Whether a senior officer looking to get some extra support for their social media activity or a unit or formation looking to develop their online presence (and posture and profile – PPP), choosing staff to assist, manage or curate any account should not be taken lightly. Consider what Knowledge, Skills and Experience (KSE) that individual or team brings to the party and how training and external support can be used to achieve the desired communications effects and support the commander’s intent and the requirements of an increasingly #DigitalArmy.
“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.
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.
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, it’s 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
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
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 to 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.
Recently I’ve been discussing the importance and far-reaching impact of ‘social’ for military organisations. There are many opportunities and scenarios where understanding and effective deployment of social media skills and the reach of social networks can have a significant and lasting effect.
The use of social media and social techniques for communicating and influencing diverse audiences is well recognised in the commercial domain and in recent years within the political domains; we have also seen social media used both overtly and more subtly in defence related activities by insurgent groups and state powers alike.
One of the first steps in building competence in ‘social’ is to have a common and clear understanding of how it all works and fits together.
During my conversations with military folk, I found the following metaphor seemed to resonate quickly and helped form the basis for discussing strategy and tactics for social media communications and influence building.
If we consider influencing our target audience as territory to be gained; the different digital and social channels are our deployable platforms and weapon systems and the ammunition required is our content and just as you have different types of ammo you have different types of content. Finally, of course, you need trained personnel to be able to deploy and utilise the platforms effectively.
Carrying this metaphor forward there is clearly a need for training in using the different platforms, but importantly there is a need to have strong supply lines to produce and deliver the ammunition which in this case is well produced, engaging content; just having snappy messages and repeatedly pushing this out on Facebook or Twitter just won’t cut it; it’s like a guerrilla uprising, they may make some noise and have some limited success, but ultimately, a well-trained, resourced and disciplined professional army will win.
The last element I highlight in this military metaphor, is that of ‘Intelligence’ — prior intelligence on why, who, where and when to utilise the (social) platforms; careful monitoring of impact in terms of engagement and amplification during the (campaign) deployment and afterwards to report on effectiveness and what adjustments should be made.
- Different Social Media channels == Different Weapon Platforms
- Content == Matched Ammunition
- Content creation == supply lines and support
- Analytics == Intelligence
- Audience == Territory
Once we break down our deployable assets into different platforms and content that needs to be repurposed and matched to different channels then we can plan strategically. Starting with ‘Why’; we develop core messages that lie at the heart of our content production and then create a timetable or content calendar to deliver this content over time and we measure our progress.
Another aspect which I’ll discuss in a future post is the need to develop networks and the requirement to invest time building these networks.