Blog post

US Defense Leads the Way: Social Media is the New Normal

By Andrea Di Maio | January 14, 2011 | 6 Comments

social networks in government

By dismantling their social media office (see article on Wired), which had been in place for two years, and making social media the responsibility of every member of his staff, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Douglas Wilson shows how the future of social media will look like.

No more specialized offices, no more social media silos, no more experts or consultants building new strategies. Social media is a tool, amongst many others, for public affairs professional to do their job more effectively and efficiently.

The next step is to realize that every single employee and soldier will end up using social media. Not for fun or as an additional task, but as one of the many tools to do their work. Be that communication, intelligence, administration, or combat.

I always find intriguing that the best examples of social media use come from the military, a domain that one would expect to be less at ease with this topic, especially after the Wikileaks case. I suspect that this is because defense organizations have usually clearer purposes and a stronger sense of mission than other government entities: and purpose is the secret sauce for social media success.

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  • Alex Howard says:

    Members of the military has long known that they must adapt to rapid technological change or founder, often with disastrous consequences.

    It sounds like your analysis allows for some clear “business value” in the use of Twitter and Facebook by government after all.

    Key phrases that I didn’t see in either of your posts on the subject today: “open source intelligence” and “risk management.”

    For certain parts of government, embracing the potential gains and mitigating the clear risks inherent of these platforms has moved from a “nice to have” to a “must have.”

    We’re living in a different world, with respect to technology capabilities, than the one that existed just a few years ago. Onwards.

  • @Alex – Thanks. I do believe there is business value, just it is almost never in creating official or institutional pages or accounts. It is a must have for employees, not a must have for their employers. It is an important distinction that I have been making for a long time, and it is interesting that I could write today about an agency struggling with the “institutional presence” and one looking at a more pervasive and less siloed approach.
    The new normal is one where government 2.0 is government, where there is no special social media guru, where the social web will be a tool like a word processor, a scalpel or – indeed – a gun that individuals will use to do their job.
    Of course there will be changes in roles and job descriptions and the social web will have a great part in that, but the best way to look through all this, and delineate business value, is to focus on outcomes rather than processes and outputs. Same point I made in my earlier open government post.

  • Kelcy says:

    I don’t really think that the USG or DoD are at the point in Gov2.0 where you can dispense with a social media strategist. I agree with you that should be the goal. But most information assurance shops are risk averse and have little understanding of the value of social media (especially in intelligence). As a result too many agencies do not have access to any or limited social media. And many public affairs offices have little clue on how to monitor and use social media as part of their communications strategy. Yet recent events have shown the need for being able to both react quickly and anticipate changes in policy and information flow due to social media and internet-based capabilities.

  • @Kelcy – The problem is that social media is not just for communications professionals. Engagement happens at different levels, and the idea that personal, professional and official personas can be kept distinct is an illusion. Different roles in an organization may need to monitor what the social web is saying about different programs or aspects of their organization they are responsible for.
    Getting rid of the social media office is only one step. The next one is to take the social media strategy off the hands of communication folks and make it a corporate initiative, involving the business and HR.

  • Kelcy says:

    I totally agree with that but I think in the beginning it’s important to have any facilitators to help leaders and managers understand the value. But the business lines are diverse within DoD and all them from communications to information/IT security to HR to the pure business (e.g. logistics, intelligence, security, medical, legal, operations) need to be engaged to understand how best to handle social media as part of the business. This includes areas like operations security to interacting with the public to communicating with loved ones to collecting information used to provide the best support in operations like humanitarian aid to Haiti. DoD and its subordinate agencies really doesn’t understand all the implications of social media and internet-based capabilities to all of its lines of business. There is no central point to ask questions therefore it is usually ignored until some faux pas or catastrophe occurs. Instead of anticipating, DoD (and other USG agencies) overreact which usually makes things worse than better.

    We are arguing for the same thing in the long run. It’s just that having such visible offices help with integration in the early days. And we are still very much in the early days.

  • osimod says:

    Andrea, love the last sentence, fully agree with your “suspicion”. Which is also why the EC is struggling with web2.