Social media still a challenge for the military

On Monday, I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean at 32,000 feet on a C-17.

On Monday, I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean at 32,000 feet on a C-17. I am attending the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference this week as a guest of the US Special Operations Command.

We learned that the military faces many of the same issues that we, as communicators, do; namely, how to put together a cohesive and easy-to-understand PowerPoint deck about an incredibly complex operation.

The military can pinpoint and strike targets on the ground with near-certain accuracy, but putting together an uncomplicated, graphic SWOT analysis proved to be a challenge for the very capable staff at the US Central Command.

Social media is another new challenge facing the military – and also an opportunity. A few months ago, the US Special Operations Command carried out a raid, intended to be clandestine, against a very important target.  

Someone took a picture and in the words of Admiral Eric Olson, “We got busted.” Now, the command must plan for this new level of complexity.

At the same time, Olson, commander of the US Special Operations Command, acknowledged that social media helps the military better communicate with tribal leaders and their people. The military also leverages social media for “force protection issues.” For example, soldiers are sometimes warned by friendly villagers of impending threats.

“We're still trying to figure it out,” says Olson. “It has huge potential with a little bit of risk, so we need to make sure we get the balance right.” 

We talk a lot in our business about the importance of planning. Never did this hold more resonance than in hearing these parting words from Olson: “We're not going to kill our way to victory. We have to plan our way to success.”

Marie Manning, who is blogging about the program here, is a VP of public affairs for Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

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