Recent conversations and dialogue in which I participated on Twitter includes how leaders, both junior and senior should leverage social media in their military organizations and in their leadership style. This followed a review of LikeWar I wrote for Army Magazine. I offer the following thoughts
1. Military leaders should move away from the broad term “social media.” Social media includes sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. These sites are distinct and unique in their own ways. They differ in purpose, message delivery, and audiences to name a few. When addressing social media policies or in general conversation, leaders should be specific to the site they are referencing.
2. Commanders should address specific platforms within their command policies. This means more than a single and broad policy memorandum on the subject of social media. Rather, existing command policies should weave in various social media sites. For example, commander’s open door policies should address when or if the commander deems instant messaging on Facebook or Twitter as a part of the policy.
2.a. This leads into the aspect that Twitter has broken down some of the more formal communication aspects between leaders and subordinates. Junior soldiers can communicate directly with 4-Star commanders without the moving through layers of the chain of command. Conversely, senior leaders can communicate their messages directly to junior soldiers. This leads to questions on what is appropriate, such as
-Is it appropriate to publically disagree with senior leaders on Twitter?
-Should senior commanders insert themselves into conversations and threads between more junior leaders and junior soldiers?
-Should military leaders respond to anonymous accounts?
-It is appropriate to retweet overtly political content? Is there a different standard for officers and enlisted in this respect?
-Does following junior soldiers on Twitter, Facebook, etc…form an accurate perspective on what is happening inside of their respective formations? Is it a skewed perspective? Perhaps it’s just one aspect of understanding morale.
3. Higher level commanders should look at providing guidance on subordinate leaders methods on social media. This could include deciding on the appropriateness of official pages of a unit in contrast to individual personal accounts.
4. The army should explore ways that tactical commanders can use social media to mass effects. This means using the philosophy of mission command to allow platoon, company, and battalion commanders the ability to communicate with friendly and enemy forces, and the local population through social media forums.
-To compliment this, each service should start weaving in social media into its tactical and operational level doctrine. This would mean more than inserting it into public affairs manuals.
5. Senior leaders who have an established reputation should publish their best practices on each social media site. This would help subordinate leaders who are uncomfortable with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites.
6. Presence: One of the sections on the army OER support form is presence. The army should consider expanding the traits of presence from strictly physical to a broader definition that includes virtual presence. Indeed, a leader may influence other soldiers beyond their own formations. This aspect becomes complicated, as a leader who leverages social media sites may work for other leaders who have zero presence.
7. The services should examine how to include use and risk of various social media sites to their professional military education programs.
8. The army should look at social media skills as a basic soldier skill. This goes above and beyond basic OPSEC annual training, but a more detailed skill set on leveraging various social media sites to an individual and unit advantage (and mitigating adversary use of the same platforms).
The issue the military faces now is inconsistency. Some leaders are proficient in their use, others use social media sites for unethical behavior, while others are ignorant or consider use too much of a risk to their professional careers.
Further, it is clear that national level civilian leadership now views sites such as Twitter as a legitimate place to publish their policy guidance. Our current Commander In Chief may be the first to announce policy decision on social media, he won’t be the last. Leaders who express bewilderment on current policy guidance by dismissing tweets are behind the curve. While previous leadership would announce policy in public speeches, current and future leaders will certainly leverage social media to deliver their message.