Importance of social media

It appears a discussion is ongoing concerning Social Media and the military. This is quite timely as I attend the Air Force Social Media Workshop in Southbridge, Mass. Though I’m attending the workshop on behalf of the Air Force, my thoughts in this post are from Russ the civilian.

Social Media is important for any organization. It’s another way for an organization to tell its story. If not, there are others willing to do so and not always in a favorable light. There’s an article on the Air Force Website about U.S. Southern Command’s Social Media efforts (SOUTHCOM officials embrace two-way impact of social media). It makes a strong case for Social Media efforts.

“If we choose not to engage in this platform, we will be represented by others, and we lose the opportunity to represent ourselves. That cost is just too high to ignore. There is absolutely an opportunity cost in not engaging,” said Sarah Nagelmann, SOUTHCOM’S strategic communications director.

Social Media is a tool. It gets information out that might not otherwise. Social Media messages go directly to people and not through an organization that filters or repackages it. Social Media messages reach an audience that otherwise might get ignored by traditional media.

There are concerns about operations security. Social Media users might reveal information best kept silent. This is a concern. A familiar OPSCEC phrase from World War II is “Loose lips sink ships.” True. Is this a valid reason to avoid Social Media? Information slips out when people write letters or e-mails, or talk on cell phones. If there are limitations or a ban on Social Media to protect information, then maybe the same should apply to phones, personal computers, and pens and paper.

Social Media can be a weapon to help fight the information war against the enemy. Taking away an effective weapon because there’s a danger in its use doesn’t make sense. For example, our enemies hide among innocent civilians when attacking us. This sadly leads to the potential for harm to innocents. Would we consider taking away effective weapons such as rifles, artillery and airpower because of the risks to innocents? No, the military takes enormous steps to educate its members to effectively and safely use their weapons.

With every new innovation there are risks. We need to assess the risks and address them. After all, the crux of the Social Media issue for the military is OPSEC. Let’s address that. Educate people on the steps to protect information. Then, let them tell their stories.