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You can’t beat ‘em so might as well join ‘em

Submitted by on Sunday, 23 January 2011 No Comment

Looking for a social media strategist? There’s one particular group that recently did an exceptional job of compiling the important information, explaining without talking down, laying out policies and backing them up with salient case studies.

The company’s not for hire, though. It’s the U.S. Army.

Yes, the same Army that just a few years ago was banning social media use on government computers and trying to prohibit soldiers from blogging. The turnaround is astounding.

The 2010 model of the Army’s Social Media Handbook was 15 pages, 14 of it a waste of ink – or pixels, depending on the format in which you read it. Only at the end did it begin to touch on items important to individuals, devoting a scant page to operations security, privacy, use of photographs and vidoe. The early parts were largely Army promotion material – how to find the Army on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc., plus explanations of those services. Anyone under 30 who read it likely had to head to sick call the next day with a serious case of sprained eyeballs from all the rolling.

Oh, but that is sooooo last year.

The 2011 update hits the important stuff from the start, offering a brief social media summary before digging into the salient points of how regular soldiers and leaders should and shouldn’t use online sites. It’s ballooned to 39 pages, but it’s  useful information. There are primers on how to use social media in a crisis, and how to create a useful, day-to-day presence. The case studies are spot on and poignant at times as well – there’s one stemming from the Fort Hood shooting.

Really, whoever compiled the guide did an outstanding job.

You also can see the impact of the Army’s more enlightened attitude toward social media when you drill down to the post level, too. Fort Irwin’s Facebook presence, for example, isn’t perfect but it fills vital gaps in a community that’s seriously media starved.

Yes, there’s still work to do. I don’t know anyone who particularly loves Army’s email system, and the Web sites for too many posts remain unnavigable train wrecks that force users to mouse around entirely too much to find something. Some sites have redesigned in recent years and look cleaner – they also look like templates, which would be fine if there were one that worked well. It even would be desirable in this situation, since most soldiers and the families move every couple of years. Consistency would be a good thing.

And social media are no substitute for solid Web sites. They are, though, a way to get new information out quickly. The Army clearly acknowledges that now.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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