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.

01 January 2009

Happy New Year

Well, one more year behind us. Welcome to 2009! What new excitement awaits in these coming 365 days?