Last Monday, I was given the incredible opportunity of visiting the Pentagon and interviewing VADM John Harvey Director, Navy Staff. VADM Harvey was gracious enough to give me 45 minutes of his time to ask about the future of the Navy, advice for junior officers, and his time at the Naval Academy. This posting will be the first in the series.
I understand the MilBlog conference (liveblogged here) occurred this weekend and RUMINT sources tell me that VADM Harvey hosted attendees at the Pentagon to discuss defense blogging. While I was not able to attend the conference, I was able to discuss milblogging and social media (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) with the admiral. My questions/comments are italicized, while the VADM Harvey’s comments are in the regular style:
Sir, you talked about this recently [here]: how have defense blogs, I know you read them, how have they contributed to public discourse or have they not contributed? In what ways can we improve?
Well, just right off the start I think they have contributed to public discourse…I know from the reports of the people who run these blogs that they get a large number of visitors and are getting into the public.
I don’t know how much we penetrate though…
Beyond the readers–they’re already interested in [defense issues].
Yeah, it’s almost a dialogue between those who already going to be there no matter what…So are we reaching new people on the blogs?…I am interested in expanding the public dialogue…I think that’s really important for the Navy as our role of a department and as our role in the nation. How do you do that?
I think perhaps the way to focus on is to see how we establish a presence on Facebook and MySpace and the other social media that exists. Just an example that woman from Scotland who sang [Susan Boyle]… I think the number of views of that 4-5 minute video is up to a fairly staggering number. Now clearly there is a fairly large human interest piece in that story, but I think of how, if we had on Facebook, the ability to respond rapidly to the events of Easter Sunday went down in terms of getting our hostage Captain Phelps back. I think that would have been seen by lots of people as an opportunity to talk about the Navy and why we have a role to play and what the role is and establish that broad level of awareness that I think is lacking in the nation for a large number of reasons.
Bottom line: I think a public dialogue is important. I think blogs certainly contribute to that public dialogue. I just don’t know what their reach is, if we are just talking to ourselves, people who are already interested… so that leads me to say there are other media we may want to use and find a way to use, because what drags is down are the security requirements…I would hope we could overcome those and really tell the fabulous story the Navy is, it’s really a collection of stories, and put that out there and demonstrate the value of this organization. I think that is really important when you ask them to give you so much money to operate.
It’s funny you should mention that because I friended Pacific Command the other day on Facebook.
There a number of them…One blog which has really impressed me is called “Task Force Mountain.” It’s the command blog of the 10th Mountain Division. I remember seeing someone make a reference to it as a pretty good one so I went and looked at it. I thought it was spectacular for the command, commander, families, and for the public. It really seemed to me to define what a command blog ought to be about. I corresponded with the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division and asked him a little bit about what he learned and how he went about setting it up. It was very, very fascinating. I think it’s a great example of one that brings real benefit to all the parties involved, whether they are in or they’re out or in the chain-of-command or outside the chain-of-command.
One of those issues, it’s great to have a command blog, but that also requires time from someone whether it’s the CO or…
Well you have to make the decision it’s worth your investment of time and energy. The fact you’re here…I’ve said, “Well, gee it’s worth my investment in time and energy to try and support these efforts” and I think it is important.
With this, VADM Harvey has taken the lead in defining the uses of blogs and social media for the Navy. With all the talk coming from the Air Force about the new forms of media, it’s great to see that the senior leadership in the Navy is thinking about these matters very carefully.
First, VADM Harvey recognizes what was pointed out in the just released paper on social media: “someone–right now–is talking on the Internet about your agency and your mission.” VADM Harvey realizes that the utilization of Web 2.0 resources by the Navy is critical to telling “the fabulous story the Navy is” and “demonstrat[ing] the value of this organization.” Why is this important? As VADM Harvey points out, we, the Navy, ask for money from the public to operate and Web 2.0 can prove invaluable for relaying to the public how we put that money to use.
VADM Harvey recognizes the important role blogs can play within a command. Task Force Mountain’s blog regularly updates friends and families of the work their loved ones are doing in Iraq. Major General Oates, the commanding general, contributes as well. For example, one posting asked for thoughts on how the Army can decrease the amount of sexual assaults. He even video conferenced in from Iraq to speak at the MilBloggers conference (transcript here). As VADM Harvey points out, blogs can be a useful way to solicit input and keep families updated with instantly uploaded text and pictures.
VADM Harvey also points out the limitations of blogs. If the Navy were to rely solely on blogs and web postings to disseminate information over the internet, only readers who were already interested in Navy news would ever receive the information. Why? Because I have to type www.blog.usni.org or www.taskforcemountain.com into my browser. A presence on Facebook, MySpace and similar sites has the possibility of attracting readers who might otherwise not be interested in defense issues. When I friended (now a verb) PACOM on Facebook, a notification was generated that I friended PACOM and my friends were updated with this “news.” This notification was not limited to friends from the Academy; civilian friends were also able to see it. Social media allows for people to stumble upon information instead of consciously seeking it out.
We should take VADM Harvey’s vision of the blogosphere and Web 2.0 very seriously. As I mentioned to him, a blogging CO must dedicate time and energy. Why should this investment be made? As VADM Harvey responded emphatically, “It is important.”