In PR News from Monday, Defense Secretary Gates selected Price Floyd to oversee the departments public affairs branch. According to the news via The US Army’s website and Google News, Floyd was ordered to improve the department’s communication, solicit feedback, and engage young people. The release waxed Web 2.0 dogma many of us original advocates coined a few years back using terms like; relevant, inclusive, transparent and responsive. Recognizing the need for outreach beyond traditional media outlets, Floyd’s lingo, if not commitment, seems to reflect the departments intent to “go social” with the armed forces communication.
Whether the US Government’s rather late commitment to utilizing the Web and technology to update its arsenal of communication tools is sincere or designed to tickle the ear of a relatively “wired” Obama is unclear, but one thing Floyd pointed out particularly interested me:
“It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaida is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”
The Difficulty In Going Digital
Floyd went on to point out that the government has been miserable at communicating to the world American values, culture and important aspects of our democratic system. As Floyd aptly point out, modern public relations was basically invented in the US. How we have fallen so far behind in using all the tools at our disposal, to engage the ever more interconnected world, is beyond me, and it appears, Floyd too. The story itself sort of betrays the “social media” audience Floyd intends on reaching by going “the long way around the barn” in saying; “The Army Is On Twitter”, if you are a Twitter fan.
Like many of the traditional PR agencies we have analyzed with regard to truly engaging “the social web”, getting into “the conversation” requires more than rhetoric and a corporate blog. I was actually beginning to buy into Floyd’s “pitch” when he finally went just a hair too far. In “coloring” the department’s new Web 2 point whatever paradigm shift in communications, Floyd could not resist the urge to throw in our young fighting men in Afghanistan. Here is an expert from that portion which will pretty much “paint” the picture as what we are used to – a government agency not unlike the corporate dinosaurs. This comment was in the context of operational effectiveness, as affected by this new Defense Department initiative, as it pertains to Afghanistan.
“If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan understand “what we are doing, why we are there, what we are doing to help support their government and therefore, what their government is doing to help them, it makes the job of our troops on the ground a lot easier.”
Lesson One – Don’t Screw Up A Happy Ending
I think anyone who took 7th grade geography, or perhaps anyone at any of the social networks might wonder at this statement. Why? Because Afghanistan is one of the LEAST wired countries in the world! I expect Floyd could have gotten someone from Army Intelligence to check their desk for a Rand Organization report(PDF) for information on why Afghanistan is not exactly the best place to do a technological web startup, or even for setting up an Internet café so that hard working Afghans can drop in an read DOD propaganda. Holy Cow, and he was doing so good at the start of the article, he had me wanting to offer consulting to the DOD on social media – honest. They taught us early on in English 102 I believe, that people more often remember the beginning and the end of composition.
I started this news article to simply report the DOD’s latest efforts to modernize their public relations strategy, and now I am left with images of the CIA trying to track down Osama Bin Laden via his Twitter account. I checked out The Official US Army Facebook account, and yes they have one, and found the interesting message any visitor from Afghanistan (or anywhere else) will see if they click videos.
Though I admire pugilism and weaponry as well as the next guy, somehow showing video of crack troops kicking down doors in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to only send one message to Afghans. Ambling over to Twitter, the Army has already added 8,000 more to its throng of followers there as well. The messages there do however, seem very appropriate, and effectively relay information for soldiers and their families. Given the tone of this rather hyped release by Floyd though, I fully expect someone’s recruiting officer to be spitting out 140 characters something like; “Be all you can be, have the adventure of your life in the US Army – NOW!” Is that over 140? As for people the Army follows, well, Lauren at left, is just on of the 379 the Army is interested in.
All joking aside, though I can scarcely resist, like most traditional communications organizations, the DOD is just as sloth-like as any large organizations. Implementing a truly engaging campaign, on the scale that Floyd suggests, will be something to see. Using words like “transparency” from organizations conditioned to “bend” the truth, seems mutually exclusive in a way. If they are going to tell the real story of real Americans, scripted genuineness and something other than bravado might be in order. We know our soldiers are brave, and the rest of the world does too, they just don’t know what our real intentions are – at least not our governments.