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The Department of Defense gained a social media beachhead in 2010

There is no question that 2010 will go down as the year that social media became a normal part of the communications arsenal for the Department of Defense. The year began with a withering battle raging over embracing the medium at all and finished with its near wholesale adoption across the department. While still a far cry from being a standard and normal part of defense communications the battle over the first beachhead in official implementation of social media is past.

When the year began a bureaucratic battle was raging over the pending publication of an overall Department of Defense Social Media policy. Then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Price Floyd was spearheading the effort to find a reasonable policy for allowing access to social media channels for public affairs officials as well as all service members. He recognized clearly that new media was more than just a fad or a diversion and was quickly becoming a major communications tool for public outreach. What he faced was a department network security architecture that was completely against the idea of allowing any tools that included things like “Farmville” and “Re-tweeting” unlimited access to their systems.

It was a surprising fight within the department as the network security gurus lined up against the public affairs advocates. Even as a very public review of a new policy was being conducted the Marines banned access to social networks on their official computers and U.S. Stratcom very publicly pondered a department wide ban. In the end a new policy was crafted and Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-026 – Responsible and Effective Use of Internet Based Capabilities was published on February 25th. The very simple two page document signed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense explicitly directed that the Non-Secure “NIPR” network would be set to allow access to social media sites for official use.

Further policy clarifications would lay out rules and responsibilities for managing these outlets but in one fell swoop a battle that had been fought for over three years was finished. In previous years managers of official social media sites would come to work and find their access suddenly revoked and spend their day convincing Defense Information Systems Agency contacts or their local IT to re-grant their waivers. That fight would now be a thing of the past.

The changes have been dramatic as more commands, leaders and the individual services have embraced the various social networks as primary channels to communicate with the public. Today general officers use their Facebook pages to seek public input on changes to bus routes on post, installations push weather notifications by Twitter and military bands post their latest performances to their YouTube channels.

The numbers speak for themselves. At the beginning of the year there were less than 150 registered Facebook pages on the Department’s official list and few of the other major social networks. As of today between the department, the four services and their subordinate units there are over 1,339 officially registered Facebook pages, 281 Flickr pages, 545 Twitter profiles and 227 YouTube channels.

It is clear that 2010 was the year that the battle for a beachhead in the emerging media world was established for the US military. Like many fights that first toehold is often some of the bloodiest fighting but the hard part is exploiting that win and taking the fight to the next level of success. That will be the next challenge. A coordinated campaign against the Navy’s official Facebook page by Iranian’s irate about the use of the term “Arabian Gulf” gave a taste of the kinds of challenges that will be faced and have to be dealt with as social media grows as an official means of communicating with the public.

In an email exchange on December 31st with Price Floyd, now the Vice President for Digital Media Strategy at BAE Systems, he commented that “in 2010 the Defense Department went from acknowledging the need to use social media to one of the leading large organizations to leverage it for its purposes. There is no going back. In fact I believe the Defense Department acceptance of social media also means it is better prepared to use whatever communication platforms come next.”

The coming year will see more changes as the new users of these various channels find ways to take advantage of the speed and open nature of the communications they foster. As is often the case in military operations, success in one fight opens a new field of battle to be overcome and the Department of Defense has moved into a new field that few government agencies are as involved in and few so aggressively embracing.

This entry was originally written for my firm and is posted on the ScoutComms Blog at: http://scoutcommsusa.com/2011/01/02/the-department-of-defense-gained-a-social-media-beachhead-in-2010/

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Stephen Peteritas

I like this post. And GovLoop was definitely part of that fight. I remember we got banned at DoD (or at least I think it was DoD) and then reinstated at DoD after our awesome members went to bat for us. We’ve had several back a forths with agencies trying to open social media doors sometimes I can’t keep them straight