Here is a summary of the 8th Annual Social Media in the Military and Defence Conference, chaired by Ric Cole of i3 Gen – 2 full days of great content and peer to peer sharing of Knowledge Skills and Expertise MilSocialMedia InfoOps Influence
“All Warfare is based on deception” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“War is deception” – Haditha ‘al-harb khuda’, the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]
IntroductionThose readers who follow me on Twitter will be aware of my fetish for camouflage and many often comment or challenge me with the hashtag #CamoGeek. What many will not realise is that as a child I was painfully introvert and struggled at school. To overcome this I was encouraged to take up public speaking, join the debating club and, most importantly, to act in school plays. This British love of acting, dressing up and adopting a new persona is the basis from which Nicholas Rankin launches his amazingly well researched and fascinating book, Churchill’s Wizards. I finally bought the book, which has been on my reading list for far too many years, while visiting the Churchill War Rooms in London.
- We (Britain and her Allies) have lost the operational edge when we consider camouflage in its broadest sense and with it an entire capability (a subset of Information Operations which includes Deception, Counter-Command Warfare, OPSEC and EW).
- Much like sniping, camouflage is ignored during peacetime and rushed into service in times of crisis. Those who advocate camouflage, deception or ‘unconventional methods’ are often treated with suspicion, mockery and contempt by those officers in the ‘top third’.
- Finally, and most importantly, we consider camouflage in a far too narrow a spectrum. Namely, the clothes worn by soldiers, cam-cream on faces and scrim on helmets, and at best reduction of our Infra-Red and Radio Frequency (IR and RF) signatures.
- What measures could be taken NOW to establish these evolving capabilities within an organisation preoccupied with managing budgets, STRIKE, new carriers and F35?
- How can existing capabilities and activities be aligned to achieve 3rd Generation Camouflage?
- Is OSINT the new J2? How does the Military resolve the ethical and legal considerations around OSINT and the use of such data in the targeting process?
- What counter-measures are needed to provide OPSEC/PERSEC to personnel, especially those deployed on operations? Particularly those deploying in small teams and ‘at reach’?
It’s a little over two months until SMi’s Social Media in the Defence and Military conference on 28th – 29th November in London.
There is an impressive line up of speakers covering a wide agenda from looking at Social Media use for Recruitment, Retention and Engagement with Home Audiences as well as how Strategic Communications supports Exercises and Operations that looks at the rise of disinformation, Hybrid Warfare and Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE).
Ric Cole (@Ric_Cole) of i3 Gen has been invited to chair this year’s event, and as part of the run-up to the conference, i3 Gen
Ric recently published a review of RAND Corporation’s 2016 US InfoOps research report ‘Dominating Duffer’s Domain’ in which we considered the first 13 lessons through the perspective of Digital and Social Media. Building on that article and in preparation for the conference, we thought it would be interesting to discuss some core questions around Social Media use in and by defence sector organisations, both military and civilian.
We are seeing an increasing maturity and acceptance of the role of Social Media in Defence. The British Army recently published updated Guidance on Social Media use for all ranks. This guide was well written and widely welcomed throughout the British Army and wider. Whilst this is encouraging, it also brings to the forefront additional considerations around training, support, and of course security.
During the Twitter chat we would like to gather viewpoints and discuss the following questions:
- Q1. How do you think social media should be used in the Military and Defence Sector today?
- Q2. The use of ‘Story-telling’ structures and techniques are key to audience engagement. What are the best ways to tell stories with Social Media, considering the limited space for content?
- Q3. Social Media is a fast moving, dynamic and often reactive environment. How can we balance the need to be timely with the permissions and approval authority requirements of our organisations, Military or Corporate?
- Q4. Social Media has been used to develop false narratives and influence through the use of Impostor Accounts, Misinformation / Disinformation and deliberate trolling. How can we detect and handle fake Social Media?
— If time allows we will cover these ‘bonus’ questions.
- Q5. What are some recent examples of good use of #MilSocialMedia?
- Q6. What key questions would you like to see covered at the #MilSocialMedia conference?
To participate in the live Twitter Chat, just click on this link or search for #MilSocialMedia on 10th October and we will kick-off at 18:00 UK Time.
To join in during the chat, please use A1. , A2. , A3. Etc at the start of your tweet and use the hashtags #MilSocialMedia#SMChat – we will then be able to create a transcript and share after the event.
If you have more questions you want answering or insights that will take more than 280 characters, or perhaps fear you won’t be able to make the chat but want your voice heard? Then please leave a comment below!
Dominating Duffer’s Domain:
Lessons for the US Army Information Operations Practitioner
By Christopher Paul and William Marcellino (RAND Corporation)
A Review by Ric Cole, Director (Military), i3 Gen
Written in the style of The Defence of Duffer’s Drift by Maj Gen Ernest Dunlop Swinton in 1904, this short (about 50 pages) piece sees a young Capt Hindsight deploying in an Info Ops appointment and having a series of vivid dreams. The scenario, set in Atropia, develops with every dream and the young officer carries forward the lessons from each into subsequent dreams. These are ultimately compiled into 26 lessons, which (we hope) will see Capt Hindsight through her tour as an Info Ops practitioner.
Well-written, humorous in parts and tragic in others, this unusual report from RAND Corporation, departs for the conventional and applies an appealing and relevant twist to a Victorian military classic. While many in the InfoOps community have sought to apply these lessons within their headquarters or units, the wider audience has yet to be reached.
We (Yes – YOU too!) must advocate the lessons from Capt Hindsight’s restless dreams and champion their application before we unwittingly hand the advantage to those who wish harm upon us, undermine our alliances and attack our shared values.
To give you a flavour of this excellent ‘report’, this article is an interpretation of the first 13 lessons through the lens of Digital and Social Media in the Military and Defence sector. We hope it will encourage you to download the full report, consider its lessons fully and in turn share as widely as possible.
The report, (as its authors acknowledge) maintains four key elements of the original; simplicity of style, satirical in nature, demonstrates the tactical principles and illustrates the tragic results of ignoring these principles. It was recommended to me by a close colleague, who used it to mount his own “InfoOps campaign” within an operational UK headquarters, by printing off multiple copies and covertly distributing them around the department heads and principal staff officers, or anyone who failed to recognise the importance of integrating InfoOps into the operational plan.
However, what of the military’s use of social media? After all, it is acknowledged that we are now, more engaged in information warfare and the information environment is seen by many as the operational (and even strategic) vital ground.
So, what #MilSocialMedia lessons can be drawn from those in Dominating Duffer’s Domain?
Lesson 1 – Effective InfoOps cannot be an afterthought. This could not be truer than in military social media. Accounts must be well-established, with engaging content and a receptive following. Without a credible online presence and a track record of healthy two-way communication, any attempt to use social media during an operation, whether in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) or combat, will be ineffective. All too often commanders see social media as an unnecessary risk, not as an opportunity to engage with the audience and actors long before boots are on the ground.
Lesson 2 – If effects in and through the information environment are important to the commander, they should feature prominently in the commander’s intent. As with Lesson 1, any InfoOps practitioner from the last decade will tell you stories of commanders demanding the liberal application of “InfoOps Pixie Dust”, without incorporating informational effects into the effect-based planning cycle, or properly resourcing the InfoOps cell and its related activities. Even getting internet access in the cell is all too often a show-stopper.
Commanders must be encouraged to understand better the effects that can be achieved by InfoOps, including the use of social media, both in support of ‘home games’ (community engagement and recruiting) and ‘away games’ (overseas exercises and operations). While they may not wish to engage through a personal account (although increasingly many do), they must TRUST their InfoOps practitioners and apply an uncomfortable amount of mission command, if the use of social media is to be agile, timely and effective.
Lesson 3 – Manoeuvre and fires generate effects in the information environment too. It is hard to imagine a military operation anywhere that will not be reported on and seen on social media, especially when it ‘goes loud’. Therefore, it is essential that our messages be ready and effective, prior to H-Hour. Failure to do so will immediately hand the operational information advantage to the adversary and anyone else wishing to exploit the vacuum; from fringe groups and conspiracy theorists to pro-Russian trolls and their useful idiots. Contingency plans must be drawn up and approved for both worst case and most likely case scenarios and enacted without delay.
Lesson 4 – Plan for friendly force mistakes and adversary propaganda. Mistakes will be made, accept the fact and include it in your planning assumptions. Every holding line (hopefully released within 15-20 minutes of any event) should include, “not believed to be the result of enemy action”. Even if later investigations show that the event was the result of sabotage or an attack, you have denied the first-mover advantage to the enemy. Better to be nearly right and on time, than completely right days or even weeks later.
Have a counter-propaganda plan. Essential to this will be third-party advocates, voices of expert commentators, who will speak in your defence. Enable, empower and amplify them before you need them. Counter-propaganda via ‘official’ accounts rarely works, a Twitter war only amplify your opponent’s voice. Your advocates will have been identified during your Target Audience Analysis; they will already have the facts to undermine the adversaries’ version of events through
Lesson 5 – All communications are potentially global. A PSYOPs leaflet fluttering down from the skies will soon be picked up by a teenager, who photographs it with his phone and posted it on his social media. The effect of the message is now global, and audiences will all have a different interpretation. The InfoOps planner will always consider the 2nd order effects and 3rd order consequences of a message, as all should be aligned to the Communications and Effects Framework, which sets out the narrative (hate the term if you must!) and the supporting themes.
Likewise, be prepared for actions elsewhere having a direct (unforeseen) effect on your operations. In the summer of 2009, I was deployed in Helmand province, and at the height of Operation Panther’s Claw in support of the Afghan elections, our messages were not making the international media outlets as we had expected. The reason? The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, had died of an overdose in LA and this was ‘Breaking News’ for nearly a week. Somethings simply can not be planned for – Black Swans.
Lessons 6, 7 and 8 speak to the importance of InfoOps coordination and
Lesson 9 – Information-related capabilities can have lengthy timelines, for both execution and results. It is said that the British Army was not in Helmand for ten years, but there for 6 months twenty times. Each Task Force was attempting to win the campaign within their short time, with Red Amber Green (RAG) analysis to support their ‘success’. In recent years, Information Warfare has become front page news, yet this is not reflected in our capabilities, and even the establishment of Specialist Units have yet to really prove to be an effective counter to Russia, Chinese, ISIS or even al-Shabab activities amongst many. However, we are getting better…
To date, InfoOps practitioners are not considered ‘experts’ alongside their counterparts in fires or logistics, in part because the results of their effects may not present themselves for months or years, and these effects are difficult to measure or visualise in PowerPoint – often to the dismay and occasionally the wrath of senior commanders.
Lesson 10 – Events do not unfold according to plan. Alternatively, as the Brits would say, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. Or if you prefer, as Mike Tyson so eloquently proposed, “Everyone has a
Lesson 11 – Warfare, including Information Warfare, involves trade-offs. Choose your battles, block trolls and bots, do not engage in spats with anonymous accounts with only a handful of followers (no matter how ‘wrong’ they are!). Sometimes OPSEC may have to be relaxed to enable engagement. For example; To hold an effective Med Cap and Vet Cap task, you will have to tell the patients or farmers where and when the event is taking place and subsequently mitigate the increased risk of attack or intimidation by increasing your Presence-Posture-Profile. The same holds true for a live social media Q&A!
Lesson 12 – The efforts planned and coordinated by InfoOps need to be monitored and assessed, otherwise you’re shooting in the dark. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) must be resourced and must start (and benchmarked) before you engage on social media or deploy on operations. Social media platforms offer a whole raft of analytical tools, mostly for free, and must be incorporated into the plan. Top Tip: The InfoOps team, just like Public Affairs/Media Ops and the J2 ‘All Source’ cell, need access to
Lesson 13 – InfoOps is not well understood in the force…Yep!
I could go on, but then you’ll have no reason to read it for yourself!
Dominating Duffer’s Domain offers InfoOps practitioners, commanders and staff officers at all levels valuable lessons in the integration, resourcing, coordination and prioritisation of Info Ops and all of the Information Activities and their related disciplines. It should be a mandated read for operational planners (no matter which desk they sit at) and it provides handy reminders for those who have been in this game for too long for it to be “career enhancing”.
I hope that this short review has whetted your appetite to download onto your mobile communications device a copy of Dominating Duffer’s Domain from RAND Corporation and that you will draw out some of your own lessons.
Applying Dominating Duffer’s Domain to #MilSocialMedia will be the subject of a Live Twitter Q&A, hosted by i3 Gen, on Wednesday 10th October at 1900-2000. This will be a scene setter for some of the lively discussions we anticipate at the SMi Group Military Social Media conference on 28-29 November 2018.
‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’ is a phrase popularised by, and sometimes erroneously attributed to, Mark Twain.
It speaks to the malleability of ‘Facts and Figures’ when seeking to convey a point of view and grant it some degree of authority — because of course, if you provide independent evidence that seemingly supports your argument, then it should be that much more persuasive!
Wrong; Facts and Figures alone are not persuasive. They are cold, dull, and decidedly unengaging. It is the story that is woven around them that becomes persuasive; the story that engages our
Successful Sales and Marketing professionals know this, either by instinct or training.
Early on in my career I attended a Sales Training course and got into a lengthy discourse with the instructor about the importance of clear facts and figures as part of the sales process. I was adamant that if we produced clear evidence that a particular product performed better, was better value and had a track record of satisfied customers; then the ‘selling’ was all but done; it would be a clear and logical decision. Why would anyone not choose the ‘obviously’ better product? [I did say this was EARLY in my career :)]
In contrast, the course instructor was equally adamant that “facts were not persuasive” — he was not arguing that they didn’t have a role to play, but that the selling process had very little to do with the facts of the matter.
Much later in my career, I attended a different sales course that taught the Solution Selling™ methodology — on the first day, the buying process was summarised in a very clear and succinct manner:
We buy emotionally for logical reasons!
This principle applies to all of us, in every buying situation. The only variance is how much logical justification, for our emotional decision, we need to feel comfortable; this, in turn, is often related to the cost, and/or the level of buying authority we have.
That simple phrase underpins the whole process of Sales and Marketing and the wider topic of Influence.
In seeking to influence, our primary goal must be to engage our target audience on an emotional level. This applies whether we are trying to influence them in a buying process, or significantly, in a political or military scenario. Once we have gained emotional ‘buy-in’, we must also provide congruent information that allows them to feel justified in their (emotional) decision.
This may be stating the obvious, but it’s important to keep this front of mind when we consider how to engage a target audience.
Narrative does not equal Story
In recent times, we have faced torrents of ‘Fake News’. These stories are designed to engage and challenge our emotion-based decisions. We’ve typically ‘decided upon’ these views after having read a clear and authoritative ‘narrative’ about this issue or that or we’ve already been beguiled by a well-crafted story.
Afterwards, mere facts and figures would not be effective in persuading us to change or at least question our comfortable, justified position. In most cases, if we are sent a fact-based challenge to the original ‘narrative’, we probably will not invest the time to even consider this opposing perspective. We are already emotionally invested in our Point of View.
This is the problem with ‘Narratives’ versus ‘Stories’…
Isn’t this just semantics? Aren’t Narratives and Stories just different words for the same thing?
Well actually no, they are not the same thing, but both do have their place in a communications and influence campaign.
At this year’s NATO Strategic Communications conference in Riga, Alex Aitken, Executive Director, [UK] Government Communications stated during the panel Q&A (1h40m mark) that
“a story is different to a narrative. A story has character, plot, setting, conflict, and resolution, whereas a narrative is an explanation of things.”
He goes on to urge us, in our democracies, to be better at telling stories!
The power of Story is built into our core psyche.
We need to remember, a story does not mean a work of fiction. The oral tradition helped bring about the growth of civilisation and the advancement of humankind ever since.
Stories inspire! Stories scare us and keep us safe! Stories make us feel part of a community, and different stories can bring us into multiple communities.
In the absence of a compelling or engaging story; we make one up and tell ourselves it — it helps us order the world, understand the complex and be able to in turn relate issues to others.
As the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett wrote in book II of his Science of Discworld series (well worth reading) …
“The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo Sapiens (‘wise man’). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan Narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.”
So how can we be better at telling Stories?
Well, there is much great content out there on telling good stories, and it is very much in vogue in the Social Media and Content Marketing domains — so much so, that the topic is being overrun by very lightweight pieces of content that are little more than clickbait.
However, my point of view is that a good story needs to start and end with people — we need to have empathy in some manner, if we don’t care about the characters then we won’t remember the story. A forgotten story has no influence and moreover is never retold!
Many people have spent years trying to understand the art of storytelling and some have gone on to create guides and frameworks to help us all tell better stories. Back in 2001 Jason Ohler adapted some work by Brett Dillingham to create a simple but powerful visual portrait of a story.
In 2012 The Content Marketing Association combined this Visual Portrait with other research, notably that of Christopher Booker on the 7 archetypal story plots, and created this very useful Infographic — The Seven Steps to a Perfect Story.
My friend, Jeremy Waite, who is a great marketer and wonderful story-teller in his own right, has posted a number of articles on what makes a great story, and in 2014 wrote considered the 7 plots from a Business and Brand Perspective.
A more recent post of Jeremy’s, from December 2016, is a masterclass in preparing compelling presentations — I encourage everyone to invest a lot of time reading it; follow the links and references as well. It will pay back dividends! The Shape of My Perfect Keynote? He demonstrates it again here when he deconstructs the highly engaging and entertaining (I know I was there) keynote of the Canadian Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield.
Every good storyteller knows you need to have meaningful and memorable soundbites. They are the hooks we remember both the stories and the storytellers by.
Jeremy picked up on this a while back, and last September published his latest book ‘Ten Words’ — again I commend it to you along with the accompanying PodCast series.
To give you a flavour of its content and how powerful and influential words can be — have a read of this: The Best Business Advice I’ve Ever Received — when you read the selected quotes in that article, they clearly all share the same two traits: People and Emotion
. This is where a ‘narrative’ falls short as a vehicle for influence.
When a narrator describes a scene or provides a link between situations — they are performing a mechanical act in the story — they are outside of the story itself.
When a narrative describes, clearly and factually, an important situation or issue, they are trying to rise above the emotion, they are seeking to present a picture, an explanation.
The narrative is important as a backdrop. A strategic framework for communication.
A good narrative will provide a model from which we base our stories upon and should cover the following factors:
- Key Messages
- Planned Counter-Messages
- Supporting Content
- Desired Effects
- Target Audiences
- Specific Activities
- Management Processes
- Identified Communications Platforms and Media
- Measurement and Reporting
A narrative is a strategic plan whilst our stories are the tactical execution of that plan.
A narrative should provide us with talking points, but then we must be trusted to take those talking points and make them into our own stories.
We are all different. We have different styles, influences, vernacular and colloquialisms and of course different audiences. This is why, to be authentic, we need to tell our stories as individuals, not as ‘repeaters’ of Official or Corporate communications.
Good Marketing is all about devising and telling great stories.
When it comes to Story Telling in Marketing, in my opinion, there is none more capable and more influential than Seth Godin. He even wrote a book on it, “All Marketers Are Liars” it’s title caught my eye 😉, however, as you can see, it has since been updated.
In it, Seth presents case after case of influence through stories. That’s his style by the way, he doesn’t tell you what you should be doing, but tells you stories about things he has seen and how they have worked or haven’t — he allows you to draw the lessons from those stories, and every one of his stories has people, setting, plot and emotion!
In this book, he shows the power of Stories to overcome the plain objectivity of fact; the book jacket text states
“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better — and look cooler — than $20 no names… and believing it makes it true.”
The reason Seth chose the provocative book title was itself an example of good story craft in his introduction to the book Seth wrote:
“I wasn’t being completely truthful with you when I named this book. Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers… I was trying to go to the edges. No one would hate a book called All Marketers Are Storytellers. No one would disagree with it. No one would challenge me on it. No one would talk about it.”
Again, People and Emotion!
If you are new to Seth Godin, then I strongly recommend you buy his books and subscribe to his daily blog– the blogs are normally 1 or 2 paragraphs of pithy, insightful and usually thought-provoking commentary.
How to win with Story Telling?
My career has been in Business to Business Marketing, and more recently I have been working within the military sector, combining the skills and practices of business marketing with that of Strategic Communications and Information Operations.
There is a lot of common ground between Marketing and Warfare, especially regarding strategy and planning.
A great book that draws analogy and provides great guidance to marketers is Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout — first published in 1986 and updated in 2005 — the book remains highly relevant and well worth reading.
Another of theirs is the short and punchy — The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing which I will draw upon next. (You can read a 2000 word summary of the book here).
Assuming we know how to devise and create emotionally engaging stories. When it comes to winning with stories, the first 2 laws are paramount.
#1 The Law of Leadership — It’s better to be first than it is to be better!
Because it is easier to get into the minds of your audience first, than it is to convince them that you are a better choice than the one that did get there first.
#2: The Law of the Category — If you can’t be the first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.
If you are not first in your category then you make up a new category name and claim leadership within it — this technique is especially prevalent in the Tech Sector!
So clearly, the best strategy is to tell our story first and to tell it well!
If we do this then we will carry your audience with us and they will stay loyal against an onslaught of ‘challenging narratives’.
If we are not first; if some other ‘narrative’ or more likely, some other stories are influencing our target audience, then the absolute worst strategy is to try to ‘win the narrative’ by challenging their stories; especially if they are fake stories! All we do is give these fake stories ‘credibility’ and ‘fuel their propagation’.
It is far better to create our own stories and tell them louder and better — create our own category where we are the leader, and the target audience is engaged with us.
As an example: Whilst, personally, I fundamentally disagree with President Trump on pretty much everything; I do acknowledge his mastery of telling stories; engaging the audience and simply not engaging with any contrary story position. What do his critics and competitors do? They challenge his stories with facts, in the belief that facts alone will cause his emotionally invested audience to change their point of view! The ‘trump approach’ has such a disregard for facts, they know they are not persuasive, they even went as far as presenting ‘alternative facts’!
To challenge President Trump, President Putin, or any other Populist or Authoritarian based Narrative model — we need to create a NEW set of stories; our own stories, that the target audience will empathise with and that we can tell loudly and proudly!
To challenge an audience’s belief, we need to present an emotionally engaging story that they can invest in, and one that is more advantageous than the ones they are currently believing.
By the way, if the current ‘true story’ is quite negative, a target audience will readily consider a positive alternative story, regardless of its veracity — this is what happened in the case of the Skripal Poisoning. — The factual narrative was quickly undermined by a tidal wave of alternative stories from Russia. These presented a slightly less negative perspective for the audience to consider, and add into the mix, influential voices from within the UK supporting these ‘questioning stories’ then very quickly, the objective narrative lost a large degree of its influence effect.
FACTS and TRUTH
Throughout this article, I have argued for the power of good storytelling and have downplayed the role of factual narrative. This may seem as if I don’t place value on Truth. If this is the case then let me assure you that I consider Truth to be paramount. Anything that is built on lies will, sooner or later, collapse; the later it is the more catastrophic the collapse will be!
I started with an emotive quote, so to conclude, here is a prescient proverb that was first recorded in Dr Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia (1732).
“Craft must have clothes, but truth loves to go naked.”
I recently learnt, that Malcolm Mclaren, of Sex Pistols fame, wrote that above the doorway to Vivien Westwood’s King’s Road Fashion Shop, SEX.
I learnt this from Jeremy Waite’s excellent Ten Words PodCast (Episode 3) and to come full circle he very cleverly linked this quote to one from Mark Twain.
“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
i3 Gen is a specialist consultancy that brings together Business Marketing with Military Strategic Communications and Information Operations. The combination of which brings added insights and value to both civilian and military clients.
We believe that to Influence we must first gain Interest, and to do that we gather Intelligence, before, during and afterwards.
We’d love to hear your story! Why not get in touch?
This article was first published on Medium and LinkedIn on March 1st 2018.
For some time now there have been many individuals, both inside the military and in the private sector, that have been calling for a greater emphasis placed on building Information Operations capabilities into our Defence, Security and Stabilisation organisations.
Furthermore; In recent months there has been a notable growth in the number and volume of those voices calling for a greater focus on the domain of Information Operations.
These voices include some of the most senior officers in the British Armed Forces; most notably General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff in a widely covered speech at the Royal United Services Institute; and General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in an interview with Deborah Haynes of The Times, states:
“Winning the “information war” will be crucial in the next big fight. Commanders must realise that exploiting data to make decisions on the battlefield is as important as having the most powerful tanks, or more so.
”It is also clear that our adversaries at all levels are increasingly adept and bold in their use of Information Operations; this is self-evident!
There will be some that respond that we already are investing in specialist Information Operations capabilities; such as the creation of the 77th Brigade which is also part of the new Information Manoeuvre Formation which brings together 77th Brigade with the ISTAR Brigade and the 2 Signals Brigades — mentioned by CGS at RUSI. There are also equivalent or at least similar specialist units within some of our NATO partners and other aligned forces, for example, Israel and Australia.
While these investments in specialised units are essential, in my opinion, the specialisation in itself is an indication of ‘laggardly’ thinking with regard to ‘Information Operations’.
I was particularly pleased to read, in the Full Times Interview Transcript, General Messenger’s answer to the question that Information Operations is not just about 77 Brigade:
“It is everyone. 77 Brigade are — I was there on Friday — they are a good organisation, they are absolutely a joint organisation. What they do is pan-environment and there
That is a key point — we need to bring the skills, competence, understanding and confidence of Information Operations into every part of the Armed Forces DNA / Doctrine from the enlisted soldier all the way through to our General Staff. Only then can we seriously contemplate gaining ‘Information Advantage’?
So how might we go about achieving this?
To begin with, we need to look to the adoption and leverage of ‘Information Operations’ in wider society and the private sector. Of course we don’t call it ‘Information Operations’ here! We call it Social Media, Digital Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Market Intelligence, Relationship Marketing, Networking, Blogging / VLogging, Photo-Sharing, Community Management, Data Intelligence, Cyber Security etc.
Quite simply; it is the tools and techniques that successful businesses have widely adopted, and the pervasive use of technology and social media throughout our daily lives. It is clear that Information Advantage is now part of our Society DNA, it is no longer just the specialist geeks or nerds.
Of course, deep expertise will always lie with specialists, and when we need to call upon these expert practitioners for specific scenarios or training and guidance, then we need to have them on hand. This approach is also true in the private sector, and we all know someone whom we go to to ask for ‘techie’ help when needed in our personal lives.
Fundamentally, we need to improve the ‘marketing’ capabilities throughout our Armed Forces, and not have it located in specialist units alone. This needs to cover the foundations of good marketing and will extend through Digital and Social Media Marketing into the domain-specific Influence and Intelligence aspects of Military Information Operations.
For those that would argue that this is not part of core military doctrine; then you should look back. Throughout military history, the influence of words, perceptions and morale was always far more effective than kinetic effects ever were.
So what does this mean for our Armed Forces and related organisations?
Well, let’s start off with an issue that was discussed at the last Social Media in the Military Conference and was also put to General Messenger.
“We allow our soldiers to use lethal weapons but generally speaking we do not allow them to use Social Media.”
The conference raised the questions of Risks and Control, and this was echoed by General Messenger also.
Yet, there are very real and easily identified risks with Weapon Systems and general behaviours within our Armed Forces. How we deal with these risks is training! We start with basic training, and we build upon that progressively, the extent of which will depend upon the particular career path. We also review these skills on a frequent basis and ensure they are current. We have sanctions in place for transgression and re-training available too.
Q.E.D.: We should have Basic and Intermediate Social Media training as part of Basic Training for all soldiers.
This training should cover awareness of all the major social media platforms and other relevant digital tools (i.e. fitness trackers); secure configuration and use covering Personal Security and potential impact on Operational Security.
We should also train on best practices such as; having an engaging and authentic profile; what content works for what purposes; how to link across social networks; what tools exist to help you use Social Media effectively and safely.
Finally we should demonstrate what intelligence can be gained through Social Media platforms and the wider Internet — if for no other reason then to demonstrate why good Digital Hygiene is important.
There must also to be a change in the attitude and awareness of our officers and leaders.
There are, as ever, trailblazers who are already championing the cause.
In the private sector, we recognise that some of the most influential effects happen through Word-of-Mouth — it is the oldest form of marketing, and the explosion of Social Media has essentially digitised Word-of-Mouth.
Word-of-Mouth manifests in many guises; formal marketing programmes seek to leverage Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing campaigns. For these to be effective, they need to be both authentic and add some value to the target audience. Otherwise, its just another form of advertising and will be largely ineffective — much like most of the output from Public Affairs Offices and Strategic Comms units!
Another form of Word-of-Mouth is that of Employee Advocacy — this can be extremely effective and influential. This is where our Armed Forces Personnel need to be encouraged to write and share about their work and experiences.Employee Advocacy speaks not only to our own communities of interest; family, friends, potential recruits and the wider public but it also demonstrates to the world at large, our passion, competence and commitment.
Reputation is built through repeated actions, spoken about in tales! q.v. The British Special Forces are recognised to be the best in the world — both by our adversaries and allies! Social Media can amplify and accelerate reputational influence — it can also destroy it through incompetent use.
However, our military leaders need to encourage and support those personnel that want to write about their experiences in either short form or longer articles or blogs or better still videos; we should also not try to ‘control’ these voices as that jeopardises their authenticity and subsequent influence. If we provide the right support, framework and expectations then our people will be our greatest influencers!
As an observation; in my experience, those who join our military are proud, passionate individuals, and if they voice criticisms, it is only because they wish to see improvements in the organisation they care deeply about.
Finally, we need to accelerate this process and build Information Operations into the DNA of our Armed Forces and related organisations?
When 77 Brigade was formed, it was recognised that it would take way too long to try and build the desired capabilities organically; from the outset, the plan was to bring in, via the Reserves, experienced individuals with expertise, insight and passion from the private sector.
Yet, even with this stated intent, the wider army recruitment processes have got in the way, there needs too be a recognition and exception handling methodology that supports the innovation and change needed to build Information Operations into the DNA of our Armed Forces.
In addition to the Basic Training recommendation above, there is a huge opportunity open to our General Staff and Commanders to bring in Private Sector specialists to develop Information Operations capabilities throughout our Armed Forces. This opportunity was also recognised by General Carter in the Q&A’s that followed his lecture at RUSI.
Private Sector organisations and individuals with Information Operations skills and experience and an interest and understanding of the Defence, Security and Stabilisation arena could be hired to train, oversee and, for an interim period, manage Information Operations at Regimental or equivalent appropriate command level.
To build Information Advantage into the DNA of our Armed Forces we need to break free from the constraints of processes created for the ‘whole of the Armed Forces’ that handle the traditional, out-moded approach.
We must build in organisational agility and exception handling that recognises the needs of innovative, oftentimes quirky, and sometimes uncomfortable thinking and approaches.