Guest Blog: Why I’m a Social Media convert

This is a guest blog from ‘Jim’ who recently attended one of our training courses. Here he describes his changed attitude towards Social Media and why he is now looking forward to actively contributing and gaining value from his participation.

A copy of this blog first appeared on Jim’s own, newly created site –  Security thoughts and exchange

Intel Operatives Desk

Firstly, I would like to say thank you to anyone who read, liked, retweeted or commented on my blog last week. I really appreciate it.

This week I explain why, after avoiding it for most of the time it has been in existence, I have decided to engage with and embrace Social Media (or SM).  I am conscious that the audience I am engaging with were probably in agreement with last week’s blog so in choosing SM this week, it is preaching to the choir even more! However, hopefully some of the areas or sources / articles I refer to might be useful or a reminder.  My other hope is that this might be something you signpost to those who are not sure, or are cynical about SM.  Basically, people like me about a month ago.

How and why I was

I was not a fan of Social Media. I was even more averse to blogging as someone with background in the military, even with a handle. For me, Social Media was something I associated with the worst traits of today’s human condition. Things such as Pseudo celebrity and vanity, ill-informed opinions (that people want us to know or care about… why?), bullying and of course the fact it can be a veritable banquet for those wishing to harvest information from us.  Whether it was for nefarious and sinister purposes or advertisements, I didn’t like it. 

It is still all those things, I cannot lie, I despise what some people post and use it for, but I understand now, that is the nature of the beast.  Social Media can be about, so very much more.  Also, some of my other views and experiences of Social Media were very outdated, based on my first interactions with it about 12 years ago.

Why I changed my opinion

Education and understanding, in a nutshell. After undertaking SM training with work (see ref. 2), I at once understood what SM, used responsibly, in a personal or professional context can be worth.  Within a month I have experienced this first hand.

There is a plethora of reasons why SM is excellent and people with something positive to offer should engage with it.  I’m converted because I had a desire to do some personal and professional development, learning to actually use SM safely effectively and to try and add something (albeit tiny) was another aspect! After all, how will I teach my children to use it responsibly as they grow up if I do not understand it?

A key aspect of the training that stuck with me was that your approach should be to try and put in more than you take out, don’t necessarily look to gain.  I am certainly trying to approach it with that attitude, but with the amount I have read and had access to, I simply cannot put more in than I get out!

My personal initial views on the wider implications and uses

A tool of your trade – Private or public, Defence, business, finance or security, SM is a true tool, a dimension that must be understood, operated in and used to achieve effect, exploited if you like.  The police use SM extremely effectively, not just to tackle crime but to promote itself as an organisation[1].  Most organisations do this now, some better than others.  It also provides access to vast amounts of data and information that can be used for intelligence and research purposes, this is a double-edged sword.

CIA Logo

Brand – So key, in the current climate all organisations whether they are public or private services need to promote their brand.  This goes for individuals too, SM is the platform for this.  Just do some basic research on how much of the global population is using SM, let alone in the West or UK.

pimlico plumbers logo

“SOCIAL MEDIA SEARCH OVER AS PIMLICO PLUMBERS PICKS ITS NEW APPRENTICE”

Competition – If you want to be competitive, you have to be on SM – For example companies on Linked In (I include public services in this) compete for employees, just as individuals seek to compete, using their own brand as a professional, to gain jobs.

Influence – All the above are tied to influence, to employ, to sell, to compete; convincing us that their product or capability is better than everyone else’s.  The recruitment or business side of this is only part of it.  Influence, as most of those reading this will know, through SM can have an impact across waves of other areas of human society, sometimes highly positively… and other times far from it.  Check out “The Power of Like” it was first published in 2012, but its good.

Five rookie tips on how to be responsible and safe online

  1. Security, Security, Security – It is not about locking you Facebook down so no one knows who you are and thinks you’re a bot.  Although, in some cases this may work well (if you only have close family and friends on there for example, and they know who you are).  However, on any platform, make sure you are happy with what is out there, you check it and you understand the implications if having that information in the public domain.  Also, no one should put your images or info on open SM if you’re not comfortable with it – that works the other way too, spare a thought.
  2. Avoid the negative – Sometimes people are clowns, ignore it, don’t rise to it – They want a reaction. Remember that you don’t have to follow / friend people or read their material / tweets / posts / blogs.  I have been guilty of this, I have read things, because I know they will rile me… why?  Avoid slanging matches, you can, after all, just block people.  Caveat – Making constructive critical comments about issues that are important to you is a good thing in my opinion – its not what I am talking about above.  However, see the final tip!
  3. Beware what you like, support and follow – Really scrutinise things, especially politics. Some groups, especially far right or left will post something seemingly benign “say no to terrorism” then…  have click bait such as “like this?” or “agree?”  Before you know it, you have supported a far right group – Sadly Drummer Rigby’s tragic murder was exploited by exactly these type of groups and angry and upset people were, in some cases, taken advantage of and used as statistics for a far right cause.
  4. Help mates out – Retweet, friend request, add to your network, encourage, comment and like.  This is all important and one of the best things about SM, but by the same token, try to stop people stitching themselves up or making serious mistakes.  Consider a comment or a private message if things cross a line (intentionally or not) it is the right thing to do.  I was taught that something as simple as “Check your safety catch mate” can prevent disaster.
  5. Think about the Law, in addition, apply your personal or professional Values and Standards. Always – Related to all of the above, consider what you say, who you represent and what you really mean.  Your handle will only protect you so much, also if you wouldn’t say it to a physical person or audience, probably best not to say it online.  If in doubt always remember the “pocket bible meme” which I will not repeat on here.

Final thought…

To me, so far, SM is a tool, like the vast majority of tools, used responsibly it will be a positive influence on your life.  However, used irresponsibly without a bit of understanding, or if you don’t secure it, it can be a scary or dangerous thing.  But with all such tools we need to build experience, learn from mistakes.  The good thing about SM is that it is more user friendly and less immediately physically dangerous than a large chain saw or a hand grenade!

Some references / further reading...

  1. The British Army has produced a really practical and useful leaflet on its approach to SM. With some excellent advice that goes beyond just the military sphere at https://www.army.mod.uk/media/4612/adr007595-asm_guide.pdf and if you don’t want to read that then they have produced a very simply dos and don’ts video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP3Gob_CdM0
  2. For more on SM in Information Operations see i3 Gen at https://www.i3gen.co.uk/training
  3. Forbes produced an excellent article on plans for sweeping changes in the law regarding SM at https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2019/04/08/uk-proposes-sweeping-new-social-media-laws/
  4. The Power of Like Article is at http://www.journalofadvertisingresearch.com/content/52/1/40
  5. For some of the ways the police are using SM. Check out the College of Policing at https://www.college.police.uk/News/archive/2014nov/Pages/Use-of-social-media.aspx
  6.  Even the CIA are using SM! at https://www.cia.gov/news-information/press-releases-statements/2014-press-releases-statements/cia-launches-new-social-media-accounts.html

About the Author

A recent convert to the utility of the Social Media, Jim has been serving in the military for just over 15 years.  He has had a varied career, giving him the opportunity to view service life through several lenses, both specialist and generalist, as a leader and as a subordinate.  He has served operationally in several theatres and has worked almost entirely in operationally focused roles with his main area of experience being intelligence and security.

Follow Jim on Twitter here @Jimmy198137

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