By Tom Budzyna, Director of Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2010 – The Department of Defense and all of its components maintain thousands of Facebook pages according to the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs' registry maintained on www.Defense.gov.
So to think that the Department of Defense is timid about the use of social media -- think again.
Facebook boasts more than 500 million users and may reach 700 million within the next year. Like Google, Facebook can be thought of as one of the world's largest countries, according to a July 22, 2010, social media article in the Economist magazine entitled "The Future Is Another Country."
Public relations firm Burson-Marsteller studied the largest 100 Fortune 500 companies and found that 79 percent of them use Facebook, Twitter or YouTube; and many of them have more than four Twitter accounts.
Social media is impacting new marketing approaches. There are online shopping communities where the number of participants can drive down the price of a desirable product. If the online shopping community is big enough to meet the seller's goal, bargain. If not, no sale.
The times may always have been 'a-changing', but they just seem to change faster these days. David Armano, vice president of Critical Mass, a marketing company, said in 2009 that the one thing your company will do in 2010 is have a social media policy and actually enforce it.
And in 2010 the Department of Defense did just that.
The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III issued a directive-type memorandum on the "Responsible and Effective Use of Internet Capabilities" on Feb. 25, 2010, and within months servicemembers discovered they had access to social media on their computers at work.
Thinking back to the introduction of email in the workplace in the late 1980's, applications like Facebook are steering computer users away from the email inbox and into exclusive online (and mobile) virtual communities where the first stop is not just email, but much more.
Social media emerged in 1997 and is more than just marketing buzz today. It's proving to be a transformation technology that is changing business practices, markets and our entire information environment.
The Department of Defense's new policy explains that if your organization has a Facebook page, then it's referred to as an 'official external presence' and must be registered with the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs on a list maintained on www.Defense.gov (linked under 'social media'). A military organization's presence on social media pages must use official logos, official website links and adhere to a list of directives and regulations.
Being registered enables users, be they soldiers, family members or the public media, to confirm that a site is an official and a reliable source of information. Recognition on the DoD Social Media registry, like USAG Schinnen's Facebook page for example, confirms that it's operating under guidance from their commanders, officers-in-charge or service component and that the information posted complies with DoD policy, existing regulations and official public affairs guidance.
Most of the regulations are not new, but what is new is how the Department of Defense is ensuring that their presence in social media is deliberate, coherent and on target.
Even the Army's Installation Management Command, who oversees Army communities worldwide makes, it clear in their terms of reference that public affairs offices are responsible for telling the Army and IMCOM story "through all communication venues inclusive of press releases, internet, newspapers, and social media."
It's important to heed the rules and the DoD isn't the only organization that monitors its official external presence. Former Home Depot operations manager Mark Pannell learned the hard way about speaking on behalf of his company without approval according to a case study reported in Fortune magazine's August 16, 2010, issue.
Pannell had over 700 Twitter followers and 35 years with Home Depot when his good intentions were not welcomed by Home Depot's management despite the approval by Pannell's immediate boss. Pannell now works part-time at a coffee shop.
To avoid an unwanted trip to a coffee shop, be sure your organization's official external presence is in synch with your public affairs office and the organizations web policy. If an individual thinks it's cool to start a Facebook page for their section and fail to obtain their chain of command's approval, well that's not good - plain and simple.
Social media has raised privacy concerns and social media platforms like Facebook have capabilities that enable users to protect privacy, on-line discussions and messages. It behooves users to learn these features so they can worry less about privacy and focus on communicating. According to one user, simply signing up to use social media services is an effective way to protect your privacy.
"One way to protect against identity theft is to sign up and register your Facebook page (or other popular social media account) before someone else does. Own your space," said Steve Dalby, an Army Europe Information Technology training specialist who teaches a Social Networking Systems and Site Awareness course.
Even though the new DoD social media policy does not require organizations to use social media, it has an entire hub dedicated to social media. The U.S. Army alone has hundreds of official Facebook pages registered. Thousands more comprise the collection of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines pages, mostly Facebook, Twitter and Flickr pages that are listed on the online registry.
Social media is so pervasive now that the DoD are marching to this new drum to make sure its voice is heard. USAG Schinnen's Facebook and Twitter page are open for business and is posted on the DoD registry. Just google "USAG Schinnen, Facebook" or "USAG Schinnen, Twitter" to find them and become a 'fan' or to 'follow' them. JFC Brunssum's Community Activity Section is also on Facebook.
In a June 11, 2009, Government Computer News story, Stephen Bullock, the strategic communication director for 7th Signal Command, which oversees brigades across Europe that control government computer networks, said that allowing access to Internet capabilities like Facebook on government computers was an effort to address inconsistent and often arbitrary decisions that had been made from base to base.
"We gave guidance that made a consistent set of web filtering standards, resulting in better service for our users," Bullock said.
Now, at one's own discretion, social media sites are accessible at home or work, prompting consideration of how to manage an individual's "brand" while safeguarding privacy. To make your online experience secure and enjoyable, Dalby offered these best practices in the social networking site awareness class:
• Physical security is important. Safeguard your mobile phone, secure your computer when it's not in use, lock the computer and the door when you leave and don't keep lists of your passwords lying around.
• Keep online conversations light, unclassified and clean.
• If you don't recognize who wants to be part of your network, simply don't let them in.
• Learn and use the privacy features of your social media service.
• Social media applications can enable conversations to be private. They also don't stop you from using another means to converse. Public Internet access points may not be private or secure. Private, real life conversations are alive, well and often the safest option.
• The principle of "need to know" applies to military conversations just as much as it does to private conversations. Instead of posting comments on a friend's Facebook page, maybe a private message is better idea.
• If you need help learning how to use social media, ask a friend. That's what being social is about.