“Proceed until apprehended,” the rallying principle for social media experimentation & execution shared by Brandon Friedman, Director of Online Communications for the Department of Veterans Affairs captured the pioneering spirit of all of the panelists from the October 6th Ogilvy Exchange: Can the Department of Defense realize the full power of social media? The experienced panel of practitioners – rounded out by Jack Holt, former Senior Strategist for emerging Media at the Department of Defense, and Lieutenant Commander Chris Servello, Director of Emerging Media for the US Navy’s Chief of Information – shared very practical tales from the trenches for applying social media to some of the government and DoD’s most difficult communications challenges.
Lessons & Links
Social greatness comes from the inside out – Jack Holt shared a number of helpful lessons, but thematically returned multiple times to something often overlooked – it is critical to embrace the principles of better interaction and connection internally before the promise of social media engagement with external constituents can be fully realized.
Even small engagements are important. If you visit the Department of Veterans Affairs remarkable Facebook page, you will see 1×1 questions and customer service being addressed in a very “public” forum. Take a read through the discussions and see if that changes your impressions of the Department.
There is power in speaking directly to your audiences – Last week, LCDR Servello’s group at Navy released a YouTube video of the new F-35 fighter landing on the USS Wasp. This brief video clip has racked up a remarkable 200k+ view on YouTube in a week of release with no traditional media aircover – overwhelming evidence that there is an audience for the stories the Navy has to tell. Social media empowers them to speak directly to their audience in the same venue where they can carry the story forward to their networks.
You have a choice: you can approach social media as a “fortress to defend” vs. a “field of maneuver”. This was the way Jack Holt teed up the choice of how to engage with social media to the Department of Defense. A fortress to defend is stationery and in this case futile – like putting the genie back in the bottle. The “field of maneuver” brings us forward into the world of guidelines, enablement and strategically applying our new ways of connecting.
‘Security’ is a multidimensional issue – Operational security was a major hurdle for the Department of Defense and other Federal agencies assuming a social media presence. But that concern is not only for protecting government information, it is for protecting Servicemembers and employees as well. LCDR Servello pointed a finger towards himself when commenting on security. “We’re fond of the saying that ‘Loose Tweets Sink Fleets’ when it comes to information security for the Navy, but we have a responsibility to prepare Sailors to protect their personal information as well. What should their privacy settings be on their Facebook pages, for example? We owe it to them so that they know how to operate safely in the social media environment.”
Jack Holt echoed this concern by noting that the biggest security threat with social media is “the short between the chair and the keyboard” and calling attention to the critical need for education and training. Brandon expressed a key social media goal of VA to be creating an environment where its 300,000 employees are online ambassadors not security liabilities. Operational security, which had been the largest stumbling block to initiating a policy in the first place, remains a significant concern. Moving forward, is this more an issue of education or technology?
In social media, Jack Holt noted that everything is on the record, and that brings a level of freedom and influence if you are willing to engage and respond. “You have to be willing to stay with the conversation and respond. If you do that, you will gain credibility. You may end up agreeing to disagree with someone, but you have gained credibility.”
So how do you handle negative feedback? LCDR Servello explained that when a ship pulled into Los Angeles during Fleet Week, the traffic was a leading contributor to one of LA’s notorious carmageddons and there was a lot of negative feedback. “To deal with it, you have to apologize where appropriate, put out new information where it makes sense, and candidly take some lessons learned so that you improve.” On the same topic Brandon Friedman shared the remarkable story of Veteran’s Affairs actually changing a policy – creating the ability to advance up to $3,000 – after hearing a veteran’s particularly compelling predicament on a blogger roundtable call.
So what’s next for these practitioners? Veterans Affairs realized that their enrollees want information from their specific local office, so they are in the process of empowering local offices to join Facebook and Twitter. All panelists were focused on training and enablement – getting more people involved in engaging the right way instead of restricting use to the “fortress” of spokespeople alone.
As LCDR Servello said – We have sailed across the horizon – and burned the boats. The world is fundamentally different and there is no going back. Once you dive into sharing with your audiences, it becomes an expectation and there is no form of acceptable retreat. Thank you to our esteemed panelists for sharing the above insights and many more and to all who participated in the discussion.
To see part of the online conversation about this Ogilvy Exchange, please see our Twitter feed.