Social Media and the Army

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REMEMBER WHEN BEING SOCIAL meant sharing your favorite beverage with a friend at the local hangout or neighbors leaning over their backyard fence talking about everything from politics to the local football team? Those days are in the past. Communication has grown globally over the years; today's technology opens a completely new way of sharing ideas, thoughts, and the latest on dit. Our Army has embraced the world of social media as the power of communication has taken a new turn. Typewriters, landlines, and beepers are communication tools of the past. A new generation of immediacy has created a firestorm of social media tools that encourage interaction and create dialogue at the click of a mouse.

Social media has had an undeniable effect on the way we live, work, and communicate throughout the world. Military leaders are recognizing the importance of social media and taking steps to incorporate change into their organizational cultures. This is partly due to the sheer number of users in the military community who are using social networking as a conduit to stay connected and tell their story. Facebook, a social networking website, has more than 250 million users with more than 120 million of them logging on at least once a day. (1) Every minute, YouTube users upload 10 minutes of video and watch hundreds of millions of videos. (2) Social media has introduced a whole new language, where complete words now become one letter and smiley faces and emoticons show emotion and feeling. This ever-evolving technology flourishes in a culture where time is precious and social interaction is unpredictable.

Social media computer concepts are not new and have in fact been around for over 20 years. The first online chat system surfaced in 1980 with CompuServe's CB simulator. (3) The simulator connected corporate America and cyberspace. In 1986, these services expanded to include Europe, and networking became a global application. The World Wide Web, not to be confused with the Internet, went public in 1991, and gave birth to the dot.com boom that enabled companies and organizations to reach a wider target audience. Today these same concepts have given organizations and individuals social networking websites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and other social networking avenues for information sharing.

The sheer number of Web 2.0 applications available makes it easier to communicate with family and friends from a distance. Perceptive military leaders are opening up their organizations to Soldiers, civilians, and family members with the use of social networking tools like Twitter and blogging. Town Hall meetings have taken on a new dimension, allowing more individuals to contribute to the forums in real time.

Senior Strategist for Emerging Media with the Department of Defense Jack Holt defines social media as an "environment outside of hierarchy, the democratization of publishing allowing everybody to have a voice ... It's outside the hierarchy and everybody has the opportunity to engage." (4) This understanding of social media, and a level of transparency that encourages a dialogue, has aided Department of Defense social media efforts.

Social Media in the Army

Social media is about having a conversation, interacting with your friends or followers, and developing relationships. On any given day internet users can Google the word Army and get over 228,000,000 website hits. The information is mind-boggling and not always official in nature. The Army's initial efforts to establish a Facebook presence showed numerous web pages with no Army affiliation. Leaders worried who was telling the story and whether there was a valid government presence. Under the guidance of Major General Kevin J. Bergner, then Chief of Public Affairs, the Army stood up its new Online and Social Media Division at the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in January 2009. …