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.

07 March 2009

Educate Soldiers about Online OPSEC

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 information specific to their unit and/or location. Adding discussion about how the principles of OPSEC apply to all manners of transmitting information will ensure Soldiers understand all aspects of OPSEC. Several slide presentations prepared by the 1st Information Operations Command provide an excellent basis for any unit to use when educating their Soldiers about the security risks of online activity and how to be an honest and interesting blogger while still maintaining appropriate OPSEC.

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 must cover in detail how OPSEC applies to the Soldier’s blog and things they should be very careful about when blogging. After providing quality education and training and maintaining a register of all websites maintained by Soldiers in their command, commanders must then trust their Soldiers to practice proper security while blogging. Commanders can certainly spot check Soldiers’ blog entries, but this will not prevent security breaches: it will only identify them after they have occurred. Preventing the breach in the first place requires the Soldier to be fully aware of what can and cannot be posted as well as being aware of methods the enemy uses to piece together bits of information gained from around the wide variety of open sources. Knowing that their commanders may spot check their blog at any time may motivate Soldiers to think clearly about any possible security violations in a draft post and remove them before posting. This requires the commander to trust his Soldiers online just as he trusts them with a weapon and the mission.

06 March 2009

Recommendation #3: Train Soldiers to Engage New Media

What, only one day on Recommendation #2, but nearly a week on #1? Yep. Now on to #3 (don't worry, this one will take a couple of days too ...

Once policy has been developed and distributed, the command can turn its attention to properly training their Soldiers for this new activity. Units must develop training that interests, inspires, and educates our Soldiers to be effective in helping to tell the Army's story while ensuring they are fully aware of the challenges and risks. The Army already requires regular training about operational security. Adding discussion about how that applies to web content is simple. Most soldiers already understand what OPSEC is, why it is important, and their role in it. Applying that knowledge to the web is not much of a stretch and several effective training presentations exist for download through AKO. The two main parts to training Soldiersto effectively engage new media are understanding of OPSEC and educating them to be effective communicators. More on those two topics over the next two days (can you guess which one I'll write about first?)

05 March 2009

Recommendation #2: Revise Policy and Update Regulations

Yes, the previous several days have all been part of Recommendation #1. Now, on to #2 ...

Before developing training plans for organizations to use in developing their Soldiers to be effective bloggers, the Army must develop well thought out policies that articulate the intent for Soldier engagement of new media, outline all requirements for Soldiers to understand, and describe the risks of such engagement and measures to reduce these risks. LTG Caldwell has published a blogging policy for the US Army Combined Arms Center (CAC) which provides a great starting point for any organization’s policy on this subject. The policy instructs all members of the CAC to fully attribute the posting to themselves (to include name, position and organization). Concerning content, the policy stipulates that all blog entries must be 100% accurate, based only on personal experience or observation and clearly documented if not, not contain any sensitive, classified, or derogatory information, not discuss tactics, techniques, and procedures that have not already been released, and will not contain political bias or violate any legal regulations.

In addition to organizational policies, the Army’s public affairs doctrine (AR 360-1) must be revised to better describe the role of individual Soldiers in communicating the Army’s story. As part of this revision, guidance and expectations for use of new media by both individuals and organizations must be detailed. The current version of the regulation contains a very vague paragraph about the use of the internet for publishing information: this must be dramatically expanded. The ideas set forth in this paper form the framework for these revisions. AR 530-1, Operations Security, also needs revision to clarify the requirements for Soldiers who decide to blog. These requirements must be clearly articulated, unlike the current version which required the publishing of a fact sheet to clarify the policy.

04 March 2009

Engaging YouTube

New media is about much more than simply blogs. YouTube has taken the world by storm and over the past few years it has grown to be much more than just posting random goofiness. People now post messages, short films or animation they have created, trailers for movies, and footage from their combat experiences. Current Army policy bans the use of YouTube on government computers claiming excessive bandwidth needs. However, some Army leaders believe that YouTube offers distinct advantages to getting messages out and countering insurgent videos and propaganda.

The Army recently 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. While TroopTube is not a bad idea it will not replace YouTube for three reasons. First, this new video site cannot compete with the YouTube brand name - people know it, go to it, talk about it and it offers something that appeals to nearly everyone. TroopTube, on the other hand, is focused on a narrow topic and a small group of people. Secondly, it requires an account which, although available to anyone (not just military members) will turn some people away. Finally, it is censored. Instead of simply trusting Soldiers and family members to post responsibly, videos can be edited and must be approved. While this is not inherently a bad thing – the Army should absolutely do its best to project a positive image - the perception that this censorship creates is potentially harmful.

TroopTube will not get videos seen around the world by a broad audience - only YouTube will be able to do this. If the Army is to capitalize on new media, it must authorize use of the new media. If more control is desired, use of YouTube is best restricted to particular people in an organization such as PAOs or unit commanders. Just as with blogs, the Army must educate Soldiers to understand how OPSEC applies to all things posted to the internet and techniques to prepare videos that will capture people's attention and convey the important messages that need to be told.

The two elements of new media that offer the largest advantage to the Army are blogs and YouTube. Other popular social networking sites have little to offer the Army as it seeks new ways to get its story told to the public. While they offer a way to remain connected with friends and family, this is not much beyond an individual or recreational benefit and the policy toward these sites should remain as it currently is written. Policy on blogs and YouTube, however, needs to be revised.

03 March 2009

Some discussion about CGSC blog policy

There's some very thoughtful discussion going on over at the CAC blogs regarding the CGSC policy that all students in that course publish at least one blog entry during the course of their study. Judging from the number, detail, and length of many of the comments there are some strong opinions on both sides of this issue. The posts address the following questions. They're worth a read.
They both bring up some points that should be considered as folks work on revising the Army's blogging policy. Commanders would also be well advised to consider these points as they develop unit-level policies for Soldier engagement of new media.

The Benefit of Unit Blogs

In addition to individual Soldier blogging exploits, there is benefit for individual units to maintain blogs. There exist a growing number of blogs created by military organizations which 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. To improve their effect, a unit blog should be maintained by a responsible and effective writer within the organization. The blog should provide information similar to what is often provided to families through family readiness channels or to the public through press releases. A unit blog could also maintain links to blogs of Soldiers in the organization. This would provide a way for the organization to keep up with its Soldiers’ blogs and, more importantly, provide interested readers with a more detail on the activities of that 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.

02 March 2009

Defensive Blogging

Not all Soldiers will be interested in maintaining their own blog. They can still play an important role in helping the Army in getting its message out correctly and completely. I refer to this idea as “defensive blogging”: peruse other blogs and leave comments to correct, complete, or amplify a point in a story written by others. Perhaps someone has written a post about an operation that the Soldier was involved in or about a recent change in Army policy that affects the Soldier. Posting comments on other blogs is a way to get the Soldiers opinions (and facts) out to a broader audience. This is particularly important if incorrect information is being posted and discussed in blogs. Military members have an obligation to set the record straight when incorrect information is posted publicly, and must do so in a transparent manner to avoid the appearance of the military trying to covertly impact public opinion.

The concept of defensive blogging is already being implemented at the combatant command level. CENTCOM does not maintain their own blog but they actively engage other blogs by leaving comments. The CENTCOM bloggers are required to be completely open about who they are and who they work for when leaving comments on a blog. This is a very reasonable requirement. According to reports about this operation, the comments they leave have been received favorably and part of that is due to their transparency.

Having a small organized team with the task of trudging through the blogosphere and correcting or completing stories about an organization seems a very valid and important use of resources. This should be considered by all major commands in the Army but it is probably not practical or necessary to have an organized team like this at the battalion or brigade level. At those levels the Army should empower Soldiers to perform the mission. This is, admittedly, a bit more risky because it is not controlled. This risk can be mitigated if Soldiers are provided with information, power, and trust. The Air Force recently published guidance in the form of a blog assessment flowchart for their PA officers to use. It is perfectly suited for individual Soldiers and could easily be included in any training provided as well as in published guidance.

01 March 2009

Blogging to Increase the Army’s Credibility

Encouraging Soldiers to blog demonstrates a willingness to truthfully share our stories. Nothing will be more self-defeating than to be perceived as dishonest whether when speaking to the media or posting to a personal blog. The American public perceives that the military is willing to and does provide inaccurate information to the media. Additionally, the media believes the military is restrictive in providing access and that officers are not encouraged to speak with reporters. Soldier blogs can help change this perception. While a Soldier blogging is not the same as engaging face-to-face with reporters, it is still a way to show our interest in being open and honest when disclosing information about events that they have been a part of. In order to further demonstrate openness and honesty, Soldiers should blog under their own name and be transparent about their rank, experience, and type of military occupation. Many like to blog under creative pseudonyms, but by posting under their own name credibility will be easier to achieve. This is not asking for something extraordinary: nearly half of all bloggers already blog under their own name.

Encouraging Soldiers to blog about personal experiences will result in two potential outcomes. First, traditional media sources will pick up on the stories being published on blogs as many examples over the past few years prove they’ll do. Secondly, if there is a preponderance of these stories in the blogosphere and they are being read, shared, and linked to, perhaps mainstream media will see the appetite that exists and begin to publish more such stories on their own initiative.

The most important and interesting story for Soldiers to tell is their own. However, the Army can gain more strategic impact on public opinion if Soldiers blog entries corroborate the stories being told through official channels. By this I do not mean that the Soldiers simply repeat what official press releases say. If Soldiers are seen as puppets, this would have a detrimental impact on their credibility. If, however, the stories Soldiers tell further enlighten and personalize the information from press releases or other stories in main stream media, this could have a positive impact for the Army.

One way to accomplish this is to provide talking points for Soldiers to consider when blogging. This is no different than what we currently do in operations where Soldiers may have contact with mainstream media. The Army provides talking points to Soldiers to prepare them to intelligently engage the media about current operations. Soldiers are not simply given phrases to repeat to any question; rather, they are informed of the operation’s intent, provided with some background and key points that we desire the public to hear, and then instructed to talk about what they know and what they do – to “stay in their lane.” What I propose is that this same model be applied to the blogosphere. Provide Soldiers with their command’s talking points and encourage them to blog about what they know and what they do. When doing so, it must be made clear that Soldiers are not demanded to always include talking points in their blog entries. Rather, the Army should educate Soldiers about the strategic impact that blogging can have, inform them of the higher commanders’ intents, and allow them to tell stories of their choosing in their own words.

28 February 2009

Use New Media to “Fill the Gap”

A gap exists in the information that is presented in mainstream media and what the American public desires. Soldier blogs are one way to help fill this gap. To do so, the Army should encourage Soldiers to blog about two broad topics: stories about the rebuilding effort and positive stories about events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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. Additionally, the public wants to hear more stories about individual Soldiers. Knowing this, Soldiers can fill a significant need – tell stories about their involvement in reconstruction. There are many engineer Soldiers who are rebuilding schools and hospitals. Medical Soldiers are providing needed care to many who have not had such care in quite some time. There are civil affairs Soldiers involved in helping to establish local governmental organizations and 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 desires. Soldiers’ blogs can provide stories of interest to the American public.

Suggesting that Soldiers tell positive stories about events in Iraq and Afghanistan is not a recommendation that the Army hide problems and challenges nor is it a recommendation that Soldiers only be encouraged to blog positive stories. 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 wars. However, there is a significant disconnect between the balance that the media believes they provide and the American public perception. 68% of the media believes they provide balanced information while 70% of the public sees the coverage as predominately negative. Soldiers can 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.

27 February 2009

Recommendation #1: Encourage and Enable Soldiers to Use New Media

NOTE: This is the first entry about the recommendations I have for making better use of Soldier engagement of new media. Many of the ideas have been floated on this blog before and I appreciate any comments folks left over the past several months as I posted my thoughts. I ask the same again – please leave any comments, opinions, or other better ideas that you have! Thanks.

The Army should encourage Soldiers to blog. Robbins came to this same conclusion when she wrote that “qualified support of Soldier blogs is good policy when coupled with clearly defined boundaries and aggressive Soldier education.” In her research, she found that Soldiers blogs show the Army’s face and communicate messages that the Army cannot communicate through official channels. She also found that most milblogs are “pro-Army, pro-chain of command, and pro-mission” – in other words, they are positive strategic communicators.

There are several reasons why the Army should encourage the engagement of new media by its Soldiers. First, it “fills the gap” between media coverage and public interest. Secondly, it increases the Army’s credibility.

There are a few ways that the Army can best encourage Soldiers to engage new media. First is by creating and maintaining their own blog. Another is through defensive blogging – engaging existing blogs to complete or correct a story or just add their personal insight and experience. A third way is through the creation of unit blogs. Yet another way is to allow Soldiers to post videos to YouTube.
These reasons and ways will be the subject of entries over the next week.

26 February 2009

How to Make Soldier Blogging More Effective

It is clear to me that encouraging Soldiers to engage new media, specifically to maintain personal blogs and interact with other blogs, is a valid idea that will have positive gains for the Army’s strategic communication effort. In order to effectively implement this idea, there are three primary tasks that must be accomplished.
  1. The Army must actively encourage Soldiers to use new media.
  2. The Army must revise regulations to clearly identify what is expected of Soldiers using new media, does not overburden commands with additional administrative tasks, and demonstrates trust in Soldiers to do so responsibly.
  3. The Army must prepare Soldiers to do so effectively by providing adequate and interesting education.

Over the next several days, I will provide details on each of these three recommendations. Stay tuned! And be sure to leave any comments you have about these ideas … I’ve appreciated your interaction over the past several months.

Interactive Field Manuals

There was a bit on NPR Monday morning about a trial of electronic textbooks at Northwestern Missouri State University. My initial reaction was unfavorable – I don’t really like reading large amounts on the computer screen and I really do like being able to mark up textbooks as I read them. But the story mentioned having embedded videos in the textbooks and that struck a chord of interest for me. When I was teaching at West Point, some colleagues and I worked on a project using short videos of example problems being worked to help engineering students learn. The feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive and it appeared to improve their learning.

That has gotten me thinking about a similar idea for the Army’s Field Manuals. We’ve already gone to electronic versions of these manuals, but they are currently stale PDF files – the kind of files I don’t prefer to read on-line. I’d much rather have a hard copy of the manual. But what if we spiced up those electronic versions to make them something more than the hard copy, something that adds value to putting them on-line? Perhaps instead of having written vignettes, there could be a video that tells the story. Perhaps a video interview of key planners or leaders of operations explaining their thought process or lessons learned. Think of what this could do to the interest of reading manuals!

And another thought … take advantage of some of the Web 2.0 capabilities in the on-line manuals. Instead of creating downloadable files, make it a “living” document on the web. Users of the manual could leave comments at the end of each chapter (or maybe even “tag” their comments to a specific part of the manual. Users could post TTPs directly in the manual. This aspect may need to be vetted before their officially published to the on-line version to ensure accuracy and validity – this is something that the doctrine centers already do, just in a longer time frame.

Just some thoughts … what do you think? Would a more interactive field manual be of interest to you? Would you be more likely to use a manual of this type than the hard copy or current on-line versions? What else could we do to use current technology to make manuals better?

22 February 2009

Results are in: Readers are split about blogging under own name

57% percent of respondants (14 total this time) said Soldiers should blog under their own name. This is certainly not a whopping majority, so I'll take the response to suggest that we're split on whether or not Soldiers should use their own name when blogging or should continue to use creative aliases.

Here's my take on this issue: If the Soldier is blogging about military related issues he should use his rank and position at a minimum, but if he's blogging about other topics there's no need to do so. The reason I believe this is twofold. First, when talking about military topics, one of the best reasons for Soldiers to blog is because of their experience and credibility. Therefore, the Soldier should use rank and position (maybe even a quick background) to support his comments. On the other hand, there are rules governing what Soldiers can say in uniform - specifically about political leadership - and if blogging about any of these topics, the Soldier is wise to remain just "Joe Civilian" to avoid the risk of violating rules.

Just as a Soldier should not show up at a political rally in uniform, so too should he not blog about a political topic on a milblog. But if that Soldier were to be interviewed on the local news about a recent military exercise or his experiences on deployment, he should proudly wear his uniform. So too should a Soldier make it clear that he's a Soldier when blogging about similar topics.

The details if you're interested...

Should Soldiers blog under their own name?
  • 57% (8) Yes
  • 43% (6) No

18 February 2009

... and that's where blogs come in!

A quote from MAJ C over at A Major's Perspective today:
Just because it has not been in the Main Stream Media, doesn't mean that there are still not events happening. Here is a story from Reuters.
The story he's talking about regards some recent developments between Georgia (the country) and Russia, but it could be about anything. There are many stories that aren't covered - or aren't given much attention, anyway - and blogs can help fill that hole.

Indian Muslims take a stand against terrorism!

In today's NYTimes, Tom Friedman editorializes on a very positive development in Muslim public opinion regarding terrorism.

In this case, having Indian Muslims take such a stance is encouraging. They are providing a fine example for other Muslims around the world to do the same. Moderate Muslims, the ones who believe terror in the name of Islam is wrong, are the ones who will bring success.

A couple of quotes worth highlighting here:
    • no local Muslim charity is willing to bury them in its cemetery.

    • the leadership of India’s Muslim community has called them by their real name — “murderers” not “martyrs”

    • “Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is ‘fasad.’ Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery.” (quoting M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal)

    • The only effective way to stop this trend is for “the village” — the Muslim community itself — to say “no more.” When a culture and a faith community delegitimizes this kind of behavior, openly, loudly and consistently, it is more important than metal detectors or extra police.
As Friedman points out, India is not a majority Muslim country, but this is encouraging none-the-less as it shows that Muslims are willing to vocally stand against terrorism.

This public action to not bury the murderers follows the fatwah issued by an Islamic seminary last May and reported on a bit more after a November conference of Indian Muslim clerics endorsed the ruling.

It is this kind of thing that needs to get more press, more support, more encouragement, and more praise! It's been said for quite some time that the only real way to beat Islamic terrorism is for Muslims themselves to stand up against it! Having non-Muslims rant about such acts of terror is important: it brings attention and proposes solutions. But having Muslims themselves stand against terror being brought in the name of their religion is significantly more meaningful.

So, thanks Mr. Friedman for bringing attention to this action. Now, will more main stream media cover this positive development - more than just words of Indian Muslims: actions! - or does it not sell? Bloggers, perhaps this is one of those stories that you could bring to better light.

14 February 2009

Some lurking OPSEC dangers ...

... are out there in social media. So says Ian Bach in a comment to Bouhammer's post about Together We Served.

I have many military friends and mil. Families who I have helped them to report and shut down people who were harassing them on many of the most popular social networking sites. We found 7 fake military Profiles that were spreading lies and enemy propaganda, we even found a fake New York policeman ID ( these we reported to FBI and IC3. So next time you think that ugly email or spam chat was just somenutty liberal - take a closer look….check their profile, maybeyou can help us in the war that exists online.


Al Qaeda has recently formed new groups to infiltrate facebook. The details of their strategy, tactics, and methods were intercepted and they are very similiar to what I fought on YouTube, Myspace, and Yahoo.
So these are definitely some things that must be discussed in OPSEC training! Haven't been in a "real unit" for a while, so I'm not sure if this currently is being covered in regular training events. Have you seen discussion about this in military circles?

Only way I see to defeat this is awareness (by all Soldiers) and diligence (by folks like Ian, a self proclaimed "independent terrorist hunter").

13 February 2009

Milblogs over MSM suggests one columnist

This columnist supports the need for milblogs to "fill the gap" based on the findings in Military-Media Relationship.

This is one of the primary reasons that the Army should make a more concerted effort to get Soldiers from a variety of MOSs in the blogosphere telling their stories!

12 February 2009

Facebook for Soldiers?

Was invited today by an old 1SG I worked with to join Together We Served. If you haven't heard about it, there's a version for each service and it serves as a great way to reconnect and stay updated with Soldiers you've served with in the past. It's a user friendly site that, like Facebook, suggests people you may know once you've entered your service history. Pretty cool! I reconnected with several Soldiers from days gone by and it's neat to see how they've advanced, what they've been involved in, and how the continue to serve! Good for the soul!

From a professional discussion point of view, this site has much more potential than Facebook does. It provides forums that can be started by just asking a question. With almost 150k Soldiers on the site since it stood up in Aug 2008, the discussions include points of view from junior Soldiers to retired senior Soldiers. From what I perused, the discussions are similar to those that occur on AKO, so I'm not sure what this site provides in forums that's different ... maybe it's just the total package in a more user-friendly format than AKO (although, I must say, I've been impressed with how AKO has evolved - it's a pretty useful site).

If you have joined Together We Serve, share your opinions of it here - does it serve as a good forum site? Does it have potential that's currently untapped?

If you haven't joined, check it out... I think you'll find it to be a good site.

Oh yeah, folks you connect with are "Brothers" not "Friends" ... much better (sorry, gals!)

The Army is all over the place...

... even in social media. Check out these links.

The Army has:
Who was aware of this? If you're one who follows the Army through any of these sources, please share your thoughts, experiences, opinions in the comments here. Thanks!

11 February 2009

One way the Army is getting its stories out ...

... is by clearly valuing bloggers! I participated (well, more accurately listened in on), my first bloggers roundtable hosted by the Army PA office. The subject today was a recent demonstration of robotic UXO removing equipment. The equipment isn't new - it's currently being used by USAF EOD stateside and overseas - but the application is new. The Army is examining how effective these tools will be for their Range Modernization Process.

Results from the test are promising that, with some upscaled versions of the equipment tested, the Army could more quickly and safely prepare ranges for modernization. If you're interested in more details, the transcript of the session is here.

The discussion was interesting, the demonstration was encouraging, but I was left with a number of questions. Not about the UXO robotics demo - the folks that did the demo were very clear and detailed in the descriptions and willing to answer questions. Rather, my questions were about the process itself. Lindy Kyzer, from the Army's Online and Social Media Division of the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, responded very willingly to my questions. Here is what I learned about these roundtables (since I'm not much of a journalist, there are huge quotes from Lindy below):

The Army does regular blogger roundtables and traditional media roundtables. "Today's blogger's roundtable was just one part of a multipronged outreach strategy we have in public affairs - but what we've learned, especially in the past yearis that blogger outreach is really a core part of what we do because so many people are looking to blogs for news and information. In addition,a significant percentage of traditional media reporters say they look to blogs for ideas - so if we're not telling our story in the blogosphere,we're missing out on that opportunity, as well."

There's a core group of about 50 bloggers who participate in the blogger roundtables - usually about 5 or so in each discussion. "Because of the natureof the blogosphere, it's always evolving. Someone happens upon our program and will join in. Five is an ideal number for a conversation, but we'll have more or less than that at any given time."

These roundtables are receiving great feedback. "Bloggers are glad we're reaching out to them and respecting them as important news sources. We have a number of active-duty soldier bloggers who participate in our program, and they are extremely glad for the support of Army public affairs."

Bloggers play a new and important role in getting the Army's story out to people who are interested. "Depending on the topic, it [a blog] might reach out to people who are truly interested in Army issues in a more significant way. In addition, with the Web, you have a better guarantee that people are actively pursuing your information. Increasingly today, newspapers are ignored while people read their favorite blogs for information instead. And, because blogs cover niche topics, we can hold blogger's roundtables on a variety of issues that might not appeal to a wide-focused publication, but will appeal to blog readers."

07 February 2009

New Poll: Should Soldiers be encouraged to blog under their own name?

What do you think? Share your opinion by answering the current poll ...

This simple yes/no poll only asks if Soldiers should blog under their own name for the sake of transparency (like what the CENTCOM bloggers do, or what is required to post on the CAC blogs).

If you want to throw your ideas in the ring for why or why not, leave your thoughts as comments to this post. As always, thanks for your participation in this project - I appreciate the dialogue that's gone on here over the past few months!

Results are in: Most think GOs blogging is a good thing

The most recent poll asked if having general officers actively engaging with their subordinates in the blogosphere is a good thing. The response (from the 13 respondants) is overwhelmingly positive! The majority seem to think that internal communication should remain in a place open only to those in organization, but for all other communication the public nature of blogs is a good thing. Only one respondant thought this is a bad idea. Recent experience is showing that more GOs certainly agree ... I imagine we'll continue to see more and more blogs like Mountain Sound Off or iCommandant appearing in the blogosphere.

General Officers blogging is a good idea
  • 5 (38%) Absolutely! Shows they understand and value their Soldiers ideas
  • 7 (53%) You bet. But, for internal comms, the blogs shouldn't be publicly accessible
  • 0 (0%) No. They should rely on the chain of command for ideas from their Soldiers
  • 1 (7%) No way! Too time consuming, usurps the chain of command, OPSEC risk, etc

03 February 2009

Facebook value?

So I've heard all the talk about Facebook and I've thought that it's just a thing that college kids use to keep their social lives squared away. But recently a former Soldier that I worked with sent me an e-mail requesting I join FB (I'm now hip enough to refer to it like that!) so he could update me on his family through pics, etc. A day or so later I read the Christian Science Monitor article about senior officers using new media to better communicate with their subordinates and the public, and ADM Stavridis (Cdr of USSOUTHCOM) was quoted about how he uses FB to kick around ideas. "So", I thought after blogging about these senior officers, "one of the most senior officers in our military is hip enough to be on Facebook ... then so am I!" And thus began my journey into one more of these new media creations.

So far, I've reconnected with about half my HS class (admittedly a small class, but still), caught up with a couple of college friends, and become "friends" with ADM Stavridis (I'm still trying to process what exactly that means).

Aside from being able to see photos of folks I've not seen in 15 years or so, finding out what they're "doing right now", and posting pictures of my kids to show how great they are, I'm not completely convinced of the value to military communication. I imagine it's a great tool for keeping up to date with family and friends when deployed, or for setting up plans for Friday night, but it doesn't seem to be well-equipped for having continuing, engaging dialogue.

What do you think? If you are on FB, do you see value from a professional point of view? Or is it mainly a social networking thing? Maybe I'll create a poll to inquire about this in the future, but for now leave some comments to let me know what I may be missing.

02 February 2009

Importance of truth and perception

Either it's just because I'm more aware of it recently, or there are more and more very senior officers entering the blogosphere each day. Most recently read the comments of VADM Harvey discussing Navy recruiting efforts with bloggers on the US Naval Institute's Blog. While the main topic of the post wasn't blogging, that topic did come up and VADM Harvey offered his views on it. Milblogging and Mrs Greyhawk honed in on a couple negative points VADM Harvey made concerning what he perceives as lack of truth in many milblogs and the desire of milbloggers to exagerate in order to gain readership. (My thoughts on this subject: If that's perception, then that's reality ... and that's one of the reasons that I'm working on this project: how can we encourage/educate/enable Soldiers to produce truthful, valuable, necessary blog entries to help fill gaps in media coverage, tell their story, and help paint a more complete picture of the military for the American people.)

But he also had this to say, and I think it's worth highlighting here:
I recognize the reality of the blogosphere and the potential that exists for worthwhile exchanges that enhance our professional knowledge and overall awareness. My intent is to continue to participate when I can and where I see I can make a contribution to a professional exchange, but my view today is that the bloggers generally see their activity as far more meaningful than I do right now. I do, however, remain hopeful.

Can't ask for a whole lot more from our senior leaders ... at least he doesn't think they're evil and should be banned! He's willing to accept them for what they are and engage with those he thinks are worth his time. And he's hopeful that the professional benefit of milbloggers will increase. So do I!

25 January 2009

New Poll: Is it good to have so many GOs in the blogosphere?

This week's poll seeks your opinion about the growing number of General Officers who are actively blogging. If you haven't checked their blogs out yet, I encourage you to do so before you answer the poll. You can look here for some examples of blogs. If you find others that I haven't mentioned yet, please leave their url in the comments here so I can check them out. Thanks!

And, as always, tell your friends/colleagues/complete strangers to stop by this blog and take the poll.

Most people think milblogs have strategic effect ...

... or, more accurately "most of the six people who took the most recent poll think..."

So, again, not a scientific poll, but I'll use it as a point for discussion. Half of the responses think milblogs currently have strategic effect. Another third say there's a possibility for strategic effect. In the comments from the post when I asked the question, membrain and Cannoneer No. 4 mentioned some examples where milbloggers did have an effect: in both cases, the situations involved someone who either lied or told a story that milbloggers believed misrepresented the military. Both are awesome examples of the impact that bloggers in general can have (and are having), but I'm curious about the impact Soldiers can have with their own stories.

As I've been perusing the blogosphere, I have yet to come across an example of a story by a milblogger that starts a chain of events with strategic effect. It is my opinion that several of the first milbloggers in OIF did ... but once the newness of milblogging wore off, has the impact/staying power of our Soldiers stories waned?

I want to believe that our Soldiers stories are having a great impact on more than just their family and friends. But, I'm having a difficult time finding compelling examples. I'm looking for mainstream pick-up of stories originating in the blogosphere. Or, stories that become extremely popular in the blogosphere - linked to by a large number of other blogs and therefore more widely read.

Do you have such examples that you've come across? Or, perhaps you've got some examples from your own blogging experience? Please share them here in the comments!

And, oh-yeah, if you're interested, here are the details from the poll:

Could Soldiers blogs have strategic effect?

  • 3 (50%) Yes. Many already do.
  • 2 (33%) They could, but most don't.
  • 1 (17%) Maybe, but I think it's a stretch.
  • 0 (0%) No.

22 January 2009

More GOs (and Flags) in the Blogosphere

A recent Christian Science Monitor article highlights several GOs and Flag officers who are embracing new media - at least blogs and Facebook. Many of them are not doing just to post their ideas, but are doing so to improve their ability to communicate within their commands. One even hopes that the online discussions will influence his thinking on key issues:
Members of the military operating within a closed network or the public operating in a more open online setting could help shape national security policy in much the same way, creating a product that results from a far more transparent process than exists now.
“I think we need ‘wiki’ security,” says Admiral Stavridis, head of US Southern Command, who’s an avid blogger

The Coast Guard commandant has this to say about new media:
“We need to understand that we are not living in the same social environment that we grew up in,” says Admiral Allen, who announced a new information “revolution” – not in a press release or an “all hands memo” but on YouTube, the popular online video site.
Allen is embracing the medium-is-the-message in hopes of connecting with the very people he hopes to influence as he sets a course to engage the rank and file and the public at large on his wide-ranging ideas.“This is a permanent feature of our environment, and we need to understand how to operate in it, communicate with our people, and put out policies and let them understand what the organizational intent of the Coast Guard is and what we expect of them,” he says.

So add these leaders to the growing list. At the rate that the list of very senior officers are embracing new media, I won't be surprise to find in the very near future some new forward-looking policies for the military to make more effective use of new media (as opposed to the reactive type we've seen so far).

21 January 2009

Time for policy to catch up ...

Milblogs are no longer some fringe idea. Nor are they proving to be a source of security violations. So says a recent Stars and Stripes story on the topic. A few pertinent quotes:

Soldiers who grew up in the information-sharing digital age suddenly faced very old traditions of operational secrecy. But today’s blog analysts say the idea of stifling online content, even in battle zones, may be futile. Milbogs, they say, are as enmeshed into the fabric of military life as any other facet of society.
In 2006, the Army’s Web Risk Assessment Cell, or AWRAC, which didn’t exist when Bush took office, scanned 1,200 military Web sites and blogs, or milblogs, for potential security leaks. Immediately, bloggers flagged it as a Soviet-style purge against digital freedom.
The audit’s results, obtained a year later by the Electronic Frontier Foundation via a Freedom of Information Act request, showed nearly 2,000 cases of operational security breaches on the military’s own Web sites, but "at most, 28," breaches on nearly 600 personal blogs reviewed.
So, it's time for our policies about new media catch up. We need to make better use of our Soldiers blogs to help us tell the Army story, to get more information about activities on the ground around the world into the public forum, and to better share with our public what life is like as a Soldier today. We need to acknowledge that what we've done so far is act in fear by disallowing certain engagement with new media rather than embracing it and figuring out how to maximize its value.

There are several folks out there who are determining ways the military can do this more effectively, but generally, this is being done by rather low-ranking folks (the USAF new media office is headed by a Captain). Nothing against these people - in fact they're generating awesome ideas - but it certainly doesn't send a message that the military is truly embracing it when it's treated as a small aside.

20 January 2009

A high-level unit blog - another GO joins the ranks of pro-bloggers!

Add MG Oates to the growing list that includes LTG Caldwell, LTG Vanantwerp, and BG Abrams: GOs in the Blogosphere! Through a milbogging.com link, I was made aware of the Task Force Mountain blog started and maintained by the 10th Mtn Div CG, MG Oates. If you haven't seen it yet, go take a look. It's a pretty good example of what we can do to more effectively make use of new media. The home page doesn't look too dissimilar to a typical Army unit page - news clips, useful links, etc. What makes it unique, though, is a link to the Mountain Sound Off Blog.

Just a quick glance through the posts (really, questions asked by MG Oates) shows that a good number of folks are responding to this new form of communication. Some of the discussions already have over 100 comments posted! Responding to concerns that such a forum can negate the chain of command in an interview with Danger Room, MG Oates said "It is not in fact going around the chain of command; it allows us to connect to the chain of command in ways we have not been able to experience before."

Similar concerns were raised by faculty at USMA when the Dean and Commandant both began an internal forum for cadets to post concerns and questions. For the most part, posts remained professional and respectful, and both the Dean and Comm showed they valued the cadets participation in the dialogue by personally responding and posting follow-ups to actions that were taken if something needed to be fixed. In time, these forums were accepted and frequented by faculty - and it's arguable that it improved internal dialogue among all. The main difference between these USMA forums and the Task Force Mountain one is firewalls: the USMA forums were accessible only within the USMA network, the TF Mountain one is accessible by anyone!

Another interesting piece of MG Oates' foray into Web 2.0 stuff is the Lima Charlie Chat Room - a scheduled time when MG Oates chats online with Soldiers and they can ask whatever they want. You can read a transcript of the first chat on 4 Jan and judge for yourself if Soldiers are asking honest questions and the CG providing honest answers. I think most will be pleasantly surprised. But, you can also judge if there are potential "security violations" in there ... this is still the most challenging piece of all this new media for the Army.

One thing that I think would make this TF Mountain web page even better would be to provide links to blogs from its Soldiers. This could lead to much more traffic for the Soldiers blogs, therefore more of the "daily life" stories could make it out into circulation, and the blogs could have more positive effect. Some think that by doing so, however, would lead the Soldiers to edit themselves and not post as honestly. A fair concern, I think, but in this case, perhaps worth the risk to increase the audience!

So, what do you think? Is this TF Mountian blog a good idea? An open blog for dialogue about internal and external issues? What about the chat room (and posting the transcripts of "internal communications")? In the military, does this sort of thing usurp the chain of command? Or, as MG Oates contends, is it just one more way to communicate with your subordinates? Curious to hear what you think.

19 January 2009

They don't forget when you lie!

A recent comment about the Scott Beauchamp case led me to an article in the American Thinker. The bottom line here is: if you think you can get away with lying, you're probably wrong (at least in the long term). And the corollary to this: if you get caught lying publicly, people won't soon forget.

I bring this up only as to reiterate what we've discussed here before. One of the first rules of blogging (and, specifically, milblogging) is to do so with complete integrity. Milblogs have the potential for tremendous impact on public opinion - as long as they are viewed as credible, trustworthy, sources. One foul move and that credibility is destroyed. Unfortunately, I expect that credibility is not just destroyed for that single source. It is likely that other milblogs will be seen with similar skepticism.

13 January 2009

New poll: can Soldiers blogs have strategic effect?

What do you think? Can they? Do they currently?

09 January 2009

Strategic impact of Soldier blogs

Back in November, I posted some thoughts about how Soldier blogging fits into the fundamentals of information. Now, I'd like to investigate how it meshes into strategic communication principles. Some may think it's a bit of a stretch to take the blog of an individual Soldier and expect to gain anything strategic from it. But hear me out ... and weigh in on it!
Strategic communication (SC) is a term for which it is difficult to find an agreed upon definition. Joint Publication 5-0 defines it as “focused US Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences in order to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of US Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of power.” The same publication goes on to state that proper “SC planning establishes unity of US themes and messages, emphasizes success, accurately confirms or refutes external reporting on US operations, and reinforces the legitimacy of US goals.” (p II-2)
The Report by the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication describes SC as “a sustained and coherent set of activities that include: understanding identities, attitudes, behaviors, and cultures, … advising policymakers, diplomats, and military commanders on the public opinion and communication implications of their strategic and policy choices, … engaging in a dialogue of ideas, … influencing attitudes and behavior through communication strategies, … and measuring the impact of activities.” (pp 10-11) Halloran articulates the ideas of SC in less formal language when he writes that SC “is a way of persuading other people to accept one’s ideas, policies, or courses of action. … [It] means persuading allies and friends to stand with you, … neutrals to come to your side, … adversaries that you have the power and the will to prevail over them, … [and] the nation’s citizens to support the policies of their leaders so that a national will is forged.” (p 6)
Taken together, these definitions and descriptions of strategic communication suggest that SC is not something that is only done by the highest levels of government. Additionally, they infer that SC is about much more than simply crafting and transmitting specific messages. Finally, they all articulate the importance of dialogue in communication; and this dialogue requires understanding of your audience, a willingness to listen, not just speak, and trust from those to whom we wish to communicate. With this understanding, new media use by individual Soldiers offers a unique way to accomplish some SC objectives.
To further explain how the military can implement SC, the Department of Defense published a guide describing the nine principles of strategic communication. These principles are: leadership-driven, credible, dialogue, unity of effort, responsive, understanding, pervasive, results-based, and continuous. By examining each of these principles, we can see how Soldiers engaging new media – specifically blogging – can serve to accomplish SC.
Three of the principles, leadership-driven, unity of effort, and results-based, require leadership action. Leadership-driven means that leaders must control the process; they must “place communication at the core of everything they do.” In this light, it is reasonable that leaders would develop policies to guide their Soldiers when they write blog entries and these leaders would also educate and equip their Soldiers to enable them to be effective blog writers. Unity of effort implies vertical and horizontal integration and coordination. In order to achieve this, Soldiers must be empowered and trusted to communicate via new media. Leaders also have an important role to “coordinate and synchronize capabilities and instruments of power within their area of responsibility.” Soldiers blogging is a new form of power that leaders now have at their disposal. SC is results-based in that it must focus on specific outcomes and then communicate to all in the organization the target audiences and themes they wish to communicate. Just as talking points are provided to Soldiers on patrol in case they are approached by the media, these talking points can be taken into consideration when Soldiers voluntarily approach the new media.
Credibility is built on trust, accuracy, and consistency. Over time, it is quite possible that bloggers can develop credibility – in fact, it has been found that individual Soldiers are generally accepted as more credible than professional spokespeople.(p 13) Concerning understanding of cultures, since the primary audience for most milbloggers is the domestic audience, there is not much concern about this principle. Dialogue is a principle that is well-suited for application in the blogosphere, since that is one of the primary benefits of new media: a back-and-forth dialogue between potentially many individuals. We understand the importance of the pervasive communication when it comes to Soldiers on patrol. There has been much discussion about the “strategic corporal” and the impact that decisions in combat of very junior service members can have in the strategic environment. That same junior service member can have a similar impact by engaging the public through blogging. To be responsive, information must be timely and presented to people who are interested in it. The social aspect of blogging enables better responsiveness as Soldiers can provide tailored information to their regular readers or post comments to other specific blogs. The final principle is concerns the continuous nature of SC: it is not something that we just do at specific times and ignore it the rest of the time. Blogs are particularly well-suited to this principle as they are often maintained on a weekly – or sometimes daily – basis, and can therefore be continuously engaging their audience on issues important to the Army.
Our current enemy has been particularly adept at using new media to their advantage. Many have written about this in an effort to energize better use of these emerging internet technologies by the United States. For example, Josten writes that “today’s form of terrorism is essentially strategic communication in the purest definition – message and action – utilizing the global communications network more to influence than inform.” (p 19) BG Eder expresses the concern that “many, especially in the military, are worried that our enemies have already occupied and dominated the infosphere battlespace.” Finally, Kimmange and Ridolfo write that “Sunni insurgents in Iraq and their supporters worldwide are exploiting the Internet to pursue a massive and far-reaching media campaign … [and] the popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world.” (p 3) It is clear that today’s terrorist networks have the advantage of having made effective use of internet capabilities before we have. This does not suggest that this particular battle is lost. Rather, by modifying our policies and seeking new and creative ways to engage new media, the Army can take back this piece of virtual terrain and again seize the advantage.

Sorry there's no poll this week ...

... but my brain was fried the other evening and I couldn't gin up a decent poll question. But don't fret, ye who long to share your opinion via voting button, a new question will appear in the not too distant future.

08 January 2009

A useful defensive blogging tool

The Air Force recently released a flow chart describing how to assess blogs that have posted something about the USAF or a subordinate organization ... and help people decide how to respond. The flow chart is quite colorful and written in simple and clear language. It seems to be a pretty useful tool for folks to use. I believe the intent of this flow chart is primarily for organizations to use, but it could be extremely useful for individual Airmen (or as far as this bog is concerned, Soldiers). I won't comment more on the document itself: there are plenty of posts in the blogosphere already discussing its merits and potential problems. A couple of them worth looking at are:
  • Global Nerdy
  • Web Ink Now one of the comments on this post from Matt Scherer reads: "The problem with the Air Force is that while they have an ongoing social media strategy, they don't have the authorization to get fulltime access to Twitter and other blogs. Their communication types don't want to allow them outside the firewall. A few proactive PA types are now getting a laptop that allows them to see what the world is blogging about, but until this happens, the Air Force is woefully way behind." This is also a problem for the Army and one that needs to be addressed - we need to know what's being written, so we can know what to (or not to) respond to. It's not ever good to be the "last to know"
I do want to highlight the five considerations:
  • Transparency - tell folks who you are
  • Sourcing - write based on your experience or observations; else clearly cite your sources
  • Timeliness - too slow on the draw and your comments will be missed
  • Tone - got to remain professional
  • Influence - spend your time on "high payoff targets"
I think these are right on the mark ... they match up with guidance issued by LTG Caldwell to his command as well as with the fundamentals of information outlined in public affairs doctrine and link well with strategic communication guidance. All in all, I think this flow chart will serve to be a very useful resource for organizations and individuals as we all find ways to more effectively use new media to engage the public we sworn to protect.

05 January 2009

Check out Blogs over Baghdad

If you haven't yet, I recommend checking out Blogs over Baghdad. The SGM and his unit just deployed to the CENTCOM AOR and the site already has got some good stuff to read about their training and the SGM has some great ideas about using new media. He's a PA Soldier who, along with blogging about his experiences, is experimenting with the idea of a unit blog - in fact, Blogs over Baghdad is a unit blog that has entries from a number of Soldiers in their organization. In a recent post about milblogging, SGM Falardeau had this to say:
The Department of Defense has slowly evolved its opinion of blogs. A few years ago, they were seen as a serious threat and were discouraged, and their authors sometimes faced serious consequences for disclosing potentially harmful or embarrassing information. Over the years, reasoned minds discovered and communicated to leadership that it was nearly impossible to muzzle soldiers — and that doing so not only stopped that small amount of possibly harmful communication, but also the overwhelming amount of information flow that added layers of understanding about the lives of soldiers, their families and our institutions.
It is my hope that the experiences of the 314th and many others will continue to demonstrate the effectiveness of Soldiers blogging. Best wishes to the 314th and the many other Soldiers currently serving around the world.

04 January 2009

Results are in: Most believe milblogs are pro-military biased

The results from the most recent poll corroborate what I'm finding in the survey of milblogs that I'm currently in the midst of: the overwhelming majority (62%) of the people who took this poll believe that most milblogs are at least slightly biased in favor of the military. From my trolling, there are a few milblogs out there that are more negative, but they are certainly the minority.

Thanks to the 16 of you who voted - a new Soldiers in the Blogosphere polling record!

Do you think most milblogs are biased?
  • 18% (3) Absolutely! Most are pro-military and/or pro-war
  • 62% (10) Yes, they are somewhat pro-military and/or pro-war
  • 12% (2)No. Most are quite neutral.
  • 6% (1) Yes, most are somewhat negative about the military or war
  • 0% (0) Absolutely! Most are very negative about the military or war
So I ask: is this a problem? Is it somehow bad that most milblogs provide a positive outlook when discussing military matters in general or the wars specifically? Is this an important aspect of achieving balanced information when considering that most people believe that the mainstream media has a negative bias for the wars specifically?

I personally don't find this to be troubling as long as the positive outlook is based on facts. The idea of truthful information is paramount to creating and maintaining credibility. Interesting stories can be told, compelling drama can be generated, and readers will keep coming back for the next installment if the Soldier is credible.

A bit more on defensive blogging

Well, this blog got its first firestorm of comments after I chose to use a recent story to get discussion going about "defensive blogging." The story is about Corps of Engineers employees posting comments on a website about the New Orleans levee system. While most of the comments about my blog entry were about the details of the case - which was not the primary subject of my post - there are several good lessons and highlights that have come out of this experience. I'll summarize them as TTPs for defensive blogging actions.

ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH: NON-NEGOTIABLE. In the comments, New Orleans Ladder said "it is never a good idea for the Army to lie to the American people on American soil with American Tax-paid computers." I couldn't agree more! In my opinion, this is a must - no discussion! Also in the comments, Ms. Rosenthall (posting as WateryHill) wrote in response to a comment by Adam S., "I am just an American citizen, but I do not understand why you say for the Army to fabricate information and call it facts, that the Army is telling 'its side of the story.'" If what was being posted was, in fact, fabricated information, then the person posting it is wrong and is doing more harm than good for their cause and for the Army. Since the idea of defensive blogging is to correct or complete a story then the information a Soldier leaves on anothers blog must be completely accurate. I've written a little about this in the past when discussing credibility and how Soldier's blogging fits in the fundamentals of information.

BE HONEST ABOUT WHO YOU ARE. Also in the comments, Ms. Rosenthall wrote "The commenter 'stevonawlins' is on record saying he does not work for the Corps, meanwhile his comment originated from Corps Headquarters in New Orleans." There appears to be a disconnect in this case - either his claim or the IP address is false. I won't hypothesize here about which it is, because the more important point is that if you are a government employee - Soldier or civilian - and you are posting information about something your organization is involved in, then you owe it to the people to be honest about who you are. This is one of the rules that are followed in CENTCOM's defensive blogging exploits - and it is appreciated and respected by the authors of the blogs being commented on by CENTCOM's team. This is also what I've done when leaving comments on others blogs, and what Ms. Rosenthall did when leaving comments on this blog. Of course, there may be some security risks that are being taken by exposing your identity on-line, but, as Mike's 25 axioms for blogging points out, there are ways to protect yourself by carefully choosing what you write about.

ENGAGE THE ISSUES, NOT THE PEOPLE. Some people may like the personal bashing that is not uncommon in the blogosphere, but for professional discussions it should remain professional. And one very common rule for professional debate is to engage the issues, not the people. For example, New Orleans Ladder wrote in the comments, "blog etiquette dictates a civil response to a civil question from a post's subject." He's right; he asked me to address the issue raised by Ms. Rosenthall without attacking me. When one side decides to begin bashing the other, the discussion can quickly degenerate into something that is completely useless. By engaging the issues real discussion occurs and, hopefully, solutions are found. As Soldiers in the blogosphere, much like when we're visiting with friends or family or walking around town, we leave perceptions about us as individuals and people often generalize about all Soldiers from those perceptions that we create. We must take advantage of the opportunity for people to see that we are professionals - just as they can see in the accomplishment of the missions we are assigned. This may be a bit of a challenge, especially if you choose to leave comments on a website that is clearly anti-military or has engaged in hateful rhetoric, but we must always remain professional, even when we disagree with someone's ideas or opinions.

These three TTPs should be simple for us to follow. I'm interested to hear from those of you that may have engaged in a defensive blogging mission. Share your experiences in the comments to this post. Thanks!

P.S. for a great example of effective defensive blogging, take the time to read the comments to my original post on this subject. Ms. Rosenthall and others were effective at ensuring I had the complete and correct story, they were primarily professional in tone, and they were clearly passionate about the subject. It's just one more example of the power of back-and-forth that can occur in this new media.