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Putting the media back in social media

Submitted by on Sunday, 14 February 2010 No Comment

Once upon a time there was an Army post in the middle of the desert.

It had a weekly newspaper, but editions often failed to make it to all the boxes on post.

It had a radio station that featured live programming part of the day, and the fact that it was the only station with a consistent, clear signal on post made it attractive. It’s by-necessity eclectic format, though, meant it would never be a station that listeners stayed tuned to all day.

But last fall, someone on the post had a great idea. Let’s create a Twitter account. And a Facebook page. Maybe those will let us reach people more quickly than a weekly newspaper and more broadly than our radio station.

A few months later, Fort Irwin’s Facebook page has almost 1,200 followers. Not all of the followers are among the almost 5,000 soldiers stationed at the post, but a chunk of them are.

In return for becoming a fan, readers find out what they need to know, and they find it out quickly.

When the inexplicable snow day was declared a few weeks ago, the Facebook page posting beat the robo calls from the school system. When days of rain filled catch basins around post, a reminder went up on Facebook for parents to keep their children away from the suddenly rushing streams- good information for those not used to the oddities of living in California. When a fuel spill closed a major road, several updates landed on the Facebook page.

There’s news of the strictly social: The coming concert by Lt. Dan Band with Gary Sinise and Valentine’s Day events on post.

There’s news from the top, when the post’s commanding general uses the Facebook page to – GASP! – answer questions during a live radio show.

In other words, the Fort Irwin Public Affairs office uses technology and social media to do everything that old media used to do, and it does it in an environment where it’s sometimes hard to communicate with everyone.

There’s a lesson in this for governments and agencies everywhere, and it’s one that, with a few exceptions, organizations have been slow to learn.

Yes, social media can be about fun or self-promotion. But they also can be about providing people with information when and where they need it.

Fort Irwin has that last crucial part nailed.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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