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!