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
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 emotions, challenges us to think, and drives us to react.
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.
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) …
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
The reason Seth chose the provocative book title was itself an example of good story craft in his introduction to the book Seth wrote:
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).
Did you know 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.
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!
You have probably heard the expression, “Preaching to the Choir!” or variants of that phrase?
So that we are on the same page, or to stay within metaphor — ’reading from the same hymnbook’…
Preaching to the Choir means that your audience is already convinced and is on message, therefore, unless you are objective is to reinforce the message and build deeper understanding and agreement, there is little more to be achieved. Good examples of this are the huge get-togethers that the likes of Apple, Salesforce and Microsoft hold (many others do so too).
When discussing Messaging for marketing, I build and extend this metaphor as follows, and to be clear, I intend no religious content or offence here either.
We can consider our potential audience as broadly divided into those ‘inside the church’ and those ‘outside the church’; the church being those who already agree with our Point of View and those outside are people whom we might want to convince to come inside.
Inside the church, the audience can be divided again into the Choir and the Congregation. Needless to say, the Choir are our strongest supporters; they need little attention to stay with us, yet often the Choir gets the most of our attention. The Congregation are also on message, but perhaps a little less dedicated; they need a bit more of our attention, however, if we treat them well and we meet or exceed their expectations, then they will stick with us too.
It does not take much to see our close communities as being inside the church; perhaps our leaders, employees, strategic partners and maybe our reference customers are all like the Choir? The Congregation would be made up of our customers, partners, suppliers, influencers and other supporters.
Most marketing messages and content I look at seem to be targeted at our closest two communities, those inside the church, and we are like a Preacher; delivering our messages to a willing, warm and receptive audience. We know how to speak to them, we have a common understanding and shared perspective. It is comfortable to do this and understandable. We certainly shouldn’t ignore these communities, after all, we do not want them leaving the church, especially when we are frequently told with another marketing cliché that “it costs many times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain existing ones.”
However, if we need to grow our market or extend our influence beyond these close-in communities, then we must venture outside the church. We must, in essence, take on the role of a Missionary!
The audience outside the church is vast and dispersed, and the further away they are from us the harder we have to think and work to reach them; this is part of the reason it costs ten times more! We need to spend time understanding their perspective; their values; what’s important to them; what and who influences them; where do they gather and very importantly we need to understand how to speak to them! We then need to spend time establishing our credentials; build trust and understanding; gain permission to talk to them about our message and why it is relevant and valuable to them.
Once we have invested the time and effort to understand who and where they are, then we need to ensure we use this knowledge when we decide what we want to say in order to engage and communicate. If we intend to be successful, then our strategy, tactics, language, and expectations must be very different from those we use to our first and second level communities who are already bought-in.
I use this metaphor when coaching to help to emphasise the need to challenge ourselves when creating marketing content with the objective of building markets or extending influence. If we use our own language, our comfortable jargon and terms of reference, then it will be much harder to reach our target audience, and we will drastically reduce the levels of engagement and subsequent likelihood of meeting our objective.
So my clear and obvious conclusion; if we want to reach new audiences, then we need to be more like a Missionary and less like a Preacher.