Today a growing number of military units and government organizations have an official presence in social media and especially on Facebook. Unfortunately, it seems that most organizations just seem to think that being there is good enough. Their fan pages are nothing more than a place to push the same old news releases and self congratulatory comments they shill in their other outlets.
A perusal of many major organizational pages shows that administrators don’t seem to have an idea how to truly build a community and leverage the power of social media and its ability to engage the public in ways unimaginable through traditional means. It truly seems that most military organizations are just happy to have finally built a page and that is the extent of the progress.
The last year has seen an explosion of organizations building outposts in the social media world and specifically a wave of Facebook fan pages. Some are having a measure of success in a large number of friends and followers who are linking to the pages.
A recent top 10 list by Federal Computer Week (http://bit.ly/2IbbUY) showed that the Marines come in number 2 with 83,000 fans and our Army page has over 49,000 fans. But with well over 300 million users on Facebook those numbers are quickly dwarfed as a measure of success. Even more so when you consider that the Chocolate Chip Cookies fan page weighs in with 1.46 million fans. (Dr. Mark Drapeau points out the fallacy of numbers of fans as a measure of success much better than I could in his excellent post http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/09/fallacious-celebrations-of-fac.html )
The entire US Army has well over 1 million members. Throw in another 6 million plus family members, civilian employees and retirees and it leads you to think that maybe we aren’t providing something they would find useful or we would have a whole lot more signed up.
What would make the pages more engaging? Here are a few suggestions and I will post more in the future:
1) Pictures, pictures, pictures:
A recent study showed that the most popular thing people do on social networking sites is look at pictures. Military and government fan pages should be loaded with pictures not just from the official outlets but we should encourage our fans to load their own and show off their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives for the world. It defies logic that the fan page for Multi-National Force-Iraq, the headquarters for well over 140,000 troops in combat, only has 12 photos posted. There are literally hundreds of photos being uploaded to official news channels weekly from theater, put the best on the fan pages. Same for videos.
You could fill dozens of albums with just photos of the incredible celebrities who take time to go and visit our troops all over the world. For example, Trace Adkins toured the combat zones just last year. By placing photos of his trip on the pages of the commands and tagging him in them you will link your site to his fan page with over 37,000 members. The power of social networking is…well…networking.
2) Engage not regurgitate:
Facebook is all about engaging and discussing. Just issuing the same old press releases and news articles about how great you are isn’t engaging. Its boring. The true measure of this is how much people comment on the articles when you hang them. The average article posted by Multi-National Corps-Iraq gets at most 7 comments. People are not reading these posts and if they are, they are not “engaged” by them.
You have to have a conversation. Why not invite General Odierno to post something on the wall himself one day and have him take questions from anyone who comments on the page? How about grabbing a young soldier from the field and have him post pictures and wall comments on his day on patrol? Ask your fans for questions and then have a panel of experts from around the Corps chime in and answer the ones that relate to their area of expertise? Engage your fans and give them a reason to come to the page regularly and see what is going on.
3) Speak like a human:
You can’t treat a social media environment like the staid world of AP Style Guide proper English news articles. Its not that kind of an environment and the people we want to reach out to aren’t interested in wonderful prose. Its a place where you can show your human side. One of my favorite regular sources of humor was the ongoing Chuck Norris facts postings in the form of sticky notes on bulletin boards all over the country. There is no reason MNF-I’s page shouldn’t have the top 100 Chuck Norris facts from soldiers in Iraq. Better yet–link it to the Chuck Norris Facts Group on Facebook which has over 150,000 members! Ask Chuck himself to post stuff on the page. He has visited Iraq more than once.
4) Have a plan:
Build a plan and put the right people in charge. Decide from the beginning what do you want to accomplish with your page and build the site to do just that. It doesn’t have to be the full time job of a staff member to manage it but by the same token it shouldn’t be your intern just cause “they are young and get this social media stuff”.
Consider that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook today is 35-54 year old’s and the number one users of social media today are mothers and you realize that just because its new doesn’t mean its the responsibility of a kid to run it. Are you sure you want the public face of your organization to be an intern?
With just a little bit of extra work organizations can start leveraging their Facebook efforts to truly build an engaged community that networks and shares the stories of our service members and their families to the whole world.
I am often reminded of my years in the 101st Airborne Division planning air assault operations. We would spend hours going over every detail of every chalk of aircraft and the precise order and rotation of helicopters. Staff members would be exhausted figuring out all of the intricacies of the flight plans. After seven years of planning those ops I would constantly remind my team members that the whole point of an air assault wasn’t getting there…but what happened when we arrived.
Its not good enough to get to the objective successfully then not know what the heck you are there for in the first place.
Epilogue: This post was originally published on my personal blog Armed and Curious at http://armedandcurious.blogspot.com/2009/09/military-facebook-pages-being-there-is.html on September 22nd and since then a number of military units have taken the advice. Multi-National Corps-Iraq has dramatically increased their pictures and have even been posting photos that troops submit of their mid-tour vacations. Their fan numbers have grown dramatically.