Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say… 

Part One: The Grand Narrative Renaissance. 

The writings of those in the business realm dominate what public affairs and social media professionals read in the military. What fortune 500 companies do in social media is looked to as a guide post, with metrics like number of followers becoming the sine qua non of success. Granted, number of likes or followers is a very easy metric to grasp when talking about how successfully a message has been promulgated, and in measuring a return on investment more broadly. But, such base metrics belie the deeper significance of what much of the World is doing by utilizing social media, and the feedback effects from the use of social media.

Any metric gleaned has second and third order effects which cannot be readily verified that are much more significant than what we are able to measure–one has to read between the lines to see the true power of social media. My theory for this importance is that we are moving beyond the post-modern paradigm. This is to say that I agree with the notion that grand narratives cannot be articulated which equally applies to every perception or perspective. However, the sum of all perspectives can add up to an ad-hoc grand-narrative that falls along the lines of demographics, even up to the level of the human condition.

The metrics we have available to us have already been able to hint at this being true. Take a look at what Facebook Stories has put together based on the location and friend data available from Facebook. The infographic they’ve put together has some interesting implications for the divide between geopolitical and societal interactions . The ability for us to freeze a moment in time, per say, and look at the sentiment of over one billion people and obverse the sentiment based on whatever analytical criteria one wishes matters and will have a feedback effect on future opinions, perceptions and, more generally, societies’ self understanding.

We have already seen the first instances of the change brought about by the ‘mass self awareness’ we have of our combined opinions. News aggregation services like the Huffington Post, which reports its news based on what other more precise news sources report is one clear example of us as a society paying attention to the whims, opinions, and beliefs espoused across social media. Such services represent the first steps towards the measuring of the meta-narrative, or societies self-made, ad-hoc grand-narrative.

Part two: \sigma_x \sigma_p \ge \frac{\hbar}{2}

I use the model of wave-particle duality as a metaphor for how organizations use social media. In my job I have had to give considerable thought to how an organization should use social media. The person sitting behind an organization’s profile is only a single person, but the content they add is on the behalf of an organization much larger than their-self. Perceptually, on observer of an organization’s profile views the content as representing all that the organization is. Though, it is really only one person, typing away, making sure the content is in adherence to policy and the like.

Additionally, organizations are constantly adding content both internally and externally. I view such content creation (as well as a single person maintaining a profile representing a large organization) as a wave function in a larger system. For instance, SHAPE is a part of NATO, in turn NATO is a part of a system of 28 Nations (which is also a part of geopolitics writ large). The job of the person posting content onto a social media page is to take the wave function (NATO–28 Nations–geopolitics) and collapse it down into a particle.

In other words, a single post onto a social media profile does not convey very much, but 100 posts can convey a lot of information. 100 posts stretched over time, takes on a form much like a wave does. Posts over time can convey not just what is explicitly stated, but also something much more broad.

Using social media to convey information from an organization to the public provides a bandwidth of information well beyond what a media spokesperson can provide in the amount of time that can be spent during a press conference. Press conferences rarely consume more than an hour, and the various topics discussed have to compete for that limited time. However, in social media, the only limit to the amount of time spent conveying a message is limited only by attention span, enabling a much greater amount of content to be provided by an organization. The information provided at this time can be viewed as a particle. Any subsequent information provided at a later time is an additional particle, with the sum of these particles being able to be analyzed as a whole–the whole is the wave of information, the narrative created through the use of social media.

Part Three: Reporters are only subject matter experts.

Additionally, social media allows an organization to speak directly with individuals en mass. Previous to social media, the only way to promulgate a message efficiently was to speak to a small group who would then speak to a larger group–this small group being the press. Now that social media exists the media is not as necessary to speak with large groups. The words ‘to’ and ‘with’ are italicized because not only has social media given individuals access to organizations like SHAPE, it has also allowed them to have conversations with SHAPE. The difference between someone being spoken ‘to’ and being a part of a conversation is signficiant. News was one way, with only very motivated individuals doing all that would be required to personally visit an organization in order to speak with it, or by lengthly correspondence.

So, what role does a reporter occupy now that organizations and individuals can easily interact with each other? The role of a subject matter expert. Back during the Joint Warfighter Conference last Spring, I had something of an epiphany. There was a reporter there who was Tweeting statements from a Keynote address. I disagreed with the characterization being given through the reporters Tweets. I came to find out that the reason the characterization seemed off, is that the reporter was new to defense issues. Learning this, I started to view each reporter and news source I valued differently. I came to understand that I liked the reporter because not of the access they might have had, or the way they wrote a story. But, because of the depth of understanding they were able to convey to me through their reporting.

In essence, I have come to view a reporter as a person who has a depth of knowledge concerning the subject they cover that enables them to breakdown a complex topic into a narrative that I am able to understand. To return to my wave-particle metaphor: They are able to make a wave into a particle.

When individuals have access to information and organizations that are of interest to them, what role can a reporter occupy other than being talented enough to explain complex subjects that an individual does not have the time to delve into themselves? Reporters are subject matter experts who have a tallent for cogently explaining complex things–in the a best case, that is.

**This blog is already over 1k words. I will follow up with parts Four, Five and the Conclusion later this week. 

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Cyber, Policy

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    You’re onto something here, and I look forward to the following posts.

    That said, I recommend you read “Trust Me, I’m Lying” by Ryan Holiday. Reporters a people too, and someone motivated by an agenda can use social media to further that agenda. Social media has not changed much in the world with the exception of flattening the information pyramid (to a degree) and providing more access to individual agendas.

    Broadly speaking there are three real levers of power. Information. Access. Resources. I perceive that social media has generally broadedned the accessibility of information (at least information developed since 1992) and provided more immediate access to decision makers. There are upsides and downsides to this pertubation of the levers of power and I believe we will all be better served if we move forward into this changed environment with both caution and audacity.

  • Sperrwaffe


    interesting approach.
    Since I am somehow conservative on the use of social media like facebook or twitter, it was interesting to read. Which means I don’t use them. Up to a certain point I consider them as a serious threat. But that’s a different discussion.

    The question is what can be achieved through the use of social media. What is the strategic goal?
    Military Organisations (globally speaking for the use of this comment) provide a special product. What influence do social media have on this “product”. I especially concentrate on facebook and twitter because I rate them as the global players.

    Personally I currently see the overrating of the use and applicability of Social Media. Almost everybody seems to know some and seems to be able to provide some expertise, just because he is at facebook or has a twitter account.
    It is a trend, it is fancy, but what is the real outcome for Military Organizations? To have another method to reach the “world outside”? To have another tool for recruiting?
    Do we have to follow every trend?
    Or would it be more applicable to concentrate on the exercised use of media and expertise channels in order to provide my message to the “outside world”?
    Why do I ask these questions?

    you brought up an interesting point. And I would like to take your description of “flattening of the information pyramid” into something different, in order to strengthen my approach:
    My thesis for discussion would be:
    “Social Media makes information more superficial. Substance and details are lost in this way of communicating.”
    All under the question: What is the strategic goal?
    Who do we want to reach with social media.
    Is it an External communication tool?
    But what about the ohter methods for the interaction with organizations and people associated to our community. they still are there and an ed or article, book presents often more detail substance. details and substance people associated to this “strategic community” are looking for. And they will not get this at facebook or twitter because that is not what these social media tools where made for. they are there to earn money. period. They are not there for the well of mankind 😉

    If you don’t do your homework in the first place social media can become dangerous. They can become uncontrollable from a certain point on.
    All of the information presented there is open! Releasable to public!
    Something often underestimated by members of military organizations when posting something on facebook (e.g. OPSEC or Personal Security). Which leads to social media guidelines.

    Well, I think I have started enough for the time being. I excluded Blogs because Blogs are something special for me. They provide a detail and level of discussion and exchange people like me are looking for.

    And I excluded the creation of a tool for advanced internal communication based on social medias. Something special, I would appreciate it, but it is not for external use, so out of the debate of “On the Affects and Usage of Social Media by Organizations.” here.

    Man, that was a long one. Hope I found all damn typos…not…

  • Dee

    I watched with interest as social media was used by insurgents in Libya, and have seen the other phenomenons that are all classic selling points of the technology, crowd sourcing, crowd entrepreneurial funding, etc. But I wanted to address just one phenomenon that I noted lately: That was the twitter response to the riots in the wake of the video from Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

    I want to highlight two quotes:

    “The difference between someone being spoken ‘to’ and being a part of a conversation is significant.”

    “Social Media makes information more superficial. Substance and details are lost in this way of communicating.” … All under the question: What is the strategic goal?

    And I think that is an important item in respect to the impression I have that institutions can lower themselves by engaging in social media. When the Pope starts tweeting, his message is on par with the most inane tweet. When an embassy doesn’t have the world stand still and listen and watch in an uninterrupted fashion a press release, the institutional podium is lost. There is indeed a power relationship communicated when you are in fact: spoken ‘to’.

    I think institutions need to ask the question if they stand to diminish their institutional credibility if they communicate in the lowest common denominator format? Is the message best delivered from a podium?

    Pedestal, Podium, etc.. while it might be ok to share your like or dislike of say cornflakes, should institutions put their message on the same level of the masses and still expect to be treated as an institution?

    If the Pope were to tweet all the time, then what he had to say at Easter would be less important. One way to describe this is by dinner plates, if you have special plates that are for XMAS and Thanksgiving and you use them for every day use, then these plates are no longer special.

    Another way to see the idea is from the quote from “Gone with the Wind”: Grandma comments that it is a bad thing for a woman to face the worst that can happen to her, because afterwards she can never fear anything again: “And it’s very bad for a woman not to be afraid of something,”

    And then finally from: Discourses on the First Decade of Titus
    Livius, by Niccolo Machiavelli

    He therefore who commands an army or governs a city wherein tumult shall have broken out, ought to assume the noblest and bravest bearing he can, and clothe himself with all the ensigns of his station, that he may make himself more revered. It is not many years since Florence was divided into two factions, the _Frateschi_ and _Arrabbiati_, as they were named, and
    these coming to open violence, the _Frateschi_, among whom was Pagolo Antonio Soderini, a citizen of great reputation in these days, were worsted. In the course of these disturbances the people coming with arms in their hands to plunder the house of Soderini, his brother Messer Francesco, then bishop of Volterra and now cardinal, who happened to be dwelling there, so soon as he heard the uproar and saw the crowd, putting on his best apparel and over it his episcopal robes, went forth to meet
    the armed multitude, and by his words and mien brought them to a
    stay; and for many days his behaviour was commended by the whole
    city. The inference from all which is, that there is no surer or more necessary restraint on the violence of an unruly multitude, than the presence of some one whose character and bearing command respect.

    In closing: Keep something of reverence, fear something, keep something on the pedestal, and remember that you cannot command from the mob, Steve Jobs was “hip” and tweeted, I do not suggest that somebody facing an unruly mob do so.

  • Robert McFall

    From an organizational perspective, the beauty of social media is that you can get an idea out there a lot easier than in the past. As Jim Collins talks about in Good To Great, it is like the first turn on a Fly Wheel. It is much easier to do that first turn now, then every time someone “likes” or comments on the discussion, that is one more turn and the speed of the wheel increases. This momentum leads to things going “viral” and ideas reaching mass appeal across a demographic that would never have been possible before.

    Granted, viral ideas can be both positive or negative, but for those that know how to craft and encourage each push on the fly wheel, that is a power that will surpass the power of traditional media.


    Rob McFall
    LT USN

  • “Affect” is a verb, as in “What I do may affect you”. “Effect” is a noun, as “My actions may have an effect on you”. Clearly your subject is about the “effects” of social media.

    All the best,

    Chuck Calvano,
    Capt, USN, (Ret.)

    • mripley

      Admin note: Deleted by you or whom? we are moving to a new platform, this coincided with this post.

  • mripley

    Effects not Affects, changed the title

  • Sean Heritage

    Thanks for the post…great thoughts and good timing! I am currently writing on the topic of embedded media and attempting to make a case that we (DoD) need to more directly share the message via social media (vice outsourcing that responsibility to embedded journalists). Many traditional media professionals are public in their opinion that content is king. They choose to believe that it is the content that will give people reason to tune in. That was true to a point. Google, You Tube, and HULU have demonstrated over and over that medium matters. More and more of us are tuning out main stream media. Most of us have stopped reading newspapers in favor of articles online and many watch the news through links provided via our twitter feed to content directly posted to You Tube. Yes, content is King, but content contained within a medium that isn’t consumed by the target audience is wasted. Network television has learned this the hard way, but they now realize that medium matters. A medium without content does not inform, and content communicated via a time late medium where the target audience does not reside will not have the desired effects.

    • I think the true value lies in the intersection of medium and content: community. At the heart of social media lies the multi-way conversation capacity that creates communities that didn’t previously exist. Smart companies are realizing this and cultivating it.

    • I wouldn’t see this as an either/or dichotomy. Direct-share via social media will always have a credibility problem, particularly with respect to contentious issues — the organization will never be fully trusted to be unbiased in what they’re sharing, especially when the organization is the government. The words of reporters, especially the ones who embed and “walk the walk” with the people who comprise the story, have a third-party credibility. It’s critical that we use the communication tools used by the people we need, which means that we absolutely have to participate in social media. And that means participate — not merely post. But we also have an obligation to facilitate access for reporters, and it’s in our interests to do so. While we sometimes screw up, for the most part, our story is a good one, and it’s most effectively told by the people actively involved in it rather than via talking points and spokespeople in the background.