Thursday, September 17, 2009

Soldiers Go Social

Welcome to the military on Facebook, Twitter and some other social media sites. Probably our largest, most bureaucratic organization – the transformation into social hasn’t been easy for those in uniform. Think about it though – what a great way for soldiers to communicate and to find new recruits.

At the Adweek DC Conference this week, Colonel Mike Jones, of the Army National Guard Strength Command, told stories about his experiences leading social media efforts in his branch for the last two years. He opened with a story.

Some of the generals love Twitter but they don't necessarily know how to use it. So recently I had to tell a four star, 'Sir you don’t have to tweet it every morning when you arrive at the Pentagon.'"”

Jones tales of helping the military enter the social media world are laced with humor. There’s something we can all learn from them. Here are some highlights:

Learning to let go

It was a big leap for us, Jones said, because we always have goals and metrics and a plan. We do have the ability to engage with our product and deliver it remotely. But to let soldiers tell their stories in an unfiltered way was a big change for us. It meant providing a deeper sense of connectivity but it also meant giving up a lot of control.

Tossing out the formats

We looked at our competitors, other branches of the military, and they were trying to make their social media sites look just like their web sites. They have all this gorgeous art and they want to use it. But that’s not what social media is. My goal was to make our site look like a friend’s site. It’s not very attractive, and kind of plain. You have to look like the media you are in.

Changing the rules

Many of our people love Twitter. They will hear a buzzword and say, "I’m going to go tweet about this." The generals see words like hell or damn and they want you to take them down immediately then question why we're up there in the first place. You have to explain to them that social media is different and make sure they get it. Because if they don’t buy into the concept, they won’t support you, and then you’re done."

A social army

We have 300,000 soldiers who bought into and live our product. When we started in social media a couple of years ago, there were already 700 power users in the Guard on Facebook. We decided to let them help us. They wanted to volunteer and be involved. So we use them as moderators – and their passion is conveyed to this community.


We want to be the best in class in our industry. We use social media for leads, enlistments, to talk about engagements and build traffic to our web sites. But it's been a real learning experience. We thought once we got out there everyone would come. But it wasn’t that simple – we overshot and were disappointed. Now it’s a slower more natural build.

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