Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'm looking forward to Wednesday's speech at the Social Media Strategies for DoD and Government conference. I'll be talking about how the Air Force is using new media to deliver messages and how our aim is to get all Airmen involved in telling the AF story from their perspective.
With PA resources continuing to dwindle and, with what's left being syphoned off to deployments and new stateside taskings, it's important that all Airmen are equipped with the ROI (Rules of Information) to engage about the Air Force with their friends and colleagues through communication vehicles like Facebook, blogs and Twitter. We need them out there communicating. I'm often asked how many PAs do we need in the AF, I tell them 331,700. Every Airman truly now has the ability to be a communicator.
I plan on explaining my theory that we're in a communication revolution and that the revolution has to an exploding communication environment where we all, not just the media, choose when, where and how we get information.
The Air Force story may not be compelling. We had a meeting and from that told a couple of people to figure out what's going on and then throw us in the deep-end of the pool. We've been swimming ever since. We've published a new media guidebook to help people get engaged and we've added courses at Defense Information School.
Many still feel threatened by new media. I think it's akin to talking to your neighbor on your front porch. With new media we can engage in conversations and communicate a message just like with talk with the person next door and share information.
I'm looking forward to a great conference.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Voices Heard

Iranians using Twitter, Facebook and You Tube have gotten the attention of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Please see my blog entry from a couple of days ago on this subject: Tehran: Terror in Terabytes.
In their press conference on Thursday, June 18, Secretary Gates said that New Media capabilities are a major blow to authoritarian governments.
"It's a huge win for freedom, around the world, because this monopoly of information is no longer in the hands of the government," said Secretary Gates.
Admiral Mullen said that it was important for commanders to be connected, siting his own Facebook page as an example.
"I think communicating that way and moving information around that way -- whether it's administrative information or information in warfare -- is absolutely critical," stated the Chairman.
It was an excellent press conference. The transcript is at the following link: http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4435
The video is at the DefenseLink homepage.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tehran: Trouble in Terabytes

At the Air Force Worldwide PA Conference in March I opened the conference with the following line: Revolutions don't start at the top. For better or worse, that's where they end.

Far be it from me to categorize what's going on in Tehran now as a revolution but I think it's important to examine one of the reasons why protests continue to occur in Iran's capital over the recent elections.

It's being reported today in several media outlets that wired Iranians are using Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Flickr to fan the flames in opposition of the contested election.

Here's my favorite paragraph from a story in ynet.com describing what's going on in Iran: In an interview to al-Jazeera, Saeed Shariati, one of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reformist opponents, said: "For us the internet is like the air force in a military operation. It bombards the enemy's outposts and lays the ground for the invasion of the infantries – our activists, to win the battle."

The Iranian government quickly blocked Facebook and Twitter so the activists weapon of choice became the text message. More than 110 million were sent before the government figured out they needed to shut-down that capability too.

Now they're using photos and video taken at the violent rallies and moving them via phone to web sites outside the country which are then being posted quickly. Their efforts are no doubt having an impact on world opinion.

As I've stated before, the technology we have today has given "everyman" a voice that's louder and stronger than ever before. It will be interesting how the events in Tehran play out--for better or worse.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Operating in the Gray--Does VOA=VOT?

One of our greatest challenges as military communication professionals is what I call "operating in the gray." In some ways "operating in the gray," is our bread and butter, is where the rubber meets the road, is what we bring to the fight. Bad cliches aside, "operating in the gray" is essential for military communicators because few others either want to or are trained to operate in the gray.

So much of what we do in the Air Force is black and white. We're checklist driven for good reason. Order enables execution and minimizes mistakes.

But the communication mission is mostly gray. The successful PA develops "gray vision" and from that gains the credibility to provide trusted counsel to leaders. "Gray vision" enables you to know when you need to respond to a media report or just leave it alone. "Gray vision" enables you to predict the reaction and bounce of an issue and advise leaders about taking the next step. Because they're in the gray with you--and you have "gray vision"--they need you to lead them out of it.

We have to understand that we operate in the gray. We have to get comfortable navigating through the gray and we have to know when to bring others into the gray. Unfortunately, not all PAs get the gray concept. Others can see the gray but they have no desire to walk into it. And, of course, there is the other extreme--those who only want to operate in the gray. That's admirable but very tactical. You have to be able to see clearly where you're going first, in order to step into the gray and be successful.

If you've gotten this far in the blog and you're thinking I'm nuts--let me give you an example. Washington Times reporter Eli Lake had an exclusive story on June 2 titled Voice of Taliban On VOA Queried. The story was about a State Department Inspector General review on the Voice of America interviewing a top Pakistani Taliban leader for one of their programs. The interview was on the Pashto-language VOA service known as Deewa Radio.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican, raised the concerns about the interview to the State Department. Rep. Kirk is credited as being a strong proponent of Deewa Radio. He, however, didn't see the wisdom in U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent for what he called, "...subsidizing fee air-time for al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban leaders."

It's not the first time VOA has been in hot water over interviewing Taliban leaders. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Deewa Radio interviewed Talibal leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. While the interview sparked controversy, Ms. Spozhmai Maiwandi who manages the Pashto-service, said she thought it was important to ask Mullah Omar "...whether he was willing to let all Afghans suffer by continuing to harbor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden."

Now that I've walked you into the "gray," please consider these questions and provide me your thoughts:
When is it reasonable for us to communicate with the enemy in a public forum?
What can we learn about the enemy when we interview them and how can/should we use that information?
Is it possible to deliver a message while interviewing the enemy and then broadcasting a story?
Is what I'm describing too much like information operations and not enough like journalism?

Welcome to the gray. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I'm often asked, "What are you going to do after you retire?"

Well, there is no doubt in my mind I'll do something in the communication field. There's no doubt that's what I'll do because it's the only thing I know how to do.

I have thought about reinventing myself but I really don't have the skill to fix things or the will count things. Plus, I believe my PA rule #9 applies, "Every job is a PA job," so why bother trying to do something else.

What I have learned is that we have developed ourselves well professionally. Our maturity that comes from being given responsibility and authority at an early age--that continues to increase through our careers--is unmatched anywhere else. Also--and just as critical--the plethora of issues we get the opportunity to handle forges our PR skills and credibility. Our mission is more critical than ever and we have the right preparation and problem-solving abilities to handle anything that's thrown at us.

I'm all for change when it's needed. I even hope I can recognize when change is necessary. But for now I'd rather continue to help communicate reinventions.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Assessing Research

It seems to me we have a tendency to overlook the tools of research and assessment in the classic PR model: Research, Plan, Execute, Assess.

We're fortunate at SAF/PA to have very sharp Airmen in our Plans division. They provide a robust research and assessment capability that becomes the foundation for executing many of our communication strategies and tactics.

One piece of research we've been using for the past several weeks is from the Pew News Interest Index. Pew examines "News Awareness by the American Public."

Pew conducts a national survey of adults asking them what is the one story they followed the most closely in the news over the last week. In professional research parlance the question falls under the category of "unaided recall." That means the respondents don't have a choice of options to pick from--they have to remember on their own what stories they paid attention to during the last week.

For example, since mid-April, the economy and Swine Flu have dominated the results; between 30-to-40 percent of the respondents listed those as the story they most closely watched. On a graph, our Plans division then charts out the military stories respondents indicated. Since April, issues such as CIA interrogations, Iraq, Pakistan, detainee abuse photos, Iran and the terror debate made the chart. None of them scored more than 11 percent in the survey and most were down around the 5-to-6 percent levels. The pirate issue with the Maersk Alabama was the lone exception with 34 percent of the respondents saying they most closely followed that story from 17-20 April.

What this tells me is that most folks outside of Washington, D.C. don't really think about the things we focus a lot of effort on here at the Pentagon. So, how should we use this information? What I think we need to learn from this information is determining what our real target
audience(s) should be for a given issue, determine how that audience likes to receive their information and then communicate with them accordingly. Gone are the days when a communication plan lists audiences as Media, Congress, Influencers, Great American Public. Not everybody has time to deal with our issues. We have have to find out who does and who cares, and ensure they get our messages.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A'Twitter at the Front

Twitter has found its way to the front-lines in Afghanistan. Check out AP reporter Jason Straziuso's piece today about how U.S. forces are using Twitter to inform audiences about battlefield results. Straziuso's article ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer and was carried in the Early Bird.

Straziuso reports that U.S. forces are using Twitter to give instant battlefield updates, usually hours before official news releases are sent to the media. He quotes Col. Greg Julian, the top military spokesperson in Afghanistan as saying, "There's an entire audience segment that seeks its news from alternative means outside traditional news sources, and we want to make sure we're engaging them as well."

Military forces in Afghanistan are also using other social networking sources to get information out quickly. As Straziuso's report says, the Taliban have primarily conducted an information war while U.S. forces have lagged behind. The use of social media is a direct tactic to counter Taliban misinformation about the status of the war.

We entrust our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines with great responsibility and authority over the lives of their people and with the best weapons to conduct battlefield missions. They do so under clear Rules of Engagement (ROE). As the ramp-up of forces continues in Afghanistan, we need to consider arming them with the ability to quickly communicate and with ROI (Rules of Information) to win the information battles as well.

Thank You.