Another argument for increased engagement
As the Special Operations Command Europe Public Affairs Officer, I often consider the value of communicating about what we do within the world of special operations. Sure, many of the missions assigned to SOF are secret. In fact, even the mention of specific personnel or units assigned within the community can be considered sensitive. Still, I believe it is important to communicate our value to the public. Doing so informs those who pay our bills (our taxpayers) and those who make key decisions (our government leadership) about where that money goes.
The rationales are generally the same whether we’re talking about SOF or conventional forces. Beyond the U.S borders, where I currently reside, it’s important to convey how and why we are building international military partnerships and working with our many allies to build and maintain global stability and security. Effective communication also informs our enemies that we are prepared to defeat them in any environment. Within my community, evidence of a lack of communication exists in the form of two recent blogs: Does the United States Still Need USSOCOM?, which appeared in the blogsite Small Wars Journal just this week and another post on a separate site that was influenced by the SWJ post, entitled Abolish SOCOM. Although I don't agree with the authors' assessments, I am confident that some senior decision makers read those two posts…and were influenced by them.
I recently had the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of engaging in a still emerging realm: social media. Experts Brian Solis, author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and Price Floyd, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, came to Stuttgart to speak about social networking platforms and how they can help us earn relevance to engage the world around us. Key conversations are going on around us every day, and we must determine whether we should be involved in them or not. Just because we choose to ignore does not mean the conversations will stop; it simply means that we will have no input, which may not impact tactical or operational events, but surely has potential to influence the strategic environment.
To many, the social media realm may seem to be nothing more than an arena fraught with unnecessary risk. On Dec. 13, the New York Times highlighted embarrassing viruses that can plague social networking sites. We know that spear phishing, social engineering and unwitting installation of Spyware are real threats that must be considered and addressed. Additionally, many people have posted themselves (or others) doing incredibly stupid things on social media sites. In an effort to remind us what is appropriate (and what is not) for military members who utilize SM sites to post, the Pentagon Channel has developed an interesting (and somewhat entertaining) video of the Top Ten list of stupid things done in social media. It is important to realize that just as with everything we do in life, especially in the military, engaging in social media involves some degree of risk and the requirement to be responsible does not disappear.
The risks, however, do not mean that we should avoid engagement. Just as in combat, where we take actions to protect ourselves, in the social media world, we must also take protective actions. We can familiarize ourselves with phishing techniques, learn about social media security settings and install anti-spyware software to our computers. We must also be responsible and have a strategy.
Within a communication strategy that enables increased public dialogue, we can begin to increase relevance and develop an advocacy forum that can carry our objectives forward. Although all social media outlets are not optimal for every command, there are many to choose from and having a strategy of engagement is important.
So where can we begin? For key leaders, Bloggers Roundtable is a DoD initiative that enables them to address important issues with prominent bloggers who then publish their own blogposts armed with information that mainstream media may not have gathered. These issues can be later re-communicated by mainstream media (most of whom follow prominent blogsites). Guest blogging and commenting on others blogs is another way for the rest of us to interact in a positive manner. It can spur debate and correct misconceptions. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook (among many others) are also platforms that can be incorporated into a communication strategy.
Admiral Stavridis has arguably set the foundations for increased engagement within European Command, and other senior leaders are engaging as well. I firmly believe, however, that in today’s information dominated world, if we (including those within special operations) leave communication to only our senior leaders, we will not succeed in the information war that encompasses so much of the conflicts in which we are currently involved.
MAJ Jim Gregory
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- U.S. Special Operations Command Europe