Discussing Social Media with the Secretary of the Navy

I had the opportunity to chat with the Secretary of the Navy about the Navy’s efforts to become a more transparent, more relationship focused, organization. Secretary Mabus has an incredible background beginning as a Naval Officer, then as the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, onto the Governor of Mississippi, and now as the Secretary of the Navy. Oh yes, he has also been the CEO of a successful business. This background which spans the public and private sector leaves him in a solid position to understand the challenges, and the opportunities, ahead.

My first question for the Secretary went to the core of why an organization like the United States Navy would want to open up, to leverage the social channels. The reasons are clear, the majority of his internal audience, members of the Navy and Marine Corps, are in the 18 – 25-year-old age groups and have grown up using these tools, are comfortable communicating on these tools. In order to reach this audience effectively it was critical to leverage these channels.

For what purpose is social media being leveraged? Recruiting, of course. Outward communication to non-Naval types. Outward communication to Naval personnel.

The Navy’s Facebook page has more than 100,000 fans and is used effectively for the goals above. A few important points to note include:

  • Fully leveraging best practices with their detailed Info page that points to the Social Media Policies, lists who the official Navy contributors are, and defines accepted use guidelines.
  • Powered by Social RSS official Navy news stories are published.
  • Videos, highlighting all that is cool with the Navy, are included on these pages.

The Secretary made an interesting point as well. The Navy regularly distributes NavAdmin communications (essentially company/org level broadcasts) via teletype throughout the Fleet. Concurrent with this age-old practice the messages are also published to Facebook (see their Facebook Notes tab). While he did not have hard numbers available, the Secretary believes that the information is being more broadly read, and achieving better results, through the Facebook distribution than through the old-fashioned teletype format. Yes Virginia, Social Media does deliver value.

The Secretary is technology savvy, having teenagers at home requires he be comfortable with these channels if he wants to communicate with his kids. I may stretch the truth a bit there, but I too have teenagers and it’s not as far from the truth as you might think. :-) In line with this, the Secretary’s Twitter account, @SECNAV, is manned by him and one other person in the Navy. Considering this fairly low staffing level it is impressive how responsive they are.

One of my areas of concern had been the ever-increasing role of geo social, location-based technologies like Foursquare and Twitter’s optional inclusion of your location on Tweets. The Secretary views these new tools and capabilities as mostly neutral to the Navy. Navy personnel are trained on the use of these tools, rules and regulations about what can be shared and what cannot be shared, and know the rules. The two big rules really go to common sense: Confidential information is never shared; In combat situations limit the information sharing. While Navy guidelines put it more bluntly, you get the point.

The Secretary understands that there is risk with any communication channel but the ability to reach everyone and give a clear, consistent, message is powerful and makes these tools a must.

While I had the Secretary’s ear I wanted to ask him about the pursuit of an internal networking site, similar to the Army’s MilBook. More specifically, why not leverage the same system instead of investing in another solution. The technical folks at the Navy are examining all options, including the use of MilBook, so we will just have to wait and see.


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Sterling Whitehead

Glad to hear the responses John. Secretary Mabus sounds like a smart, reasonable guy judging by these responses. It gives me more confidence in my department’s leadership. Thank you.