Archive for February, 2007

Hit and a miss for Naval video

Earlier this year, the Daily Reel had a post about the U.S. Navy’s use of YouTube. The author of the post, Anthony Kaufman, cited a post that I wrote here at the D-Ring encouraging the Navy to define themselves before others defined them.

Kaufman went on to blast the Navy, saying that the videos didn’t fit with the style of YouTube, that most of the videos the Navy has posted haven’t been viewed much, and the ones that were were hotly debated.

After a bit of digging, it appears that the Navy’s YouTube tactics came from their advertising agency, Campbell-Ewald (which, for being a firm that advises the U.S. Navy on “interactive” technology, might want to re-think its Web site. It is horribly cumbersome to navigate and doesn’t yield great information.)

Perhaps I should have clarified my original recommendation to the Navy.

Online media, to be successful, cannot just be about repurposing advertisements, commercials and documentaries for an online forum. You need to know and understand the audience and develop the content to fit that audience. Perhaps that is why Campbell-Ewald’s efforts were met with (at best) resistance and (at worst) a thud.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

Freedom Defended posted a great piece from Navy Times about some truly viral videos that caught on on YouTube. And these great videos show the morale, camraderie, excitement and fun that can come from the U.S. Navy.

To Campbell-Ewald: take a step back, take a look at the medium, and take a lesson from what sailors are already doing. They have the right idea.


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Many of you may be aware that former BG Janice Karpinksy of Abu Ghraib fame is blogging over at the Huffington Post.

What I found fascinating wasn’t her post, but one of the comments:

General Karpinski,

As an American, I feel out of touch with the military. Is there any way for the common man to talk to them and learn something about how they think about things? Whenever I see any of the generals talking on TV, they seem so untrustworthy. It is like they are trying to deceive us, and every time they are replaced the new ones just make it harder. Even General Powell, someone who we would all like to trust, doesn’t seem to ever be leveling with the American people. Some of the ex-generals seem a tiny bit more honest and open, but still guarded. It is like there is some great disconnect between the military and the American people, and I just wish there was some way to bridge the gap. I guess the only way that could ever happen is if someone could somehow start an honest dialog between some honest people on both sides. It would probably be worth it even if it was under penalty of death.

By: JimReed on February 14, 2007 at 09:33pm

Thank you for being honest, Jim Reed.

Jim has articulated something I have known for a long time. John Edwards may tell us that there are two Americas — one for the rich and one for the poor. I would remind him that there are two other Americas, one for those who understand the military and one for those who don’t.

I say this as a member of the former group who used to be part of the latter.

Let me explain with a picture:

A patchwork of military bases across the country. It seems to cover a large majority of the nation, but in reality, the military is actually concentrated in very few places. Consider just where the Marine Corps is located:

Even more concentrated. Add this to the fact that in communities where the military is concentrated, they are often walled off from the rest of society. They have their own post offices, own grocery stores, own night clubs…

I grew up in an area where the military did not seem to exist. The nearest major Army base was hundreds of miles away. I had never seen a Soldier until a few recruiters showed up at my high school my senior year. But in a high school where nearly 99% of students went on to college, enlisting in the military was dismissed by too many as something that “other people” did. This is the divide that Jim articulates.

It is a divide that is dangerous for our society. Especially in a time of war. Now, more than ever, the military needs to reach out to those people who don’t know and make them understand what it means to serve the country in uniform.

Too many entrenched in military culture blame the unaware, the ones who can’t distinguish between privates and colonels, the ones who don’t know what a SOP or a MRE or OPSEC is. It is easy to blame. The responsible thing — and the correct course of action — is to educate. It is to connect.

Thus is the problem. Often, military community relations and outreach efforts are centered around military bases — in communities that already understand the military. Because of its geographical limitations, the military is restricted on its ability to connect with the unaware masses.
Or is it?

Web technology has eliminated geography as a barrier to understanding. People across the country, at a time of their choosing can interact with members of the military as they see fit.

The technology is there. The conversation is one that people are begging to have. All the Pentagon needs to do is step up to the plate and have that conversation. Sec. Gates, are you willing? Will you commit the needed resources to host this dialogue with America?

Before you answer, remember, in a democracy, public communication from the government isn’t just a “nice thing.” It is essential for the survival of the republic.

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Online engagement and ROI

Part of the reason that new media seems to be stuck at the bottom of the communication totem pole at the Pentagon is because it is difficult to explain the value, the return on investment, that it has for communication.

There seems to be general universal agreement among Pentagon elites that main stream media is important. I can’t count the number of times while I was working there that the Chief of Public Affairs or the Director of Media Relations was taken to task by the the Third Deck for a negative story that appeared on NBC or in the LA Times. The consensus was that lots of people read/watch/hear this news, so it has value. The return on investing time in addressing the mass media is the volume of people it communicates to.

But things are changing.

Consider the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, released last month. (Disclosure: I work at Edelman, but was not involved with the development of this report.) Media is currently less trusted than business and government, and “a person like me” is considered to be one of the most influential sources of information. People care less about the news and more about what their neighbor or cousin or coworker thinks.

And the online world is allowing more and more people to bridge geography and time to interact with “people like them.” So the powerful online social tools — blogs, podcasts, forums, and the like — cannot be ignored.

The challenge is re-framing the way the Pentagon leadership looks at online media. These very real, very influential online conversations cannot play ugly stepsister to the mainstream media for much longer. If the military adheres to this old world view, it will do so at a great price.

We cannot just hope that military leadership sees this change. Responsible public affairs officers need to catalyze that change by proving the ROI from online communication.

There is a great post from the Daily Fix about proving ROI. It includes a great chart, which I have copied below:

Online communication has significant value. PAOs, it is your job to communicate that value.

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Shilling for votes

I’m generally not about self promotion, but…

You might be aware that this year’s Milbloggies (awards for military blogs) are now open for nominations. You can nominate any of the military blogs listed at milblogging.com.

If you like what you read at the D-Ring, please go here and nominate it for a milbloggie. I know I would appreciate it; a nomination for a milbloggie would help raise the profile of the D-Ring and grow the community of folks who are interested in how the military address the challenges and possibilities presented by new media. All you need to do to nominate is register your e-mail address at the site.

Nominations run only run through 5 p.m. on February 21, so if you are going to nominate, do it soon!

(PS — While you are there, you might want to nominate this guy, this guy and this guy too.)

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I couldn’t title this post. There are no words.

I have been subscribed to Badgers Forward for a while. The blog is written by the company commander of an engineering company currently deployed to Iraq.

For the past five days, I have been riveted as information is revealed through his blog and through the blog of one of his Soldiers about the death of three men from his unit.

Never in my life have I read such comprelling writing from two Soldiers.

From Badger:

If February 8, 2007 was the worst day of my life, this was certainly one of if not the most emotionally draining days I have ever had.

One of my Soldiers asked rhetorically, “How do you honor men that were always laughing and smiling? You smile and then you laugh. And that is what we started to do again today.

Tonight, here in Iraq, I am completely spent. The story of that day and the story of the memorial service both need to be told. But right now that will have to be another day.

From TD at Acute Politics (Badger’s Soldier) :

Under a sky streaked blood-red and angry with sunset, I carry my friends belongings from his room. In my head I can already see another sun setting over the memorial to come; the breeze twisting dogtags around a rifle like a devils windchime, and carrying once again the plaintive notes of the bagpipe playing Amazing Grace.

Blogs are real and raw and emotional. And they are powerful.

Maybe that is why the Department of Defense is afraid of them.

Personally, I think we need more officers like Badger and more Soldiers like TD. To you both, thank you. You do your nation proud. Our thoughts are with you as you face these trying days ahead.

RIP SGT Holtom, SGT Clevenger, PFC Werner.

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From Sunday’s paper:

It begins almost imperceptibly, one lonely posting on a blog. It says that U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan use candy to lure children so they can be used as human shields.

Patently untrue.

But in an age when the lines between traditional media and the blogosphere are blurred, a dark rumor can spread like a kindergarten virus, unchecked and unchallenged.

U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa is taking notice.

Since 2005, CentCom officials have jumped into the blogging fray, facing the realities of a new electronic age in hopes of combating misinformation on the Web, or just getting its own news out.

A three-person team monitors blogs – Internet journals with commentary from ordinary citizens and, often, links to news articles – that concentrate on CentCom’s area of responsibility, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

Team members contact blogs when inaccuracies or incomplete information is posted. They also ask bloggers if they can post a link to CentCom’s Web site, or they offer access to CentCom information and news releases.

Read the full article.

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USASOC goes mobile

Following in the footsteps of OSD Public Affairs, U.S. Army Special Operations Command has announced that its news is now packaged to be read on mobile devices.

From the release:

“The news service basically was developed as a means of getting news articles out locally and nationally,” said Walter Sokalski, USASOC Deputy Public Affairs Officer. “This information use to be faxed which involved intense man power. Instead of diluting content we decided to come up with an alternative with news directed toward soldiers, civilians, and people of SOC.”

UNS-Mobile is geared for hand-held devices such as phones and personal digital assistants – the new sources for news.

“This site is for people on the go,” said Mark Tate, the UNS webmaster. “The screens on those devices are not that large and the graphics that we have on the main page doesn’t look right on a Blackberry. It was a design-challenge as we had to create an interesting looking site without graphics.”

The mobile page offers the latest stories and press releases. It can be reached at http://new.soc.mil/USN-mobile/Index.htm or by clicking on the link button on the UNS web site (http://new.soc.mil/).

This is a good step toward making special operations news more accessable to the general public. More and more, people are getting their news on the go — Every day, I seem to see more and more people checking their Blackberrys and mobile phones for news when I ride the subway to work.

Thanks to RTO for the tip.

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