The Keys to the Kingdom – Who runs your social media accounts?

Introduction

Since the release of the new #DigitalArmy policy and an energetic push to get the military to start engaging on social media (rather than just broadcasting), there has been a surge of new (or previously dormant) accounts. This positive trend is especially noticeable amongst middle-ranking and senior officers.

Many are personal accounts, run entirely by the individual, or an account linked to their current appointment, and some are a hybrid of the two. Some are ‘organisation’ accounts, be it a unit, brigade and formation, and are being run by individuals or small teams of nominated staff or volunteers. While many of these ‘curators’ do a good job; a key question should be…

“Who should be trusted with the keys to the kingdom?”

Aim

This short piece will look at what factors should be considered before nominating individuals to run social media accounts, or requesting support for the establishment of new social media presence. These factors apply across all Social Networking, whether that be a Facebook page, a Twitter account or any other platform.

We examine the issue using the well-trodden Knowledge, Skills, Experience (KSE) format and offer some guidance on how these can be assessed to ensure that the account remains active, engaging and (attempts) to achieve the Commanders’ intent as well as being compliant with #DigitalArmy guidelines.

Knowledge

At first, it may be tempting to nominate the first millennial you find to take on the role of social media officer (or TweetO – as used by the RN). While they may be a ‘social media native’, they may not fully understand it from an effective Engagement and Communications perspective.

Very few casual Social Media users need to take the time to understand the inner working and algorithms of platforms or to look at the analytics available and what they can tell you about the penetration of your messages and your audiences. However, these aspects are crucial to managing and benefiting from these powerful engagement and communications platforms.

Understanding this ‘information environment’ is, of course, vital in ensuring that your messages are sent via the right channel, in the correct language and using an appropriate tone. Social media is increasingly your (or your organisations’) “shop window”, and as such it must grab attention and generate interest. Account managers need to know what works for your audiences and can post content that will inform and entertain.

Skills

Being a social media native is not enough. An account manager or curator (or anyone supporting a senior officer’s or unit/formation account) must have the skills to create content. Digital photography and the use of basic editing tools is essential. Likewise, the ability to act as a catalyst, driving audiences towards blogs, websites and other long-life content through ‘signposting’ is a key skill.

Uppermost in the tool-kit of an account manager is the ability to spot a good story and the ability to tell that story in a pithy, engaging manner (up to 280 characters on Twitter and don’t forget the #HashTags)!

The military by its very nature is a great story, our people and their cool ‘toys’ will always generate interest. But the accounts must also seek to influence – whether to recruit, inform and educate, or simply to explain, in a simple, effective and authentic manner.

An analytical mind is also needed, to use the appropriate tools and methodologies to give constructive, honest and evidence-based feedback to commanders and staff. Over and above simple ‘vanity metrics’ (numbers of followers, likes and retweets), curators must be able to show both quantitative and qualitative data showing that their activity is both supporting and achieving the desired communications effects – and not simply screaming into the void and repeating chatter inside the echo chamber!

Experience

While an increasing number of service personnel have grown-up using social media platforms, very few will have any experience of planning and project managing an ongoing integrated communications campaign or developing a plan to coordinate activities across multiple platforms and synchronised with IRL (in real life) activities, such as engagement and recruiting. – Think Sync Matrix for Joint Action across different Digital Platforms… as part of a wider Multi-Domain (Cognitive and Physical) strategy for engagement and communications.

All will agree that training in this field is vital, but it can not replace the requirement for learning-through-doing the job. While there remains no effective way to ‘exercise’ these accounts in a social media ‘range package’. The pitfalls and challenges can be mitigated through coaching, mentoring and red-teaming by specialist advisors with years of experience and a desire to share their knowledge and experiences.

At this stage, it is useful to consider these social media activities as ‘home’ and ‘away’ matches. Home ‘soft’ matches (sports events, local engagements and recruiting efforts) are relatively simple and non-contentious, the ideal ‘nursery’ for an account to get a feel for the level of engagement and develop stories without much risk of contest (less a few unwanted trolls). This activity can be extended to larger exercises and even Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations, where the number of actors and partners increases dramatically but the overall message is hugely positive. Only then should an account be employed in a large-scale overseas training exercise (OTX) or operation, ‘hard’ away fixtures.

Beyond this, it (once again) comes back to Mission Command and the inescapable requirement for TRUST. Without it, accounts will be micro-managed, messages approved before posting and the dynamic nature of social media is lost – and at worst, the operational advantage handed over to the adversary or other actors.

Summary

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.

Before handing over the password and the Keys to the Kingdom…

i3 Gen are a specialist consultancy, combining Military Information Operations and Civilian Marketing expertise to help key leaders and organisations improve their Engagement and Communications.

If you’d like to discuss how we could help, please get in touch.

What are you thoughts?