Social Media: Best Practice from the US Army?

President Obama Visit - Yongsan Garrison, Seou...

Image by US Army Korea - IMCOM via Flickr

Post by: Kim Stephens

A story about social media caught my eye in the most unlikely of places, www.army.mil. What most of you probably don’t know about me is that I am a 20-year-military spouse, I think that’s why this story really excited me. I know from personal experience that getting information about what is going on around a military installation can be a challenge, as it is in any community. Most of the time, emails are sent around to the active duty military member with varying success on how often that information finds its way to the families. But in Yongsan, Korea they have been using social media, Facebook in particular, in order to reach the entire community. This form of communication is not just intended for fun information, such as “Weekend Christmas Tree Lighting”; but very serious information as well, e.g.: “North Korea intent on creating havoc in the South.” (That last bit is not an actual quote…but you get my drift.)

I think we could learn 3 things from this example:

1. Include all information about the community, not just emergency management information.

I think there should be some research done into whether or not it is an effective communications strategy for each city department to have their own social media stream (particularly Facebook page–twitter and photo accounts might be a different story).  For instance, a lot of cities have pages for the major’s office, the sherriff’s office, the local office of emergency management, the fire department…Are they canceling each other out?

The Yongsan community FB page includes all information, from Santa to the weather, and becomes a “one-stop-shop” for information. For example, community information pertinent for newcomers, such as phone numbers and housing details, are readily accessible from the home FB page.  Cultural events, from music to movies are posted as well. One of the PAOs interviewed for the story on the Armed Forces Network (AFN) intimated that he felt the information helped people cope while living in a city that can be intimidating.

People have come to rely on the page for all of their information, and they know to look there in an emergency. Therefore, postings can be quite serious too; for instance, one post lists places “off-limits” outside the gates of the installation. And during the recent typhon in September, they used the same site to get information to the public and “augment other media in near-real time.”

2. Be prepared for feedback from readers and understand that social media are forms of two-way communication.

You would think that at an installation with real security concerns would be the absolute last place to engage in an open forum such as Facebook. However, I think they understand their community members and even though there is trust in this practice, it is trust with rules and consequences for those breaking that trust. From their rules page:

10. USAG Yongsan reserves the right to remove any comment it deems harmful to operational security. Do not discuss operational details, equipment, schedules, or anything else that may provide assistance to an adversary of the United States and our allies.

11. USAG Yongsan reserves the right to remove any comment it deems does not conform to good order and discipline. “Two strikes, and you are out” is the policy. Those breaking policy rules twice will be banned from the Facebook page.

The PAO described the importance of two-way communication: “Before social media, the only way I could reach our community audience was with the newspaper or website,” said Yongsan Public Affairs Specialist Cpl. Choe Yong-joon during an interview with AFN-Korea. “Now I am reaching them through Facebook and getting to know my audience a lot better… I like having social media because I get instant feedback from my readers. They let me know what they like and dislike, which really helps me become a better writer and help them more.”

3. If the Army can do social media, really, you have no excuse…

The debate about whether or not to engage in social media comes with many rationals on both sides. However, I think increasingly, the horse has left the barn, and those not engaged are finding fewer reasons not to. The Public Affairs Chief Dan Thompson makes a very convincing argument why you should:  “We are now moving from a typical 24-hour news response time to about three hours or less,” he said. “In fact, with a smart phone and wireless connection, we even have the ability to broadcast live to our Command Channel and websites, including Facebook, while accepting live comments from the community. It’s like having a satellite truck in my pocket. Best of all, most of this is free or very low cost.” (emphasis added) Who wouldn’t want a satellite truck in their pocket?

If you are still on the fence, I think this quote from the U.S. Army Garrison Commander Col. Bill Huber really sums up why we need to be engaged in this form of social communication:

“Using a full spectrum of media outlets and notification systems, we can keep people informed as if they were in the emergency response center themselves.”

Thank you Colonel. Well said.

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