Archive for the 'blog' Tag
As part of summer training, midshipmen spend time out in the Fleet, my past two summers were spent in Pearl Harbor on a submarine and a destroyer; however, this summer I was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Communication Team (II MEF PCT).
Marine Corps Public Affairs, the community’s guiding publication, opens with the following quotation from Major General Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps:
“The future success of the Marine Corps depends on two factors: first, an efficient performance of all duties to which its officers and men may be assigned; second, promptly bringing the efficiency to the attention of the proper officials of the Government, and the American people.”
On our first day with the team, MAJ Gilmore, the team’s director, gave us more than an hour and a half of his time to talk about Marine Corps public communication, emphasizing the importance of training Marines to think of communication as a two-way process of information sharing. As no public affairs team can (or wants to) completely control who says what to whom, proper training allows Marines to express themselves more effectively to friends, families, or anyone with whom they communicate.
While public affairs offices are generally perceived as providing information and assistance to the media, the II MEF PCT prefers a different approach. Understanding that the media is another party in the public domain, the II MEF PCT focuses its attention on getting its message to its “key publics,” members of the community who share an interest in II MEF-related issues. For the II MEF PCT, this means Marines, their families, and the surrounding community. Thus, the main focus of the team is not trying to target or “handle” the media, but establishing dialogue with the key publics.
This dialogue with key publics is central to II MEF PCT. For instance, the PCT responds the same way to questions from MEF family members and friends as it does with civilian media representatives. Furthermore, by calling and informing the interested parties of the press releases, the team builds connections with the community.
Blogging is a trend with some units, such as the 10th Mountain Division. Due to limitations of current policy as well the time and manpower requirements, the II MEF PCT does not operate one. However, the team does engage readers in the discussion section of blogs belonging to other groups including civilian media organizations.
The Marine Corps public affairs community only includes around 150 officers. Capt. Patrick, the team’s deputy director, served as an enlisted infantryman before accepting a commission. Coming out of The Basic School with any MOS open to him, he chose public affairs much to his peers’ surprise. “I had been reading and studying about fourth-generation warfare,” he explained, “and it was apparent that communicating information was incredibly important…Besides just basic leading Marines, I’ve never had such a broad impact.”
The Internet and “new media,” such as blogs, enable readers to draw information from sources outside the traditional media filter. How can the military and public affairs teams better adapt to these developments?
A couple of days ago, I posted part 1 of my interview with Adm. Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, regarding social media. Below is part 2.
Q8: There are a number of units that have created Twitter accounts to release official news and connect with the public. Is this something we will be seeing from more units, possibly as an added aspect of the PA rates assigned to the various units around the country?
A8: We don’t require field units to adopt or employ any particular tool. We have provided some overarching policy and guidance that allows them to make their own assessment, based on their mission requirements, of how social media tools might be leveraged to improve their performance.
Q9: What is the best way for members of the Coast Guard interested in contributing to the social media outlets to get involved?
A9: As I stated in my “Way Ahead” message, “Unfortunately, it is impossible to ensure that information passed via the social media is complete and accurate, thus, the reader has to assume responsibility for judging the validity of the information.” Simultaneously, the social media environment, and the information within it, is becoming increasingly influential. Thus, we need to be aware of what is being said on Coast Guard related topics and, when appropriate, contribute to the dialogue.
As part of our social media initiative we have released two interim policy ALCOASTS (458/08 & 548/08). These give clear guidance on how members of Team Coast Guard can influence the information environment in both official and unofficial capacities. Consistent with our long-standing public affairs philosophy, “If you do it or are responsible for it, you can talk about it.”
One of the benefits and challenges to us with social media is the speed in which it moves. The Coast Guard cannot expect to continue operating strictly in the hierarchical, top-down fashion, but must also adapt to be more horizontal and collaborative or face organizational obsolescence. This is a significant cultural change for us, but I am confident that our outstanding people possess the knowledge and judgment to be able to more efficiently monitor and evaluate the information environment they operate in and effectively and deliberately engage in the dialogue to further Coast Guard strategic objectives and benefit mission execution and support. This has to be done with appropriate consideration of information release guidelines that are designed to protect the Coast Guard and its members from any harms associated with unauthorized release of protected or non-public information, but it has to be done.
Q10: Are there plans to make use of the pervasiveness of social media for disseminating information during emergency situations?
A10: We have begun doing this in an ad hoc fashion. More formally, our Public Affairs program is looking both internally within the service and also working with DHS Office of Public Affairs and sister components to incorporate social media into the official Emergency Support Function (ESF) 15 practices.
Q11: With the Coast Guard’s transition to FORCECOM/OPCOM and with respect to these particular commands, is the Coast Guard looking to invoke a permanent presence on the Internet with regards to continual social media updating or monitoring? I know this is currently being done by District/Area External Affiars, however, there seems an advantage of having full time (24/7) monitoring which could be done by the new Command Center structure.
A11: We are looking at including a 24/7 social media/public affairs watch in the future.
Q12: At the headquarters level, or even your direct staff, what kind of an element is monitoring the health of the Coast Guard on the internet?
A12: Just as we have always done press clippings to assess attitudes and opinions being communicated on the Coast Guard and its roles and responsibilities, we do the same assessment when it comes to social media. This is consistent with our goal of a more nimble and adaptable organization that actively senses the environment, recognizes changes and trends, and responds accordingly in the interest of mission execution, mission support and public stewardship.
Q13: As Commandant have you felt push-back from the commands around the country to not be so involved on the Internet?
A13: There has not been push-back, but there has been thoughtful discussion about the risks/benefits of this new information environment.
The fact is, the environment has changed and we have no control over that, so the choice is: either ignore the change, which subjects our organization to all of the risks with none of the benefits; or adapt to the environment, where we can mitigate the risks and leverage the benefits.
We have chosen the latter and we have been pleased with the early results. That being said, adapting to this environment is a significant cultural change and some people are more comfortable with it than others, but the more successes we achieve and share, the more adopters we are going to have and eventually it will be a natural part of how we operate.
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Great insight into the social media movement in the Coast Guard. As I said in part 1, I’m thrilled that the Coast Guard is heading in this direction. On a side note, Adm. Allen has apparently created an official Twitter account for the Commandant. What convenient timing!
Once again, thank you to Adm. Allen for taking the time to provide us with this interview and inside perspective on the Coast Guard’s social media initiative. Semper Paratus!
Photograph by Tidewater Muse
I did an interview in April with Adm. Thad Allen, the 23rd Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, regarding social media & the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has been spearheading a move into the world of Web 2.0 and interaction with the public through online outlets, and Adm. Allen has been a prominent part of that transition. Here is the text of that interview:
Q1: Can you describe your personal social media journey?
A1: It would take more room than is available on a single blog. The work that really got me interested was a book. “In The Age of the Smart Machine” was written by Harvard Professor Shoshanna Zuboff. It was one of the pivotal points in my life. I was leaving my assignment as Budget Officer at Maintenance and Logistic Command, Atlantic and headed to the Sloan School at MIT. This book deals with the transition of the work environment and the nature of our work from a physical and material world to one where our work is virtual and invisible to the eye. A couple of other books that have influenced me have been Chaos, Linked, and Nexus. Social media is the merging of social networks with information technology. I have followed both for many years so this is pretty natural.
Q2: We are focusing on leadership this month in the Coast Guard. Which USCG leadership competencies relate most directly to social media? In which leadership competencies do the internal and external social media tools hold the most promise?
A2: Depending on how you are using it, social media could relate to just about all of them, but to answer your question I’ll choose one from each category:
- Leading self: Self-awareness and learning – Social media is all about transparency and feedback and this makes us more aware as leaders, better able to understand complex issues and respect differing opinions, and more able to sense and adapt to changing conditions.
- Leading others: Team building – Social media tools can empower individual team members to more actively provide input to and influence the outcome of a project or decision. This improves collaboration and information exchange among team members and ultimately results in a better final product.
- Leading performance and change: Customer focus – The “social” aspect of this new information environment facilitates two-way communications. This allows Coast Guard leaders to better understand the needs, perspectives and opinions of our customers and to help them better understand the reasoning behind a certain decision or course of action we may take that effects them.
- Leading the Coast Guard: Partnering – Social media facilitates greater collaboration and provides practical ways to engage the numerous internal and external stakeholders involved in or impacted by our broad world of work.
Q3: Has thought been given to having a deployable team (perhaps as part of the DOG) of social media specialists to respond to major events and incidents? While general social media competency for all members and high level competency for PA should be a goal it seems it would be useful to have a deployable team in the interim and perhaps as an ongoing resource for high profile events.
A3: Keeping in mind that this question relates to the external aspects of social media, I think that our Public Affairs specialist are the right people to orchestrate our social media efforts during a critical incident. Much of what takes place in the social media realm already falls in their world of work and we have seen them interact in that environment with great effect, including during Hurricane Ike, the Miracle on the Hudson, and most recently with the floods in North Dakota. The external component of social media is an extension of our existing public affairs policies and practices and the public affairs program is taking a strategic look at the competencies and tools required for the future in terms of how it trains and equips its people.
Q4: One of the great features of social media is accessibility from almost anywhere at any time. How are we addressing the tension between security and access? This seems to go two ways – access to the public social media tools from inside the CGDN and access to the internal tools for those temporarily, such as being off duty or not on reserve service, or permanently, like most Auxiliarists, outside the CGDN/Portal. Our members engaged in social media activities as part of their duties appear to utilize the public tools through their own resources, largely on their own time. At the same time, for the Portal/Quickr platform to be fully effective it seems problematic for access to be limited to the duty period for active, reserve and civilian members and inaccessible to most of the Auxiliary.
A4: All great points and we have addressed this on numerous occasions on my blog and during different interviews. There will always be a tension between security and access. Our ability to exist on both the .gov and .mil domains brings with it certain security responsibilities that we cannot overlook in order to maintain the integrity of those critical networks. That being said, we recognize the strategic and operational value of social media and have directed our IT staff to find ways for us to do both. The new portal, which we are gradually phasing in, is already enhancing our ability to use social media for internal purposes. We are also working on the off-duty access issues.
Q5: For the Guardian new to social media where would you suggest they start? Internal tools or external? Building competence as privately as an individual or jump right in as part of their duties?
A5: The strength of social media is that it is flexible and adaptable to your specific needs. The first step is to develop awareness of what the different tools are and how they may be used and then consider the potential benefit they may bring to your job or unit. Ultimately, everything we do is assessed on its contribution to mission execution or mission support.
Q6: Along the same lines, what sites/blogs/books would you suggest to build social media competence, the Commandant’s Social Media Reading List?
A6: I just published something like that as my 200th blog. It is here: http://www.uscg.mil/comdt/blog/2009/04/200th-blog.asp#links
Q7: Do you have examples of best practices use of social media within the Coast Guard?
A7: First we have to acknowledge that our formal foray into social media is still in its infancy. So far, the most visible activities have related to external communication. This was done deliberately, as this was the low-hanging fruit that we could use to gain some organizational inertia. These specific efforts have significantly enhanced our presence in the blogosphere, helping us to inform the Coast Guard narrative and we have seen very positive results in terms of our customer interaction, particularly with the maritime community through maritime focused blogs.
Some of this was already being done by Coast Guard employees on their own initiative, like JD Cavo from the National Maritime Center (http://www.uscg.mil/comdt/blog/2009/01/coast-guards-james-cavo-gcaptains-top.asp#links) or this example by Jorge Arroyo, correcting some critical misinformation on a sensitive rule-making issue (http://www.navagear.com/2008/12/new-ais-rules-navagear-gets-it-wrong/). Internally we are trying to increasingly use wikis to improve the efficiency and quality of the rule making and policy development processes. We expect these activities to accelerate as the new portal is brought on-line and more employees begin to champion these tools.
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This interview is coming on the heels of a report published by the National Defense University titled “Social Software and National Security: An Intial Net Assessment” which discusses the use of social media in government agencies to share information both internally & with the public. I think this indicates an important shift in the institutional mindset of government in relation to the Internet & interaction with the American people, and I’m proud that the Coast Guard is at the forefront of this shift.
Thanks to Adm. Allen for taking the time to do this interview. I’ll be publishing part 2 in a couple of days.
Photograph by Tidewater Muse
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