order to encourage Soldiers to take the plunge into the blogosphere, we certainly must provide them with useful, readable, clear guidance. Other bloggers have useful tips on their sites. Mike, a friend here at ACSC, recently shared some "axioms" from his blogging experience over the past couple years and is kindly allowing me to post them here (Thanks, Mike!). Is there anything on this list that you disagree with based on your own experiences? Any you would change/reword/etc? What would you add? Also, if you've got a list of your own or know of another useful list please leave it in the comments to this post - I plan on compiling a "best of" list to include in the final report for this project (I'll ensure you get proper credit, of course).

Mike’s 25 Axioms of Blogging
  1. You think blogging is like emailing your family and friends – it’s not. It’s much more like publishing to the world, and that changes everything.

  2. Don’t believe me? Give your link to any intended small circle, and despite your best efforts to keep it contained, it will escape.

  3. Even if your link’s not “leaked” by a friend, Google knows about your blog –- and therefore, so does the whole world.

  4. People will read your blog without your knowledge (“lurk”) -- many will be people you didn’t intend to read it, and some you probably don’t really want to.

  5. The degree to which people keep up with your blog may not reflect at all how much they love you. Your sister won’t read it, but her best-friend’s cousin’s roommate will...religiously.

  6. Blogs are “pull” not “push.” Your readers will control when they get (“pull”) the information, which is cool. If the info needs to be read, it should be “pushed,” so use email.

  7. Based on above two, no one likes to hear “you should know that already...I put it on my blog.”

  8. Your blog is more like emailing than like snail-mailing – any post or portion of a post can be forwarded, printed, and put into your boss’ (or the NY Times editor’s) inbox in a moment, without your knowledge.

  9. "Every careless word will be called to account” – based on #8, be very careful about anything negative you say about anyone, especially those in authority over you or in subordination to you.

  10. Mis-interpretation is inevitable – just like email, be careful with sarcasm, “irony,” and humor – they’re not as clear as you’d think without voice inflection or body language, especially given your broad audience.

  11. The more contentious a thing you say, the more likely #8-10 will happen

  12. Your friends & family love you, but they mostly want to see pictures, especially ones of you, rather than read tons of prose.

  13. Pictures contain more than you think – what (or who) is in the background?

  14. People don’t like finding their picture in a public place without their permission – and can you blame them?

  15. People ordinarily don’t like reading about themselves in a public place without their permission – and can you blame them?

  16. If you violate the above two, people will start refusing to have their picture taken with/by you and may change their behavior around you.

  17. Consider your postings “permanent” once you post them – erasing out of cyberspace may be impossible

  18. Blogging after your normal bed time is a bad idea -- do I even need to mention alcohol?

  19. Use the delay-postings option if you have any reason to think you might regret something you said. That way you can review it in the morning

  20. Blogging is inherently personal, but the blog does not need to know your (or anyone else’s) personal details

  21. Remember OPSEC -- bits of personal information (your town, a picture of your house, a picture of a co-worker, your full name) posted earlier can be tied together with other information (“I’m partying in Aruba!” Or “The Office is in DC this week”) to bring vulnerability to you or others

  22. Ditto with negative things – “my boss is a jerk” posted one day (thinking “no one knows who he is”) gets tied to “here’s a picture of my boss and I in Aruba” gets tied to “in my work at General Motors” on a 3rd day...which leads to trouble...

  23. You will receive hurtful comments on your blog -- the only way to mitigate (but not stop) it is to disallow anonymous postings, which limits your comments, which is no fun

  24. You do not need to reply to every comment, but regular readers and commenters would likely appreciate a follow-up comment sometimes – and the same rules apply as to a posting.

  25. Mitigating all the above the above requires password-based controls on your blog, which are no fun

19 November 2008

Thanks, Milblogging.com!

Thanks, JP, for posting the information about this blog and the project it represents. As I said in that blurb, the more people involved in this discussion, the better. Thanks to those who have already participated in the interaction. I am really enjoying getting your feedback as I develop my ideas about this subject.

Also, if you are a milblogger and have not yet registered your blog with milblogging.com, I encourage you to do so. It's a great site and already has over 2000 milblogs registered - is yours one of them?

Another also, nominations for the best military blog (and other blog categories, for that matter) of the year are being taken over at weblog awards. Consider nominating the blog you appreciate most. Nominations close this Friday - so don't wait any longer!

The last also, if you haven't done so, I also recommend that you register your blog with Technorati. If you're unfamiliar with this site, they track comments about and links to your blog for you and show you how your blog stacks up among the millions of blogs registered.

A survey of blogs will be starting soon ...

... do you have any you want to make sure are included?

Over the coming week or so, I will be looking at a large number of milblogs for the following:

  • reasons for blogs (update friends, tell good stories, correct the record, tell another side, etc)
  • purpose of blog (journal, "war stories", opinion on current events, etc)
  • any evident bias (pro-war, anti-war, any other possible "agenda", etc)
  • any trends that I identify (changes over time, etc)
Cannoneer No. 4 has provided me with a list of 8 that he recommended and I've come across quite a few more by visiting milblogs. If you have any that you'd like to ensure I include in this survey, please leave the links in a comment on this post. If you'd like me to look at your blog, let me know.

Also, let me know if you think there are any other specific items I should be looking for as I venture through the mil-blogosphere.

When I've completed the survey, I'll post what I find here on this blog. Thanks for your help!

CNN's opinion of blogs ...

Just returned from a tour of CNN studios in Atlanta. Pretty good tour - I recommend it if you find yourself in Atlanta someday. After the tour of the studios, where our group had the chance to meet Robin Meade (who broke from the teleprompter when she noticed a bunch of uniformed folks standing in the corner and acknowledged our presence on national TV), we were provided about an hour of time with two of their executives (one from PR and the other from technology).

In general, their comments were what you'd expect - in support of their company. They were very open to questions, however, and seemed to provide answers beyond the "party line". In one case, we asked about the role of new media and the rep stated that CNN has a presence on Second Life (anyone explored that before? I'd love to get some feedback from you about it.) and that their iReport is a great success of tapping into the people (also interested in your thoughts about this site). He really seemed to like the collaborative nature of iReport, which also appeals to many people across the country. However, he grouped most blogs together as "crap" - people just saying a bunch of unverifiable stuff. I was fascinated by that statement: apparently, if the information is posted to their "unfiltered" site it's okay, if it's posted elsewhere, not so much. Unfortunately, time prevented us from digging into this subject any deeper.

Also of note, one exec did agree that CNN and the main stream media is biased ... toward conflict. He aptly deflected a question about media bias (specifically asking about the perceptions (reality?) of Fox on the right and CNN and MSNBC on the left) by claiming that he agrees that Fox and MSNBC are biased - they have a specifically stated agenda to tend to one side and that's "a good business model" - but firmly believes that CNN is in the middle. I'll leave that up to you to decide... But he certainly agreed that conflict makes for good television; that, and compelling video of events.

17 November 2008

User-Generated Military???

Kevin Bondelli posted an interesting video to CNNs iReport a few days ago. In it, he argues that new media/Web 2.0 can lead to an even more participatory form of government - one he terms "User-Generated Government." In the video, and his blog posting on the same subject, he has two main points:
... technology’s role in the next generation of governance should increase transparency, allow for broader feedback, and make data easily accessible for user-generated mash-ups.
Moving towards a User-Generated Government will bring more people into the process as participants, as well as allow the cognitive surplus of the American public to address our challenges in new ways.
As I was listening to his thoughts, I couldn't help but wonder how much of this could apply to the military as well. I know many companies have internal blogs in order to "address [their] challenges in new ways." Even in the Army, a few organizations have tried their hand at this concept - the better internal communication there is, the better ideas will be generated, and the better your organization will become. Army Knowledge On-line (AKO) is a site that enables some of this internal communication, CompanyCommand.com was created with the expressed purpose of sharing lessons learned between past, present, and future company commanders enabling them all to become better in the process, and, more recently, the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center (CAC) began hosting blogs on various topics. AKO and Company Command.com are closed forums - you can only access them if you meet specific eligibility requirements. The CAC blogs include both open and closed forums. If you haven't checked that site out yet, I highly recommend it. There is some interesting discussion going on there. In fact, I'm certain that some of the comments kicked back and forth in those blogs will find their way into future policy or doctrine for our Army. It's certainly more than a place just to get something off your chest!

It is clear that the Army recognizes the benefit of capitalizing on the intellect of more than just senior leaders - and has for some time. So, in this current age, what more can we do? How can we become even more participatory? Or, do we even want to do so? Perhaps the mechanisms we currently have in place are adequate? Perhaps using blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter should stay as just a way to keep in touch and up-to-date with friends and family. Perhaps ... what do you think?

15 November 2008

Soldiers would consider "talking points" when blogging

The results of this blog's first very unscientific survey are in ... Soldiers are willing to consider their commands "talking points" when blogging. Thanks to the 8 (yeah, before this is a legitimate finding, probably need to have a larger survey sample) who took the poll. Results of the poll were:

As a Soldier blogger, would you consider your command's "talking points" when writing?

  • 0 (0%) Absolutely, I'd find ways to incorporate them
  • 5 (62%) I'd consider them, can't promise I'd incorporate them
  • 1 (12%) I'd ignore them and write just as I do now
  • 2 (25%) It would irritate me; like they were trying to control me
While this is an encouraging finding, the fact that 25% said that providing talking points would irritate them is concerning. This leads me to believe that should a command decide to provide talking points to their Soldiers for this purpose, they should clearly explain the purpose of them and make certain that their Soldiers understand they are under no pressure to incorporate them. I also wonder if Soldiers are irritated when provided talking points when out on patrol. My instinct says "no", because they likely understand the need in that circumstance. We'd need to help them understand the need (value) when blogging - to provide big picture understanding. The last thing we want is for Soldiers to feel that they are being manipulated. Just as bad, we don't want the public (the readers of milblogs) to believe that Soldiers are simply puppets; their credibility depends on their individualism when blogging.

Of course, we should use caution when extrapolating much from this poll - given the very small sample. The next poll is up (look to the right). Please consider voicing your opinion through the poll. Thanks!

14 November 2008

The Army is closer to encouraging Soldier blogs than I thought ...

Somehow in the midst of things, I totally missed this important Army News Service headline from 30 Sep:

Wow! If encouragement truly is going to happen, the Secretary is certainly a great place to start! A few comments from the article bear repeating here:

"We've got to embrace every form of media, and this new medium - and particularly blogging, for many people - has replaced traditional media as a way to get news," said Geren. "And not only to get news, but to educate themselves, the back and forth that blogs offer. So I see it as an addition of what we're doing, and a mechanism to reach some people who you don't reach at all through so-called traditional media."


Bergner [Maj. Gen., previous spokesperson for Multi-National Force-Iraq] offered his perspective on what bloggers bring to the table that makes their perspective so critical.

"It's the personal aspect of what bloggers are able to convey," said Bergner. "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."

It's clear that our senior leadership is getting it - they see the value in milblogs for many of the reasons that have been kicked around on this blog. The next challenge is getting the lower levels of leadership to get it, accept it, and make it happen. Knowing that our senior leaders think it is important is the most important first step. But, besides just saying we encourage blogging, what actions can we take that will actually encourage Soldiers to blog - in other words, what will we do to make it more than positive rhetoric? What kind of measures could we use to encourage Soldiers who otherwise would be fearful of blogging to go ahead and give it a try. Right now, my thoughts lie in increasing awareness of the Army's policy and leading by example (leaders starting blogs). Additionally, posting guidance around MWR computers would increase awareness and potentially encourage Soldiers to try their hand at blogging. (Personal note: as I'm finding, blogging is a lot less difficult and time consuming than I had imagined. And, getting the dialogue going is pretty cool!)

As the article points out, and LTG Caldwell has also discussed, we have some cultural challenges to overcome. This is where the education/enabling of Soldiers to be effective bloggers is most important. We can't overcome cultural challenges by trying to do things the same way we've always done them and/or discounting new ideas and technology because they carry risks with them. We must evaluate the value of the idea, decide if the value of the idea is high enough to justify further work, examine and understand all inherent risks, and then develop ways to reduce that risk. We do this all the time for operations across the spectrum of conflict and in training. We need to do the same thing for blogs and other new media outlets. The Army is moving in this direction with some new blog policy guidance that is due out sometime next year.

13 November 2008

Misleading CNN headline about Soldier blog ...

Headline this morning on CNN.com: "I'm going to die," Soldier blogs

So, that makes it sound like this was a new comment on a current blog ... but I'll reserve my critique of editors' choices for another day! None-the-less, Colby Buzzell - and, therefore, Soldier blogs - got some more press today. A couple of comments in the article are worth copying here - they apply perfectly to what this blog is all about (the emphasis is mine).

Pentagon security policy forbids soldiers to publish sensitive information, such as unit locations or the timing of military operations, that might put troops in harm's way. But beyond that, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are encouraged to blog about military life, said Army Public Affairs Spc. Lindy Kyzer.
"We're actually entering an era of transparency, where we need to have our soldiers talk. It does open up risks. Once you post something, you can't get it back. But we trust our soldiers with a lot," she said. "They are our best spokespersons. They know what the life of a soldier is like, and it's important to convey that to the American people."
Blogging also helps soldiers process traumatic combat experiences that can be hard for them to talk about, Kyzer said.
I disagree that the Army currently "encourages" Soldiers to blog - "allows" or "tolerates" more accurately captures how I understand the policies and practices. But SPC Kyzer (interesting that PA has a SPC as a spokesperson - nothing against our great junior Soldiers, but I was under the impression that it would typically be someone of higher rank ***CORRECTION: Lindy Kyzer is a "Public Affairs Specialist", not an Army SPC - Thanks AFSister ***) does make two great points: "we need to have our soldiers talk [because] they are our best spokespersons." And add another reason - therapeutic benefit - to the list of reasons why the Army really should encourage blogging.

So, let's go back to the idea of encouraging Soldiers to blog. What are some legitimate ways to encourage that? I'll post some ideas later ... in the meantime, feel free to leave your ideas about it.

12 November 2008

Soldier on CNN's iReport ...

Perhaps you've seen it already, but a young Army medic, posted an iReport to CNN about what he will tell his kids someday about what he did in Iraq. Not a political statement, not making it into something more or less than it is, not trying to tell some "hooah" story - just telling about his experience helping the Iraqi people. Definitely worth a watch.

(the comments left for his post are generally positive, although a few deserve a good laugh.)

11 November 2008

Pray for our Soldiers ...

In my Veterans Day post yesterday, I asked you to find a veteran today and shake his or her hand. Of course, there are many veterans who are not available for a hand shake because they are deployed around the world fighting terrorism and protecting our way of life. One of these dedicated Soldiers happens to be my brother, Joe, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. He and his Spectres provide attack helicopter support to infantry Soldiers, together taking the fight to our enemies. Like so many other service members today, he is on his third deployment in this war. Many are making tremendous sacrifices while many of us go about our daily lives somewhat unaware of exactly what is going on around the world.

So, in addition to finding a veteran to shake hands with today, please also remember the several hundred thousand veterans who you will not pass on the street today - the closest you'll come to them is through a news story, an e-mail, or their own blog. Take some time to pray for these fine Americans, pray for their families, pray for our nation. Thanks!

10 November 2008

Thank a veteran ... please!

Tomorrow, 11 November, is Veterans Day. How will you make it more than just a day off from work or school? Or, if you don't have the day off, how will you make it any different from a typical day in America? I propose nothing fancy - just find a veteran, shake his or her hand, and say thanks. That's it. Too easy.

According the US Census, there are currently over 26 million veterans in our nation, so finding one should be pretty easy. Perhaps you'll notice them proudly wearing a VFW or American Legion hat or lapel pin. Perhaps they'll be standing tall in their old uniforms. Perhaps they'll just be walking past you on the street. Find one, shake his or her hand, and say thanks.

I have one particular veteran that I'd like to mention here: my First Sergeant, now retired, Mike Vitale. Mike was my First Sergeant when I had the priviledge to take command of A Company, 46th Engineer Battalion in late 2002. He planned to be in the company only a few more months and then enjoy his well-earned retirement. But when it seemed certain that the Army would soon issue us orders to deploy to Kuwait in early2003, Mike voluntarily stopped his retirement process so he could prepare to deploy as our company's top non-commissioned officer and my right hand man.

Our company did get those orders and deployed in February 2003 and Mike was instrumental in making sure every Soldier was fully ready for the uncertainty they faced. When we arrived in Kuwait, he quickly focused our Soldiers on the tasks at hand - constructing new kabals in the desert, building air strips, and various other construction tasks around the country. When OIF began and we rolled north, Mike ensured our Soldiers and equipment were ready for anything. He was a true leader and our Soldiers greatly respected him in large part because he clearly cared about them.

Because of his diligence throughout our deployment, we returned home with every Soldier we deployed with. I owe Mike a tremendous amount for the success that he brought to our company. We had a group of outstanding, dedicated Soldiers of all ranks for that deployment, but Mike's leadership was instrumental in bringing them all together for success.

When we returned home, Mike decided to pursue other interests in his now even more well-deserved retirement. I felt guilty even bringing up the subject of staying in a while longer to continue to lend his leadership to our Soldiers - he had earned retirement. And he took that retirement to Florida where he lives now. I am deeply indebted to Mike and priviledged to call him a friend. Thanks again, Mike, for all you've done.

Mike's just one example of the incredible people who serve our nation. He served it for over 20 years in uniform. Some served for only a couple years. Regardless of the time, they all have sacrificed for us in one way or another. The least we can do tomorrow is shake a hand and say thanks. Veterans are key to making and keeping this country great!

Happy Veterans Day Mike, former Gator soldiers, and all my buddies out there who have served and are still serving. Proud to serve beside you!

Toward a new Army blogging policy ...

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.

09 November 2008

Making the case: The Army should encourage Soldiers to blog!

Why should Soldiers be encouraged to blog? Why shouldn’t the Army policy stay just the way it is? After all, the way the policy currently is written, blogs are allowed, they are not censored, and there is limited oversight which allows soldiers to write pretty much anything they want (so long as it doesn’t violate the principles of Operational Security (OPSEC)). The reason I believe our policy about blogs needs to be investigated and expanded is that we are missing a potentially great opportunity to more completely tell the Army’s story. Much like the Air Force’s “every Airman a spokesperson” idea, every Soldier has an important role in telling the complete Army story – from what’s going on in deployed locations to what life is like as a soldier or an Army family member to what it’s like to go through some of our training experiences. In short, to tell the world what it’s like to be an American Soldier.

This idea is completely in line with current military public affairs guidance (as described in Joint Publication (JP) 3-61, Public Affairs) which states that “by projecting confidence and commitment during interview or in talking to family and friends, DOD personnel can help promote public support for military operations.” (p1-6) This confidence and commitment can absolutely be demonstrated through a blog just as it can through these other avenues. Additionally, the US National Strategy for Public Diplomacy states that “All agencies and embassies should make a major commitment to more aggressively tell the story of how these programs are helping people improve their lives and opportunities.” (p7) Soldiers blogging can play an important role in this story telling. In fact, this same strategic document suggests that “all agencies and embassies must also increase use of new technologies, including creative use of the internet, web chats, blogs, and video story-telling opportunities on the Internet to highlight American policies and programs.” (p6)

To summarize, our nation’s leadership believes that blogs are a useful way to help highlight what we are doing around the world, governmental agencies are charged with aggressively telling their story, and public affairs guidance instructs service members to project confidence and commitment when interacting with the media as well as family and friends. Put this together, and Soldier blogging is one way to meet the intent.

Convinced? What am I overlooking? If we will agree that Soldier blogging can be an important part of a larger national strategy than we must ensure that our Soldiers are well prepared to “aggressively” blog. I’ll attack that problem in the next post.

08 November 2008

Keeping it credible ...

Some great feedback from yesterday's post inquiring about how to educate Soldiers to be effective bloggers. Thanks! This interaction - bouncing ideas around and hearing your thoughts - has gotten me fired up about this project. I appreciate your comments ... keep them coming!

There are a couple of key points that came up throughout the comments I want to highlight here which all seem to speak to one idea - credibility. Without credibility we get nowhere ... check that, we go backwards. And that's not what I'm looking for.

If the Army truly decides to encourage Soldier blogging, then we've got to be willing to accept the good with the bad. This is hard for many leaders to accept and, I suspect, one of the big reasons we haven't embraced this idea yet. In fact, I hinted around at this problem in my earlier posts when I mentioned getting "good news out there." Obviously, that would be the primary intent, but along with that, we must accept that all there is to say is not necessarily "good news." If it looks like government produced propaganda, it won't be respected as credible information. If it seems like nothing but cheerleading it won't be of as much interest and will likely lose credibility. In a way, I guess, keeping it real keeps it credible.

Another comment made concerned the role of Public Affairs Officers (PAO) in this process. I agree with LT N's comment and Galrahn's elaboration that if all we want to do is get the official messages out then PA's fully qualified to do this. He's exactly right that I'm thinking about much more than that - I want to get more Soldier's stories out as part of the Army story. And PA can't do that as effectively as Soldier's themselves. There's just something inherently credible hearing about someone's experiences, challenges, thoughts, from that person - not through some filter. Of course there's a vital role for PA and mainstream media. I'm just looking for a way to round it out, add a bit more variety.

Now, could PA have a role in blogging? Obviously, if the command has a blog PA will be involved. But what about their role in any old Soldier blog? Would a Soldier be willing to consider the talking points developed by PAs? Would making our Soldier's aware of the messages their command is trying to send help them better frame their blog posts? Or would it detract from their credibility?

I think that if we were to provide these communication tools to our Soldiers "with no strings attached" it could only help. The reason I say this is because of the value of knowing the bigger picture when you're reflecting on your part of that picture. My personal experience has been that I can make a lot better sense about what my organization and I are up to when I truly understand what my higher commander's intent and vision is - some basic principles from developing orders that I think could apply well to the world of blogging.

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?

Encourage Soldiers to blog?

Blogging is a subject that's kicked around in military discussion with some emotion. Some fear the danger of Soldier's blogging - it could result in security violations that would put Soldiers at risk. Others suggest that it's a potentially effective outreach - citizens can get a personal viewpoint of what being a Soldier at war is really like. Still others tout blogs as just another way to stay in touch with family and friends.

The motivation for this blog is to discuss how we could tap into the power of blogs to help get the Army's story out - how blogs may be used to help round out traditional media. I'm an Army Major and currently a student at the Air Command and Staff College. As a graduation requirement, we each must complete a research project and I've chosen to examine the potential benefits (and inherent challenges) of not just allowing Soldiers to blog, but actually encouraging blogging among our troops.

So here's what I see this blog doing:
  • get me bloggin'. I'm new to blogging and want to experience it firsthand as I complete this research project.
  • get your ideas. You (Soldiers and citizens alike) surely have opinions and ideas about encouraging Soldier blogging - I want to hear them!
  • share good/bad examples. Over the years I've seen some examples of how milblogs can help the "Army story" and others that ... not so much. I'm interested in your opinions about some blogs you create, read, or are familiar with. Share the links.
So here goes ... I'm in the blogosphere! Looking forward to this journey!